Cancer, you have a problem
Ron DePinho is a man on a mission. Oddly, though, he does not yet know exactly what that mission is. Dr DePinho is the new president of the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, Texas. (He took over in September, having previously headed the Belfer Institute, part of Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.) Mindful of his adopted city’s most famous scientific role, as home to Mission Control for the Apollo project, he says his own mission is akin to a moon shot. He aims to cure not one but five varieties of cancer. What he has not yet decided is: which five?
A crucial consideration will be how likely it looks that research into the tumour in question could get rapidly to the “proof of concept” stage—the point at which it could be taken forward by a business that relied on commercial sources of capital, rather than on the sorts of grants that usually propel academic research. At that moment a new firm might be spun out of the institute, or a deal might be done with an established pharmaceutical firm, to try to get a new drug developed.
His aim in coming to MD Anderson, he says, is to “industrialise” other aspects of biological research in the way that genetics has been pushed forward by high-throughput sequencing.
Fortunately, the state of Texas—no pushover when it comes to spending taxpayers’ cash—is creating a $3 billion cancer-research fund to help pay for it. Local philanthropists, including T. Boone Pickens and Ross Perot, are chipping in, too. Their model is the original Human Genome Project, during which the cost of sequencing a single genetic “letter” (a DNA base pair) fell from $10 in 1991 to ten cents in 2001—and is now 3,000 base pairs a cent. They hope their dollars will encourage people working with what are now, essentially, craft technologies to think about how they might industrialise them. (Read More)
“On Jan 6, 2012 I will welcome Dr. Ron DePinho to the Wall Street Journal Report. He told me we are currently seeing a moonshot opportunity to cure cancer. That the truly historic opportunities today in science and medicine will be game changers. Amazing. Can’t wait to watch this play out.” — Maria Bartiromo