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Celebration of Science and Keeping the Party Going


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Celebration of Science and Keeping the Party Going

September 19th, 2012 - by Susan C. Mantel

http://blog.lungevity.org/2012/09/19/ce ... rty-going/

I recently spent a remarkable weekend seeing the results of two decades of investment in scientific research across many different areas of healthcare. This amazing event, called “A Celebration of Science” was organized by Faster Cures, and included 1,200 attendees from 200 organizations. Participants represented the NIH, NCI and other public and private research institutions; the FDA; leading advocacy groups; patients who shared the impact of scientific advances on their lives; philanthropists; the pharmaceutical, biotech, and device industries, and many of our elected representatives.

The week-end was designed to “honor individuals whose work saves, improves and extends lives, and those who make that work possible,” including patients who participate in clinical trials and those who share their stories. Above all, it was designed to really make the case for why investing in research is a smart decision in any economy. Research creates jobs in the lab and through new types of science-related businesses. Even more importantly, by saving lives and improving quality of life for those affected by various diseases, it results in a more productive workforce and society.

Like all of us in the lung cancer trenches, I want progress in lung cancer to be much further and faster than it has been, and I remember thinking the first afternoon–when I saw the statistic that the overall five-year cancer survival rate is now 66%–“lung cancer is still so far below that.” But being with all of these brilliant people dedicated to making life better through science, hearing how thoughtful and determined they were to continue innovating along all the aspects of the scientific continuum, and seeing some honest-to-goodness breakthroughs gave me so much hope! I was also reminded of how all these advances build off each other.

For example, the cost of sequencing the human genome the first time was about $3 billion and took over a decade. Now it’s less than $10,000 and takes a couple of weeks, with $1,000 sequencing in days in sight. This is turning the conversation to “precision medicine,” which was brought vividly to life by a set of twins who were successfully treated for a genetic defect—going from minimal muscle control and other grave challenges as children to competitive teenage athletes today. Then a couple of days after the meeting, the squamous cell lung cancer findings from the Cancer Genome Atlas were published.

Until this year, most of the advances in lung cancer treatment through targeted therapies were happening in adenocarcinomas. With about 400,000 people dying of squamous cell lung cancer worldwide each year, this is another area of urgent need. And more than 60% of the tumors had mutations that are potentially “druggable” with medicines in development for other cancers. So, we have new information with which we can potentially DO something. The “what” has a “so what”. Furthermore, this form of lung cancer is only the second common cancer type for which a genetic analysis was performed as part of the Cancer Genome Atlas. Attention is being paid!

The Celebration showcased so many other tremendous advances, including in fields like HIV (did you know about “the Berlin patient”—the first known case of someone cured of HIV?), brain imaging, and research and rehabilitation of our wounded soldiers. Yes, these areas all still have unmet needs, and we have miles to go in areas like Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury and PTSD, and, of course, lung cancer. Ultimately, though, we are living in exciting times of progress and collaboration, where continued investment in research is yielding progress of which generations before us could only dream. I can’t wait for the “Amazing Advances in Lung Cancer” session at the “Celebration of Science” event of the future!

Susan C. Mantel

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