Innovation, Immunotherapy and the Gentleman from Georgia
The presidential primary season is coming down to the wire … even though a single vote has yet to be cast.
Tonight, the leading Republican candidates are gathering in South Carolina for their latest televised debate, sure to be hotly contested and draw a large audience. Everyone will be trying to make an impression and stand out from the crowd, and even though it may go against GOP orthodoxy, a clever candidate might want to consider invoking the example of a Democrat: Jimmy Carter.
He left the White House almost 35 years ago, but to hear him speak today, at age 91, is to conclude he must be nothing short of a physical marvel.
Jimmy Carter was treated with a newly approved immune system drug that has shown to also have positive treatment effects in some cases of melanoma. It targets gene activity called PD-1 and PD-L1, and the interaction between them can prevent some tumors from being detected and neutralized by the body’s immune system that naturally prevents cancer from spreading.
These medications that allow immune cells to fight back – called immunotherapy – is helping patients in ways unimagined just a few years ago.
How can a 91-year-old man, no matter how vigorous, undergo extensive cancer treatment and infusion? The answer is, we have to adjust our thinking about what is possible.
Jimmy Carter’s breakthrough therapy can be given in 30 minutes with no nausea side effect. So he can take this treatment, and it can enhance his life. That is why the FDA gives accelerated approvals. We need more of them.
At a time when America’s health care conversation has stalled somewhat, perhaps there is political currency to be gained in favor of the kind of streamlined regulatory approval and enhanced patient access that we know helped Jimmy Carter – and can help countless other patients (also known as voters).
This might also point out where the media can do better. We wonder if an investigative journalist could find one advocate of price controls, rigid clinical pathways or cost-cutting “value frameworks” that would enthusiastically support precision therapy treatments for a 91-year-old man with cancer in his liver and brain. They’ll be looking a long time.
We need to step back from the superficial back-and-forth about drug pricing and develop a deeper conversation about the spectrum of needs that patients have, how best to meet them and the ways that everybody can contribute. How about a news story (or political speech) describing how truly complex the patient experience really is and making clear that medical innovation must continue on the march and saving lives?
I can think of a gentleman from Georgia who might have some interesting things to say.