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Jan. 3, 2012

Forming a global cancer network for research, clinical care, education and prevention.

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Sign of the Times - Cancer’s Prominence in Health Care Discussion and MD Anderson’s Role

According to more than one media outlet, the incidence and impact of cancer is one of 2011’s leading health stories. It has become a routinely heralded theme in the mainstream press as well as oncology research circles that the number of people living longer and developing cancer is going to increase significantly in the coming years. The National Cancer Institute estimates that with improved technologies and treatment options medical expenses associated with cancer could increase as much as 60% over the next ten years and cancer survivors to increase approximately 30%. In a 2009 article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, MD Anderson’s own Gabriel Hortobagyi, M.D., chair in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology and Thomas Buchholz, M.D., division head in the Department of Radiation Oncology, estimated that by 2030 the incidence of cancer would increase by 45% to a total of 2.3 million people, largely as a result of the aging baby-boomer population and longer life expectancies.

With so many Americans looking at a future that has a likelihood of including cancer as one of its variables, it is no wonder that the media has picked up on the themes espoused by MD Anderson’s president Ronald DePinho, M.D., as both prescient and galvanizing. The latest article to analyze his vision and perspective is in this week’s Economist. The focus of this article, Take Five, hinges on the as yet un-named five cancers DePinho says MD Anderson will cure as part of his moon shot mission. It is undoubtedly a question MD Anderson will be interested to learn the answer to as well. It warrants a brief tribute to the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), for providing the science that lessens the audacity of DePinho’s assertions, at least into the realm of the Earth’s gravitational pull.

The ICGC has almost as lofty a goal as DePinho – “To obtain a comprehensive description of genomic, transcriptomic and epigenomic changes in 50 different tumor types and/or subtypes which are of clinical and societal importance across the globe.” To accomplish this aim ICGC has so far organized 39 project teams across Asia, Australia, Europe and North America to study more than 18,000 tumor genomes. Of those 39 groups, MD Anderson is contributing to 15, nearly all the US based studies. Globally, several of MD Anderson’s Sister Institutions and possible future partners are also participating, including: The German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Tata Memorial Center, Oslo University Hospital (part of the Norwegian Cancer Consortium), Chinese University of Hong Kong, Karolinska Institute, Peter MacCallum Cancer Center and the UK Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. ICGC anticipates that by the end of 2012 much of the genome sequencing will be complete and drug companies will be able to identify targets for therapy more easily.

Which brings us back to DePinho’s plan. He hopes to pick up where ICGC drops off and instead of leaving the discovery to pharmaceutical companies alone, further the available information for specific cancer types through additional scientific discovery at MD Anderson. This will allow MD Anderson to narrow the possible therapies to pursue – leading to more therapeutics making it to the patients as opposed to failing later on in testing. Although DePinho has identified several promising technologies to assist in the investigation, the cancer’s on which MD Anderson will pour its human and capital resources have not been identified. According to the Economist’s article, they should be revealed in mid-2012. At the crux of DePinho’s thinking is an eye towards business process and efficiency in determining the five cancers. In other words, a cancer type that will make a big impact and about which the data and science exists to provide a “proof of concept” with regard to the mechanism for curing that cancer.

For everyone at MD Anderson, the announcement will be a monumental event; one that will affect everyone from the Development Office to the Marketing Department. It will alter the perception, whether substantively or otherwise, of every basic, clinical and translational laboratory. And much as his declarations to cure cancer have shaped the recent national dialogue on cancer, choosing which cancers will be first will further hone that discussion. Although certain conversations may couch the discussion in winners and losers, it would be a mistake to look at the upcoming events in such terms. You have to do what is most feasible and achievable first. To carry on DePinho’s analogy, you cannot go to Mars until you go to the Moon – but you can almost guarantee DePinho has already thought about that too.

Calendar of Events

Global Oncology Lecture - Phil Castle, Ph.D.
MD Anderson
Mays Clinic - ACB 1.2325
Jan. 19, 2012

Excellence in Oncology
Istanbul, Turkey
Feb. 23-25, 2012

GAP Annual Conference
Oslo, Norway
May 14-16, 2012



Don’t forget, tomorrow, Jan. 4, 2012, Oliver Bogler, vice president of Global Academic Programs, will be hosting two webinars to answer questions about the 2012 Sister Institution Network Fund Request for Applications. If you are just back from holiday, take a few minutes to contemplate your queries and read last year’s FAQ’s to see if they have already been answered. Then be sure to log on to either the first session at 7:30 a.m. CST or the second session at 5:00 p.m. CST. Enter as a guest and pose your questions either through chat or with a microphone and headphones.

In addition to the eligible institutions that were outlined in last week’s RFA, three additional participants will be included:

Harbin Medical University Cancer Hospital
Yuanyuan Zhang, director of International Cooperation Center

Benavides Cancer Institute – University of Santo Tomas Hospital, Philippines
Teresa T. Sy Ortin, M.D.

Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, Phoenix, AZ
Lee Seabrooke

Network News

WIN Symposium 2012

This year will be the 4th symposium hosted by Worldwide Innovative Networking in personalized cancer medicine (WIN). Started by MD Anderson and Institute Gustave Roussy (IGR), a Sister Institution in GAP, the WIN Consortium brings together cancer centers and industry to work collaboratively on improving cancer diagnostics and therapeutics. This year’s symposium will focus on Efficacy of Biomarkers and Personalized Cancer Therapeutics and will feature leadership from IGR, MD Anderson, the United States’ and French National Cancer Institutes, Human Genome Organisation and Sanofi as well as a host of leading academic and biopharmaceutical companies. The symposium will once again be held in Palais des Congrés, Paris, France on June 28-29, 2012. Read the program for additional information on the symposium and its participants and look at the website for directions for registering and attending.