The Atlantic Magazine, together with the University of California San Diego, sponsored a two-day symposium on cancer, highlighting the impact of new technology and drawing upon speakers across the spectrum of the oncology community: patient advocates, biotechnology, medical device and software innovators, academicians, pharma, venture capitalists, physicians, and journalists.
Along the way, just about every issue relevant to oncology that is imaginable came up, from NIH funding to design thinking applied to improving patient motivation for oral chemotherapy compliance. Of course, the breadth meant less depth of discussion, which was frustrating, but I was encouraged that the same issues that we spend so much of the energy and intellectual firepower of ASCO members and staff on are meaningful across the cancer community. Realization of the promise of “precision medicine” and “big data” to accelerate the pace of progress against cancer was a recurring and dominant theme.
Networking is one of the purposes of these types of meetings and among those that I chatted with at length was Clifton Leaf, a cancer survivor, journalist, and in our world, the somewhat controversial author of The Truth in Small Doses: Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer—and How to Win It, an argument about what fresh thinking needs to be brought to bear on the cancer research and drug development enterprise. We debated this in private and I was a bit disappointed later when the meeting organizer revealed to me that she had considered pitting the two of us together in a session, but decided that this might be too great a risk. The intellectual stimulation would have been fascinating.
In the end, we all agreed much more than we disagreed—a natural outcome when people and organizations that have the courage, ambition, and boldness to take on a difficult task meet in a setting that encourages engagement—with respect for the role each of us plays in the common quest.
Cancer LinQ, ASCO’s “big data” project, envisions embracing the entire oncology ecosystem. Although its initial build will be directed to improving the experience of the oncologist and directing quality improvement, as it develops it will include the patient’s world as well as the worlds of pharma, federal agencies, innovators, and all who labor in this arena. The last section of Clifton Leaf’s book is entitled "The Way Forward." Perhaps ASCO will have the opportunity to write a coda.