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Breakthroughs to cures is not rocket science

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2018

Dear Members and friends,

“Taking breakthroughs to cures is not rocket science”, I said. “It’s immensely harder.”

At the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network 2018 Virginia Cancer Research Breakfast last week I had the pleasure of learning about outstanding research into new cures across Virginia, and I had the honor of making remarks on behalf the people who commercialize these life-saving innovations.

Four outstanding researchers spoke about their exciting work and the organizations which enable it: Dr. Donald “Skip” Trump, CEO and Executive Director of the Inova Schar Cancer Institute, the Breakfast’s presenting sponsor; Dr. Steven Grossman, Deputy Director of VCU Massey Cancer Center; Dr. Kimberly Dunsmore, Senior Vice President and Chair of Pediatrics, Carilion Clinic; and, Dr. Sanchita Bhatnagar, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Biogenetics, University of Virginia. Wow.

What do you say after that group? Ideally, it’s something a listener can’t just get from asking Alexa. So, I started with the words above, and well here’s the rest. Alexa are you listening?

The complexity, breadth, depth and acceleration of science involved in oncology is staggering - protein pathways which make NYC subway maps seem intelligible by comparison and give rise to whispers about the “intelligence of cancer”, genomics, epigenetics, the exquisite immune system. Compare that to launching a rigid inanimate space ship at some planet-size rock obeying Newtonian laws of motion … sheesh.

But as extraordinary as the science challenge is, the rest is not trivial. I’d argue the system required to take research breakthroughs to real products for real patients with safety, efficacy and commercial viability is every bit as complex, challenging and ever-changing.

One might even think it’s impossible – if it weren’t for the extraordinary progress that’s actually been made! The overall cancer death rate in the United States fell by 25% from 1990 to 2014. In the last 5 years, in oncology alone over 70 new therapeutic drugs were approved in the US. Today, there are over 1,500 clinical trials underway in the US in immune-oncology alone.

Still, facing the enormity of the challenge it is easy to feel alone and overwhelmed. No one person, company or institute can do it alone. How do you master the knowledge and gain the experience to simultaneously solve for: choosing the indication, defining and finding the patient population, modeling and achieving the pricing, market access and reimbursement to attract the capital, competing or combining with other therapies, etc.

That’s why Virginia Bio exists - to connect innovators and commercializers to the people, ideas and resources they need to succeed in their life-saving mission.

A patient who is diagnosed with cancer needs a “team” to help them run the course – clinicians, yes, plus family, friends, co-workers, survivors. They’ll provide real help and never let the patient feel alone.

Similarly, the women and men translating and developing the discoveries of basic research into reality need a team, too. A team that includes quality control specialists, bankers, GMP manufacturers, repair technicians, regulatory specialists, patent attorneys, and on and on.

And the team is not complete without patients. Frequently when I visit a drug development company or CRO I see they’ve put photos of patients they serve throughout their offices and on their websites. I see it at the insurers, law firms and accountants who love this industry, too. It helps us focus, connect with our passion and renew our resolve.

Which leads me to my message. For those who are battling cancer, for those of you whose moms and dads, sisters and brothers, children, friends, colleagues are battling cancer …. You are not alone. Your team includes millions of passionate, dedicated, skilled, educated, unstoppable, insightful men and women in industry across Virginia, the nation and world working around the clock, and making progress day by day.

Godspeed to researchers and commercializers everywhere, and thanks to Brian Donahue, Director of Government Relations at ACSCAN for the invitation, and the opportunity to learn and reflect.

Best Regards,

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