Cancer Cures and Communicating – Responsibly

Earlier this week, it was reported by multiple media outlets (see here, and here, and here) that a group of Israeli scientists had found “a cure for all cancer” and that it could be ready within a year.

As a long-time life sciences industry executive my knee-jerk reaction was not “finally!” but “crap, not again!” As someone who knows from experience the challenges of treating cancer – man, it’s HARD – the hairs on the back of my neck stood up with concern for the more than 15 million people living with cancer in the U.S. and the many, many more worldwide.

If you are a fellow life sciences industry peer – you get this intrinsically. You may have had family or friends who battled cancer and started a whole company with the long, arduous goal of treating one form of it. You may have worked in a lab studying animal models or human subjects and know the two are not the same at ALL. You may have even worked on a failed drug, or drugs, and thought long and hard about how to tell the patients.

But others outside our industry won’t have these insights. They may not understand that cancer is a disease of diseases or that it’s like a virus that continues to change. They may not know how clinical trials work, or that even if a new treatment is discovered, it could take years for it to get to market – let alone be reimbursed. And they most certainly have no idea that mice – the subject of this Israeli study – are the least predictive model around.

Hope can be positive. It gives patients a path forward. It gives families something to strive towards. It gives current and future generations a mission to be delivered upon.

But where hope is detrimental is where it’s used, irresponsibly by a scientist – or engineer, or VC, or CEO – to tell a story that serves that individual or individuals more than it does the audiences who need it most.

We live in a precarious time where ideas and beliefs trump facts and – as we’ve seen in healthcare – an entrepreneur will defraud everyone to keep their star in the sky.

We can NOT give into these pressures to build wealth, or be SEEN, and communicate broadly without caution, education and empathy. We must act responsibly in how we share new discoveries and potential breakthroughs. We must do right by patients every step of the way – from discovery to development to commercialization – and most definitely, in how we tell our story along the way.

And if you have any questions about what communicating responsible science really means – you know where to find me!