Collaboration, not just money, is what's needed to fight cancer
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The silence seemed deafening by what wasn't said during a session on collaboration in cancer research at the Concordia Summit in New York City on Sept. 19th, which we co-chaired with Susan Braun, CEO of the V Foundation for Cancer Research.


The three of us were charged with bringing together a select group of about two dozen seasoned leaders involved in the cancer research effort, including scientists; clinicians; heads and former heads of major cancer research societies, institutions, agencies and companies; policymakers; patient advocates; and journalists. Everyone volunteered his or her time to share individual and collective wisdom.

We were given three hours to discuss the challenges facing cancer research, opportunities for potential partnerships, insights into best practices, lessons learned and recommendations for enhancing the global cancer effort.

And we were all instructed to leave any institutional agendas at the door, to think big and wide, and not to offer solutions as much as pathways toward realizing meaningful collaborations that would help reduce the incidence, severity and death from cancer.

Concordia — a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to creating public-private partnerships for a "more prosperous and sustainable future" — hopes to use such forums to identify new means of collaboration for governments, businesses and nonprofits through campaigns, programs and research.

And with cancer, the focus of an upcoming campaign, our session was also an inaugural step in developing an agenda for that initiative.

What seemed so surprising was that with a room full of scientists and clinical researchers, no one echoed the all-too-often-heard refrain that more money is needed for cancer research.

Instead there was a steady discussion focused around such themes as prevention, private-public collaborative partnerships, the sharing of big data and, as a former director of the National Cancer Institute noted, accomplishing "democratization of care for cancer patients around the country."

Co-author of this piece Eric Rosenthal made the distinction between what he termed the different levels of collaboration: altruistic collaboration for the good of all; convenient or complementary altruism that benefits the partners as well as the recipients; and the all-too-common strain of lip-service collaboration that looks or sounds good but is more sizzle than steak.

The group was not supposed to solve problems or come to conclusions during the session, but rather offer insights and thoughts to be collected by Concordia for consideration for its cancer campaign and future conferences.

But what we heard between the lines was not just the need for additional efforts to foster funding for research, but a more meaningful collaborative effort that emphasizes prevention and further reduction of cancer incidence and death through more effective and efficient management of existing resources.

Perhaps what is needed is a more well-defined parallel path to the research funding effort, requiring creation of a collaborative nonprofit entity dedicated to assessing what appropriate resources are currently available and forcing meaningful partnerships that will permit the fruits of the scientific and clinical advances to reach and benefit more people at a reasonable cost for the sake of the greater public's better health.

And although this path won't necessarily garner sexy headlines, especially since there's little that's seemingly dramatic about preventing something, it could possibly prove really dramatic in lessening the burden of cancer.

Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen, the world's largest breast cancer charity, was previously a Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control to the U.N.'s World Health Organization; U.S. chief of protocol; and U.S. ambassador to Hungary. She is now continuing her work in media and consulting. Rosenthal is an independent journalist who covers issues, controversies and trends in oncology as special correspondent for MedPage Today. He is the founder of the National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Centers Public Affairs Network and helped organize a number of national medicine-and-the-media conferences. The opinions expressed belong solely to the authors.

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