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Laura Ziskin Headshot

The End of Cancer Has Begun

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This past September 5th, Stand Up to Cancer launched in a powerful way. Thanks to a landmark broadcast on three major networks, the passion, support and dedication of leading doctors and scientists, and generous contributions from the entertainment community, corporate sponsors and the general public, we raised more than $100 million for innovative cancer research projects. Now, to paraphrase Tony Kushner, it is time to let the great work begin:

In early October, Lisa Paulsen, Noreen Fraser and I (representing the Executive Leadership of SU2C) traveled to Philadelphia to attend a dinner on the eve of the inaugural meeting of the Stand Up To Cancer Scientific Advisory Committee. Dr. Raymond DuBois, president, and Dr. Margaret Foti, chief executive officer, of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), our scientific partner, hosted the dinner. Nineteen of the twenty Committee members, including the two representatives of the SU2C Advocate Advisory Council, attended the meeting. Nobel Laureate Dr. Phillip Sharp presided over the meeting, along with vice chairs, Dr. Brian Druker and Dr. Arnold Levine. For Lisa, Noreen and me, it was our first time meeting many of these extraordinary scientists who have generously agreed to donate their time and expertise to our mutual cause.

We already knew Dr. Sharp and Dr. Druker, of course, both of whom were featured in the Stand Up To Cancer broadcast. Dr. Sharp took me around before the dinner and gave me a personal introduction to a number of the other attendees, including Dr. Levine who was a key figure in the discovery of the p53 tumor suppressor gene; Richard Kolodner who has done seminal work in genetic recombination and DNA repair; Tak Mak who co-discovered the T-cell receptor, a key component of the immune system; Cecil Pickett from Biogen Idec, who is a world expert in drug development; Vicki L. Sato, whose expertise is in both drug development and business in the biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industries; and Samuel Wells, who, Dr. Sharp reminded me, is the only surgical oncologist on the Committee, and is a pioneer in treatments for thyroid and other endocrine cancers. It was a heady experience to have this much brain power together in one room. But what was really rewarding was to hear first-hand how genuinely excited and challenged they all were to be such an important part of this endeavor. To learn more about our Scientific Advisory Committee go to:

In July, the AACR put out a broad call for ideas for cancer research "Dream Teams," reflecting the following general SU2C principles:

SU2C is committed to improving the outcomes for cancer patients by raising awareness of the importance of the problem and providing significant incremental resources to apply to its eradication. SU2C understands that its goals can only be achieved through the support of very high quality research and has formed a partnership with AACR to facilitate the distribution of research support in a fashion that both promotes the highest quality science and adheres to the specific priorities of SU2C:

1. SU2C aspires to support proximal translational research. By this we mean both laboratory and clinical research bridging the gap between basic science and the bedside, clearly focused on the problem of human cancer, with a discernible potential to lead to the development of markedly better treatments or preventions for this disease as rapidly as possible. SU2C places the highest priority on initiatives with the greatest potential to translate within the funding period and that address the greatest unmet medical need.

2. SU2C believes that open communication, collaboration and cooperation between the best scientists and clinicians is essential to moving the research agenda forward as rapidly as possible and is therefore critical for cancer patient welfare. SU2C therefore wishes to foster group efforts and discourage individual and institutional competition in its funding activities.

3. SU2C wishes to promote goal-directed research. While it is understood that true innovation and major improvements in cancer prevention and treatment will begin with the best basic laboratory research, projects that are most consistent with SU2C objectives will unambiguously embody and specifically articulate a clear bedside objective.

4. SU2C is committed to maximizing the efficiency with which scientists pursue the research objectives we support. We therefore wish to minimize the time spent in preparing proposals and awaiting funding and optimize the time spent on SU2C projects.

Noreen, Lisa and I addressed the group at dinner and thanked them for their commitment. We also each encouraged them to think boldly in their upcoming meetings; to think out of the box; and to think about what will get better treatments to patients in the fastest way possible. It was gratifying when Dr. Sharp, Dr. Druker and Dr. Levine each took the podium to address the group. Dr. Levine spoke about how far we have come since Nixon's war on cancer. How in those days we thought all cancers were caused by viruses. How we have subsequently learned about the effects of chemicals and carcinogens; about the role of aging in cancer; and most importantly about how genetic changes can cause cancer. Indeed, technology has given scientists so many new tools and they now understand the mechanisms of cancer so much better. Dr. Levine reinforced that cancer researchers are on the cusp of real breakthroughs.

Dr. Druker then told the story of a colon cancer patient who asked him when there would be better treatments. He told the patient things were moving forward and that new treatments were just down the road. The patient was not satisfied. When Dr. Druker went home and recounted this to his wife, she reminded him that you cannot ask a cancer patient to have "patience." We need answers now, and Dr. Druker and cancer researchers around the world are committed to finding them. Finally, Dr. Sharp said that the entire Committee understands that the SU2C leadership, and the public we continue to rally, have given them an incredibly difficult challenge, but that they were all really turned on by that challenge and dedicated to doing their very best to deliver results.

We left the dinner more excited than I think we had been throughout the entire year we had been working on SU2C. This was what we had been working and waiting for. The next morning these scientists would meet to discuss their charge from the SU2C and to evaluate the proposals that were submitted. This meeting marked the beginning of an important process to identify the most exciting team projects to be supported by SU2C funds. In the coming weeks and months, Dr. Sharp and the vice chairs of the Committee will be updating all of us on their progress. I will do my best to pass on their findings to all of those who have generously supported our cause. But for all of us who were in the room October 9th, I can tell you there was a feeling of enormous excitement that the end of cancer has begun.