Guest column: 'Moonshot' for curing cancer to take political will

This guest column was written by Karol Lagodzki of Bloomington, who is involved in oncology research and leads oncology efforts for a large medical device company. His views are his own.

Oncology is a grim discipline. Most new drug studies show no benefit and fail. Cancer therapies extending life by two months obtain FDA approval, and oncologists herald them as progress. Response rates of 2 and 3 percent win applause.

The science crawls forward one small lurch at a time, starved for new data, consuming the lives of patients and the careers of researchers as it plods along.

From the mouth of POTUS himself, we’ve recently heard of the “moonshot” to cure cancer. Vice president Joe Biden will lead the government’s support for it.

From what I understand, he has taken it seriously, and as recently as last week visited with the oncologists at the University of Pennsylvania.

What I’m sure he will soon understand, if he doesn’t already, is that there is no such thing as cancer.

There are thousands of mutations giving rise to diseases we label as the cancer of the organ in which they are found. Cancer is a genetic disease. The longer we live, the more time our genome has for potential damage. The more hazards we introduce into our environment — radiation, pollution, infection and inflammation, etc. — the greater the likelihood a cell or two will replicate out of whack. The result: cancer.

The “moonshot” must take a holistic approach:

• Appropriate funding for basic and translational research by both the government and private entities. Every cancer is a rare disease because of the specific genetic make-up of it, and there may be too little money in the personalized therapies to make the work lucrative.

• Restructuring of our regulatory environment. FDA, as it stands, requires billion-dollar global clinical trials for each new treatment. As we begin to understand cancer better, and create targeted therapies based on cancer genome, the numbers of patients for whom the therapies would be appropriate will shrink making the trials impossible to accrue and the therapies too expensive to be viable. We need a new regulatory paradigm, one which supports personalized medicine.

• World-class science education in the United States schools. This will be a gigantic task. We must make the effort, though, if we’re to have any hope.

• I’m pretty sure Ben Franklin really said this: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It’s become such a cliche that it’s easy to gloss over it; however, any strategy to combat cancer which ignored prevention would be doomed to fail. Like sanitation was key in fighting infectious disease, addressing environmental factors will be vital in combating cancer. Anything we dump into the world which can exert stress on our genome can give us cancer: gasses degrading the ozone layer, substances increasing background radiation, toxins in the water and the air, diet choices, etc. We ignore the Earth at our own peril.

This truly will be a “moonshot.” We can help Joe by voting to elect public officials who understand what it will require and who will represent us rather than the near-term corporate interests. Do not stay home on Election Day.

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A computer virus is a bad code. There are many types of computer viruses. Cancer has to be approached in the same way. Cancer is a bad code within our system and has many, many variations. Just as an anti-virus for the computer goes in to correct and eradicate that code, our modern medicine must target cancer in our bodies in the same way. They are getting wise to this in "smart drug" therapy. If we do this properly tumors and bad cells will disappear. Even so, we will have to have this done again later (just like cleaning up a computer virus) in order to remain disease free.

Our computer models can be used effectively for artificial intelligence and may give us working robotic beings in the future. The same principal can be used to keep the human body from developing bad code, or to eliminate bad code once it is found.

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