Six years ago today, the movement known as Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) was launched. The search for effective treatments -- and hopefully cures -- for the collection of diseases we call cancer hasn't been the same ever since.
SU2C was launched on television by joint appearances of the three network evening news anchors at that time -- Katie Couric of CBS, Charles Gibson of ABC, and Brian Williams of NBC -- announcing a "roadblock" telecast across their networks later that year. Many other well-known people in broadcasting and entertainment have lent their time and talents to raise awareness and bring in funds for critically needed research. The effort has been a huge success, with more than $260 million pledged in connection with three star-studded telecasts, among many other initiatives.
SU2C has had a profound effect on the cancer research community in this country and beyond. Before SU2C, we scientists tended to work within our own laboratories and institutions, sometimes working collaboratively with other scientists within the institution, but not often reaching beyond it.
But cancer is so complex -- taking place at the most fundamental levels of life -- that it is hard for a single laboratory to figure out more than a tiny piece of the puzzle. To make progress faster, we needed to work together far more effectively.
That's the approach SU2C has brought to the field. SU2C funds "Dream Teams" of researchers from different disciplines as well as different cancer centers and other institutions that are often hundreds or thousands of miles apart but focus on the same problem and approach to solving it. The Teams benefit from the cross-fertilization of ideas and shared use of data and observations. SU2C has also awarded Innovative Research Grants (IRGs) to young investigators with proposals that may be high-risk, but also carry the potential for high rewards, in terms of saving lives.
The overall purpose is to move effective new therapies out of the lab and into the clinic at a much faster pace. It's the collective wisdom of researchers from many different institutions that's making things move much more rapidly.
I have the honor of serving as Chair of SU2C's Scientific Advisory Committee. To date, SU2C has funded 12 Dream Teams, two smaller Translational Research Teams, and 26 IRGs. Over 750 scientists at 112 institutions in six countries have been involved in this research.
With the Dream Teams, our approach is to put serious funding - millions of dollars - behind the best and most promising new approaches. Our Scientific Partner, the American Association for Cancer Research, runs the selection process and carefully monitors the work of the selected Teams.
It often takes not just years but decades to develop important new treatments and get them to patients. So I am delighted that SU2C research has already had impact at the clinical level, leading to FDA approval of a new combination treatment for pancreatic cancer, as well as an FDA "breakthrough therapy" designation - intended to expedite development of especially promising medicines - for a new breast cancer treatment. Our teams have also played important roles in other new therapies that are moving through the long and complex approval pipeline. These include new approaches to immunotherapy -- using the body's own immune system to fight cancer -- which is one of the most exciting frontiers in cancer research today.
SU2C has also had an impact on the public at large, shining a new light on an old problem and engaging people from all walks of life in helping the scientists working on better and more effective treatments. From the philanthropists, companies or organizations who can make $10 million gifts to individuals who can donate $10, there is a renewed sense that, together, we can win this fight. I believe that media coverage of SU2C clinical trials is helping prompt more cancer patients to ask their doctors about the prospect of participating in trials; if that's so, everyone will ultimately benefit.
SU2C is bringing new hope that cancer will one day be a treatable, manageable condition and rarely a terminal illness.
That is a tall order, and I do not suggest otherwise, but there is a palpable sense of optimism and momentum in the cancer research community today. There's a strong feeling that we are on the verge of significant breakthroughs made possible by our much better understanding of the molecular mechanisms giving rise to cancer. In six short years, SU2C and its millions of supporters have contributed significantly to that momentum -- and patients are benefitting. I am eager to see what the next six years will bring.
Dr. Phillip A. Sharp is Institute Professor at the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology in 1993.
For more information about Stand Up To Cancer, a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, visit su2c.org.