The Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy is a national organization based in Connecticut that funds research and clinical trials to find new treatments for all types of cancer through gene and cell therapy. (acgtfoundation.org) The organization has in excess of $25-million dollars invested in research. A friend at ACGT brought to my attention an important book, written 15 years ago by NBC’s Chief Scientific Journalist Robert Bazell. The work is Her2 The Making of Herceptin, A Revolutionary Treatment for Breast Cancer. Her2 is the name of a cancer-causing gene. The book renews its relevance today in light of the current controversy over FDA withdrawal of Avastin as a treatment for advanced breast cancer.
Her 2 is the story of the development of the breast cancer treatment drug Herceptin, developed in conjunction with and manufactured by Genentech, the same company that is making news today with Avastin. Like Herceptin, Avastin was taken to human clinical trials and made available to cancer patients after a long and arduous process. The FDA has withdrawn Avastin as a treatment for advanced breast cancer, and emotions ran high as the FDA listened to testimony from patients. “I owe my life to Avastin,” said Patricia Howard, age 66, of New York, who has been treated for breast cancer since 2005. “I’m not just a piece of anecdotal evidence. I’m a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, and grammy.” Sadly, you will find dozens of similar quotations in Her2 before Herceptin was made available to terminally ill breast cancer patients.
If you have a personal connection with breast cancer, I urge you to read Her2, The Making of Herceptin. Bazell places in laser focus the science, politics, ego’s, emotion, corporate and government bureaucracy, jealously and the economics of getting a drug from the laboratory to market. It is both a clinical and human story written with extraordinary care. It is a very human story indeed.
When you read Her2, you will recognize in the Herceptin story the same emotions as being played out with Avastin and you will find it difficult not to share the frustration of those scientists, patients and doctors who are desperately waiting for new cancer fighting drugs to become readily available.