A Matter of Life or Death

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On Thursday, I stared up at a 500-pound-per-square-inch centrifugal dryer at a drug company research facility in the middle of New Jersey. The room was clean and odorless, and I thought I heard wheels spinning.

I couldn’t help thinking, looking at this machine after hearing yet another drug company describe its oncology pipeline to a roomful of squinting journalists, that we still live in a world in which Memorial Sloan-Kettering and the Mayo Clinic consider each other institutional arch rivals, sworn enemies. This, despite all the smart people that work at both places who realize they should link their computers together immediately; that they should collaborate on figuring out what they mean by personalized medicine and come up together with a practical means of vetting the data from the genome; that they must focus as one, along with research hubs around the world, on discovering next generation cancer therapies; and that this should all take place in a research world where there are new incentives for scientists, where no idea is hoarded, and where publication in prestigious journals is never a researcher’s goal. The technician that showed us the centrifuge told us he’d been with the company since the plant was designed.

At lunch, I met a writer from the Newark Star Ledger who works with Barry Carter, my old neighbor in Maplewood. Barry’s daughters and mine went to grade school together and our wives were Girl Scout leaders. Barry and I would sometimes discuss journalism at school picnics and dances, though our jobs were quite different–Barry worked for a major daily, covering the neighborhoods of Newark, while I worked for a specialized weekly business magazine in New York. Barry, a big, big man, is all charisma and solid neighborliness, someone you want around. I can still see him dancing with his fourth grade daughter in the gym years ago. He and his wife, Juanita, met at Howard University, probably in the 1970s. Two years ago, Juanita died between Christmas and New Years of a sudden heart attack. The reporter I met today says he played cards with Barry last weekend. That Barry recently finished taking a Latin dance class and writing a heavy duty feature series on the wife of a slain police officer in Newark. It starts on Sunday. “Barry’s OK,” he said. He still lives with his two daughters, now in high school, in the same house in Maplewood.

The day ended with a cancer survivor. A stunningly beautiful woman, standing nearly seven feet tall, her head shaved, she told us from the podium that her rare form of ovarian cancer will be in remission for four years in January, thanks to our hosts for the day. She is appearing in their advertisements. Her battle with cancer, she told us, has been a life affirming experience.

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6 Responses to “A Matter of Life or Death”

  1. Todd Says:

    lots of data from the genome being shared here from all over the world:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Genbank/index.html

  2. Rick Says:

    Yes! NIH is doing great stuff. In fact, it is the government agency that is at the forefront of getting everyone on the same page.

    Thanks Todd!

  3. Todd Says:

    There is ( I think) a big push to get journals online for free at PubMed Central.
    This site gets about 80 million hits a month:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gquery/gquery.fcgi. I designed look and feel of it, but none of the backend, that took a room full brilliant programmers.

  4. Rick Says:

    It’s funny–and here is part of the problem I’m lamenting. My employer, heretofore referred to as The Show, is in a legal hassle over the closely related PubChem at NIH–apparently some folks here want to sell those numbers.

    The real need is to get rid of all competitive barriers between the people who will use the numbers. Right now, there is just an overwhelming number of numbers and scientists/institutions competing against each other.

  5. Todd Says:

    I shot ya an email

  6. Kizz Says:

    Where do we write? Who do we call? What do we do to help these people get together and do the right thing? My stern letter skills are up to snuff and I’ve got stamps!

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