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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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September 25, 2012

CNN's Cure for Cancer

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Posted by Derek

I've been meaning to write something about the M.D. Anderson announcement of "Moon Shot" programs for cancer therapies. Mostly something about how I'm very glad that they're spending a lot of time and money on this, because there are a lot of good people there, but also about how I truly hate the "Moon Shot" analogy for R&D. As has been said for years, decades. . .the Moon landing was a stupendous feat of applied engineering, but few (if any) new principles had to be discovered along the way. Attacking cancer, though, is like trying to engineer a moon landing when you're not sure where the moon is. Or what it's made out of. Or what the various kinds of rocket fuel might be.

And the whole thing was made much, much worse by CNN, who proclaimed "Cure for Cancer Close" as some sort of exclusive scoop. That ridiculous situation is summed up well here. As it turns out, this was a combination of the M.D. Anderson press release and one of those "We could save more people just by applying our existing knowledge more thoroughly" angles. All in all, a really shoddy performance, which I hope had people both at CNN and M. D. Anderson burying their heads in their hands.

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cancer | Press Coverage


1. exGlaxoid on September 25, 2012 11:57 AM writes...

I have heard several similar local news show that discussed the MDA and Breast cancer gene mapping both as "New Cures for Cancer- news at 11" teasers. I think the media DOES know that what they are saying is blatantly incorrect, but they want to attract viewers, and if stretching the truth to the breaking point is what that takes, so be it. If we could cure one actual patient per exaggerated claim of curing cancer, there would be few deaths from cancer.

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2. J.S. Boc on September 25, 2012 12:26 PM writes...

I'm shocked--SHOCKED--that CNN would engage in irresponsible journalism.

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3. Curious Wavefunction on September 25, 2012 12:30 PM writes...

The difference is that we knew where the moon was, what it was and that it was one thing. We don't yet know all the places where cancer is and what it exactly is. And we know for a fact that it's not one thing.

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4. metaphysician on September 25, 2012 4:08 PM writes...

It could be worse; at least this is an area of scientific research. People also loving making moon-shot comparisons when asking why we haven't eliminated hunger or poverty.

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5. Virgil on September 25, 2012 8:27 PM writes...

MDACC is a hotbed of corruption and fraud if you ask me. From Depinho's little grant-to-my-wife scandal, to BB Aggarwal's shenanigans, and a press room that claims every herbal supplement under the sun cures cancer. It's all a money shop to dupe oil-rich Texans out of their cash in return for the promise of curing the incurable. Sickening.

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6. Virgil on September 25, 2012 8:29 PM writes...

Oh, and for the record, the moon is made of cheese. I thought everyone knew that!

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7. Rock on September 25, 2012 9:44 PM writes...

Regarding the title of the article: you clicked, and it achieved its purpose. It doesn't matter if the story is true, useful, or just plain garbage. The whole purpose for online media today is to generate page views, and they are masters at figuring out what people will click on. I recommend that everyone read "Trust me, I'm lying: Confessions of a media manipulator". It is a sobering look at the guts of the online media world and has certainly changed my "clicking" habits.

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8. insilicoconsulting on September 26, 2012 5:51 AM writes...

So how many of you actually watched the program? Yes media does overhype these things but the interviewee himself said that it was wrong to say that we could discover a cure for cancer in general in 10 years.

He stated that the goal was to work on very specific types of cancer wand work towards achieving very specific endpoints but which nevertheless were great signposts of progress(my words). This distinction about what the CNN interviewer felt was the 'moonshot' and why the reference was used was made very clear.

His answers were nuanced without overt claims to a theory of everything .

Is MD. Anderson not a charity hospital cum research centre? Can they not plug such "missions" to get better funding from donors?

Healthy criticism is fine but feeling the need to comment derisively on everything is just boorish.

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9. MDACC Student on September 26, 2012 10:37 AM writes...

The way he plans to set up clinical trials is very clever. What I disagree with is that it depends on current targets/targeting strategies and U also disagree with his commitment to move away from basic research.
There isalso issue of him bringing as many people as he can from Harvard...IMO, if the team couldn't do it in the Northeast, how is transplanting them and giving them more money (research funding and salary) going to make progress? Will an extra million make someone more innovative?...

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10. steve on September 26, 2012 12:59 PM writes...

Ummm.... Yes. Write me a check for $1MM and you'll see just how innovative I can be!

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11. MIMD on September 26, 2012 9:38 PM writes...

Similar claims are made of computers in medicine. They'll replace physicians "real soon now."

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12. jaffa on October 2, 2012 5:40 AM writes...


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