December 18, 2014, 02:00 pm
Closing the gap between testing and treatment
By John Morrissey
I have just returned from San Francisco and a meeting of more than 20-thousand blood cancer experts at a global hematology conference. I was there as part of a new mission to rapidly-but-responsibly turn the data from these medical meetings into treatments.
A new alliance CLOSING-THE-GAP-NOW held a historic first conference at the University of Minnesota in mid-November. Our goal is to streamline medical oversight. I know it can be done. Under Presidents Nixon and Ford I worked to replace rules that delayed and discouraged advances in transportation.
We are ready to the same for modern medicine. It is a moral imperative.
Consider. Today when a patient is prescribed a so-called new cancer treatment, it is actually the product of testing that left the laboratory as much as ten years before. That delay, the years and expense of testing, is the force driving up the costs of new therapies while denying them to patients.
The result? Tragic stories like the recent, very public case of Brittany Maynard. Diagnosed with a brain tumor and given but a few months to live, she raised the issue of the right to die. Her story really should have us thinking about what patients need to survive.
I know first hand how these lies of omission can deny hope and atrophy will to live.
I received the message that nothing can help in March 2009 when my wife contracted pancreatic cancer. Six weeks after I lost my wife, I heard that same message in October 2009 when my daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer.
The problem is, what we were told was just not the case.
In fact, there were a number of promising mainstream medical treatments in various stages of development. I found them for my family. Those innovative treatments gave us a little more time together as a family, and time is precious when it is running out.
How can we offer these same opportunities to every cancer patient?
Let’s understand that the current system is a product of the sixties. But there could be a better, faster and safer path.
Let’s harness the real power of new science, of big data, of the specificity of genome sequencing. Let’s re-imagine a review process in which each patient would get the best option and the most advanced care. Then, using computing tools with Google-like power we can capture and share all the data from their experiences. Every patient could in-effect be part of a huge virtual clinical trial while getting the best personal care.
A deluge of new information could begin to be available in ten weeks instead of ten years. Patients would not be kept waiting when they simply have no time to wait.
Thinking of tragic stories like Brittany Maynard’s, it’s long past time to appreciate the value of medical innovation and how we can use it to value each and every human life by updating the procedures and regulations that are supposed to enhance care, not interfere.
Morrissey is chair of the Scientific Advisory Board at the Richard M Schulze Family Foundation.