Archive for August, 2016

 

Aug 15 2016

Another Midsummer Night’s Blog

by at 9:06 am

Greetings on hazy, hot and humid Saturday night in Yardley, PA. We are spending the evening with my father. He continues to do very well, with no itching. He has regained his energy and put on about 10 pounds. Anybody who questions the value of precision medicine should speak with him. Ruxolitinib has saved his life and given those of us who love him a very precious gift. As I write this blog he is happily puffing on a cigar in another room while doing the NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle.

Our weekend started off on Friday with a drive up to Baltimore, where we visited Ken, Sarah and their kids. Little Eli, now 14 months old, went from crawling and cruising to walking and running over the past few weeks, and now can’t be stopped. We went to a truly lousy sushi restaurant in Federal Hill with them, and spent the night in Baltimore. In the morning we all went for breakfast, joined by David, who works in Baltimore as well, at a really nice little place called Spoon. Then we drove up to Yardley – a 2 hour, 20 minute drive that took an hour longer, but would have been twice as long as that (due to accidents and construction on the route) had it not been for the miracle of GPS technology. We will return home on Sunday, via Baltimore, where Elana, Ben, Isaac and Aviva await.

The most striking event of the workweek was my trip to Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey as a member of the Institute’s EAB. That cancer center is grappling with the recent departure of its director, a new alignment with Rutgers University and a developing clinical relationship with a large local health system. If that sounds complicated, it is. If it sounds familiar, let me assure you that I am deeply appreciative of where we are today. Lombardi has a mature University sponsor, an ever-stronger relationship with MedStar Health and a wonderful, evolving association with Hackensack University Medical Center. There is a lot left to do, but we have come a long way, and I am more excited about our future than ever before.

The coming week promises to be very busy, but I plan to scale back after that for a couple of weeks, before life really gets crazy in September!

Remember to drink plenty of liquids during this insane heat wave.

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Aug 07 2016

Midsummer Blog

by at 11:55 pm

Finally, a fairly quiet week! I had plenty to do at work, and had a full meeting schedule, but the manic edge that typically surges through the work week was absent. Not bad… The weekend was fairly restful too; we went to a movie and dinner with friends on Saturday, and scooted up to Baltimore on Sunday to have brunch with Sarah, Ella, Eli and Sarah’s mom, who was in for visit. Ken is out of town at a veterinary conference.

The coming week promises to be a bit busier. I head up to New Jersey on Monday for a Rutgers Cancer Institute External Advisory Board meeting; NCI-designated cancer center directors routinely help each other out, and I look forward to doing so for that Cancer Institute. Tuesday will be highlighted by a major planning meeting for the upcoming Gala, which will be held on October 29.

Things are really shaping up for this year’s 30th Lombardi Gala. We expect this to be a very special event and have been honored by the active engagement of so many people. You’ll be hearing more about this exciting event in the coming weeks and months.

Have a great week.

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Aug 01 2016

Political Season and Cancer Research

by at 8:45 am

What a week! We were in Baltimore over the weekend, and drove home on Saturday night just as the torrential rainstorm that led to flash flooding and at least one death in Ellicott City came roaring through while we were on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. It was some of the hardest driving I can remember, but we got home without incident.

I certainly was plenty busy at work, highlighted by an extremely stimulating Hematologic Malignancies Retreat in Hackensack with our HUMC partners. We sent up a contingent of seven people – me, Mike Atkins, Sharon Levy, Bruce Cheson, Kelly Fitzpatrick (from MWHC), Chaitra Ujjani and Mike Johnson. Another 80 folks from HUMC were there, and most of them were physicians, nurse practitioners and clinical research coordinators. It was a most impressive turnout, and we came away with a number of great ideas for future collaborations.

But the highlight of my week was, without a doubt, an unexpected invitation to attend the Thursday evening session of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. I was offered two entry badges on Tuesday, and simply could not turn down the opportunity to see democracy in action. So, after an abbreviated Thursday clinic we headed up to Philly and got into the arena at about 6 pm. It took at least 30 minutes to find a seat – the DNC organizers apparently issued many more passes than there were seats, but we were lucky to find a couple of seats in a nosebleed section.

Democracy sure is wonderful, but the process is messy. The polished product we see on TV does not come close to capturing the chaos and occasional incivility that occurs when thousands of people with deep and sometimes conflicting passions are crammed into a sports arena like so many sardines. Now remember, I have been to that arena many times, surrounded by Philadelphia sports fans, some of whom are reputed to have bad manners. I’ll take them over a group of convention delegates any time!

Make no mistake, the proceedings were thrilling. The entire arena was mesmerized by the speeches of Rev. William Barber and Khizr Khan, the father of the fallen Muslim-American patriot, Captain Humayun Khan. And, we were witnesses to history – the acceptance speech of the first woman ever nominated by a major political party for the office of President of the United States. Balloons dropped. We then turned around and hustled back to DC, tired but thrilled to have been witnesses to history.

On the way back, and then while participating in a conference call of the AACR’s Government Affairs Committee, I wondered, how is it that we have just completed two exhausting, momentous weeks of political action – two conventions, and a blogosphere on fire – yet virtually none of the rhetoric has revolved about the urgent needs and priorities in areas of cancer research or, indeed, any biomedical research? The only reference to science I heard in either nominee’s acceptance speech was Secretary Clinton’s assertion that she believes in science – though she was referring to climate change research.

To be sure, there is increasing attention being paid to NIH and NCI funding, and we should be grateful for Vice President Biden’s leadership in the Cancer Moonshot. However, this emphasis has not translated to a significant increase in funding for research. I find this remarkable, in that cancer still kills more than 1,500 Americans every day, dwarfing almost all other causes of death and suffering. Perhaps Yuval Harari, author of the extraordinary book, ‘Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind’ – got it right. He noted that modern research has always relied primarily on government support, and that support has always been linked to the geopolitical aspirations of those governments and societies. Viewed in that context, perhaps the post-World War II surge of increasing support for biomedical research that ended in 2004 represents a historical aberration, and not the evolution of our societal sensibilities. Certainly, there is no connection between curing cancer and military conquest. However, I am an optimist. I think that one day we are going to view the current era as a hiccough – a brief downturn – in an arc of expanding investment of our society in biomedical research. Life is simply too precious to consider any other option.

Have a great week.

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