Research!America and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Host Panel Discussion – “A World Free from Cancers: Probable, Possible, or Preposterous?”
Leading Experts Focus on the Challenges and Opportunities Affecting the Fight Against Cancer
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – February 27, 2014 – A panel of leading health, economics and policy experts today discussed the prospects for a future where cancers are rendered manageable or even eradicated and the variables affecting progress toward that goal so that cancer patients are able to lead normal, productive lives – and thus be “free from” their cancers. The forum was hosted by Research!America and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The event, titled, “A World Free from Cancers: Probable, Possible, or Preposterous?” was held at the New York Academy of Sciences.
Medical innovation has contributed to the economic success of the U.S. over the last 50 years and it offers enormous potential to make a meaningful difference in the quality and length of our lives in the next 50 years. Of all the critical trends that will create a prosperous future, the panelists believe that medical innovation will be the most important. In order to achieve a culture of change where science and medicine will be part of the solution, all stakeholders must stand up and advocate for pro-patient and pro-innovation policies and laws. By supporting a positive regulatory and legislative environment and working toward innovative solutions for complex health care challenges, policy makers can help combat devastating diseases like cancers.
“While medical innovation has driven extraordinary progress against cancer in the U.S. and peer nations, we know that globally, cancer cases and death rates are rising. And even in the U.S., the incidence of some cancers, including pancreatic cancer, is rising,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO, Research!America. “We need to work together to address these alarming trends, and commit to overcoming the barriers to achieving a world free from cancers. Ensuring that U.S. policy makers sustain a policy environment conducive to rapid-pace medical innovation is crucial.”
The panel addressed the role of medical innovation, not only in the fight against cancer, but as a major force in our nation’s economic progress. Among the technological advances of the 21st century, medical innovation has been the biggest factor in improving the lives of patients, benefiting the health care system and improving prosperity. Over the past 50 years, medical innovation has been the source of more than half of all economic growth in the United States.
The panel, moderated by Fox News Channel’s Jim Pinkerton, featured several leading figures in the cancer and health care community, including:
- Clifton Leaf, journalist and author, “The Truth in Small Doses: Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer-and How to Win It”
- Julie Fleshman, president and CEO, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
- Laurie MacCaskill, seven-year pancreatic cancer survivor and chair, national Board of Directors, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
- Amy Abernethy, MD, PhD, director, Duke Center for Learning Health Care
- Robert J. Hariri, MD, PhD, chairman, founder and chief scientific officer, Celgene Cellular Therapeutics
- Scott Gottlieb, MD, resident fellow, American Enterprise Institute
- Frank Lichtenberg, PhD, Courtney C. Brown Professor of Business, Columbia University
“Although medical innovation has played a key role in the fight against cancer and improving the overall cancer survival rate, much work lies ahead especially for deadly cancers such as pancreatic cancer where the five-year survival rate is just 6%,” said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “In order to move towards a world free from cancers, the cancer infrastructure has to continue to keep up with the advances in science and our nation needs to make medical research a priority.”
The panel discussed the benefits of past breakthroughs for some types of cancer: there have been an estimated 50 million life-years saved and $4.9 trillion added in economic value due to innovative cancer treatments since 1990. However, further success in reducing the devastating impacts of cancers and accelerating medical innovation is dependent on developing effective collaborative solutions from an “ecosystem of innovation” – bringing together scientists, patients, health care providers, private-sector medical innovators, academia, payers and policy makers – to find solutions that will save lives from all types of cancers.
“We have made great progress since 1971, when President Nixon declared the war on cancer, in terms of understanding the epidemiology of the disease, improving diagnoses, discovering new treatment paradigms and novel therapeutic approaches to better manage cancers,” said Robert Hariri, MD, PhD, chairman, founder and chief scientific officer, Celgene Cellular Therapeutics. “But the progress we’ve made is not enough. We need to continue the momentum we have started and work together to change the course of human health for patients, health care, our economy and future generations.”
Research!America is the nation’s largest nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority. Founded in 1989, Research!America is supported by member organizations representing 125 million Americans. Visit www.researchamerica.org.
About the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is the national organization creating hope in a comprehensive way through research, patient support, community outreach and advocacy for a cure. The organization is leading the way to change the survival for people diagnosed with this devastating disease through a bold initiative — The Vision of Progress: Double Survival for Pancreatic Cancer Survival by 2020. Together, we can know, fight and end pancreatic cancer by intensifying our efforts to heighten awareness, raise funds for comprehensive private research, and advocate for dedicated federal research to advance early diagnostics, better treatments and increase chances of survival. To learn more, visit www.pancan.org.
The numbers were shocking, but they weren’t meant to be. Amir Attaran, DPhil, LLB, a panelist at Tuesday’s event at the American Enterprise Institute on poor-quality and fake drugs in emerging markets, reframed some statistics that had been discussed earlier.
What if, he said, 40% of the arriving flights at Dulles International Airport originated outside the U.S. and were unknown to air traffic controllers until each plane was on final approach? What if 7% of flights were using substandard engines?
Such statistics, of course, would be unacceptable to the American public and its government. But Attaran’s larger point was that we never have to worry about such things because there are policies, whether treaties or international organizations, that manage such regulation. Air traffic controllers are made aware of all inbound flights to the U.S., even for general aviation aircraft. And the European Union has banned hundreds of airlines for not meeting safety regulations.
That’s not the case with substandard or fake drugs.
Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa, said an international body to handle criminal conduct in the area of public safety is necessary before any substantive curbing of bad drugs can begin. For example, he said, if a resident of Canada exports fraudulent pharmaceuticals into the U.S., the Canadian government has no legal obligation to arrest the perpetrator. Until that happens, efforts to curb bad drugs are “extremely laudable but utterly unattainable,” he said.
But the problem of substandard and fraudulent drugs won’t merely be solved at the 30,000-foot level, as other panelists noted.
Patrick Lukulay, PhD, vice president of Global Health Impact Programs at the United States Pharmacopeial Convention, said poor regulation, an unmonitored market and an uninformed — i.e., unsuspecting — patient all add up to a deadly combination. And some problems aren’t even that broad; many companies mean no harm but lack the resources for quality control or proper equipment. Even, Lukulay said, installing air conditioners instead of air handling units represented a problem; air conditioners can carry particles to different areas and increase the risk of contamination.
Local health care delivery, legitimate and otherwise, may present a barrier also. Bernard Nahlen, MD, deputy coordinator of the President’s Malaria Initiative, noted that many areas affected by malaria assume that fevers equal malaria until proven otherwise. On a recent trip to Burma, Nahlen noticed local fisherman purchasing bags of pharmaceuticals (all of unknown quality) from salesman.
“These young men were at the mercy of itinerant drug salesmen,” Nahlen said, “and I think we can do better than that.”
Better oversight from non-governmental organizations would help too, said Richard Tren, co-founder and executive director of Africa Fighting Malaria.
There are reasons for hope, however. Andreas Seiter, MD, senior health specialist and expert in pharmaceutical policy and management at the World Bank’s Health, Nutrition and Population Anchor, noted a program in Nigeria that was able to reduce counterfeits and substandard drugs in urban areas. Scaling the program nationwide, at the very least, could “name and shame” bad operators but would cost $20 to $30 million. So far, only the U.S. has shown willingness to fund the program.
But several of the panelists agreed that local and national rules can only do so much. International mechanisms are needed most, and that starts with getting a consensus on what constitutes substandard drugs and what constitutes fraudulent drugs. Attiran recalled the Kyoto Protocol, which demanded that countries reduce carbon emissions by at least 6%; countries that wanted to do more were welcome to. Setting a reasonable floor — and the accompanying unlimited ceiling — would be a start, he said.
“The floor should be high enough that we’re comfortable” using those drugs, Nahlen said.