It has been a while since I submitted a blog entry, and one of my New Year’s resolutions is that I will get back to posting entries more regularly. I thought I would start with a summary of the past year in the field of cancer in general and the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center in particular.
By all accounts, it was an outstanding year. For decades, cancer immunotherapy was seen as a field that created both scientific excitement and clinical frustration – studies in mice demonstrated real promise, yet we were unable to apply the resulting advances to help patients. This is no longer the case. Clinical research studies from 2015 demonstrate cancer immunotherapy can be effective for patients with an increasing number of cancer types that are resistant to other standard therapies. The past year provided additional evidence that persistence in the field of cancer immunotherapy has finally had a positive impact for patients and is here to stay. Possibly most importantly, it is clear we are only now scratching the surface of what cancer immunotherapy can do, and are sure to be able to use the immune system to help additional patients in the years ahead.
After many years of decreasing budgets for cancer research, Congress approved an increase in cancer research funding for the National Cancer Institute (NCI). While the new dollars are not yet available, this bipartisan effort has led to a newfound optimism among cancer researchers, particularly those who have great ideas they have been unable to pursue in the past because of depressed funding. Moving forward, we need to remain vigilant to do everything we can to assure support for biomedical research in general and cancer research in particular does not, once again, get caught up in partisan bickering.
Closer to home, it was exciting to see a number of new cancer drugs approved by the FDA including Imlygic (tamilogene laherparepvec) and Yondelis (trabectedin). Patient volunteers who participated in clinical trials of these drugs, and the clinical and research staff of Holden, under the leadership of Dr. Mo Milhem, played a central role in the pivotal trials that led to these approvals.
We completed the process for renewal of the Holden NCI designation as a comprehensive cancer center that is required every five years. This was an immense effort by the members and staff of Holden. While we will not receive formal word on this process for a couple of months, all indications are that the review went well and that our status as a top-tier cancer center will be maintained.
On a personal level, in 2015 I had the opportunity to work with a broad range of incredibly dedicated people. It has been an honor to serve at the state and national levels as President of the Iowa Cancer Consortium and the Association of American Cancer Institutes. While these roles take time and effort, they allow me to work closely with outstanding individuals across Iowa and the US which benefits our efforts at Holden in many ways. No team is more outstanding than the members and staff of Holden – an incredibly talented and dedicated group of people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to reducing the burden of cancer in our community and beyond. Working with them on a daily basis in 2015 has been a true honor, and I appreciate their patience, support and guidance.
While it is thrilling to have made such progress in 2015, we know from our daily care of patients that we still have a long way to go. Here is to even greater progress in 2016!