Tomorrow is now today…
After spending 10 years focused on population health and chronic disease, I’ve joined the global battle against cancer.
Last January, when Nant Health acquired my former company, NaviNet, I got my first real introduction to oncology’s outrageously genius scientists, dedicated nurses and passionate patient advocates, and disruptive oncologists.
But in my role there I didn’t meet patients.
Since starting as Cure Forward CEO, that has changed. Every day I sit with our team as they work through individual cases one at a time, building each patient’s clinical and genomic profile, scouring the clinical trials world for a meaningful and timely match, and laboring to make each trial enrollment happen as quickly and locally as possible.
Outside the team room, we each receive our own personal emails and phone calls. Typically it’s an old friend who hasn’t previously let me know they’ve been dealing with cancer, but feels okay reaching out now that I’m at Cure Forward. How stoic most people are when it comes to this disease! We keep our troubles to ourselves, whether we are patient or caregiver.
My first such contact was with an old friend who had taken on primary parent duty while escorting his wife from one brand name academic cancer center to another, looking for an alternative as she experienced a second failed line of chemotherapy. He is well educated and well insured, but his wife’s community oncologist could not spend the time needed to penetrate the incredibly complex and rapidly changing trial landscape.
That is not a criticism of her oncologist. The complexity and dynamism of today’s massive global discovery process is hard for any human being to comprehend or track — oncologists tell us that keeping up with the flood of peer-reviewed new literature, studying insights that may only lead to approved treatments years from now (or never), is largely inconsistent with demanding daily patient care.
This puts the weight of finding clinical trials on the patient and the patient’s family. Yet everyone in healthcare has a personal story that illustrates how the patient has the least power and usable information of all the “stakeholders” in healthcare. It remains extraordinarily difficult for any person to identify and get access to potentially helpful therapies before they are approved by the FDA and incorporated into the Standard of Care used by doctors. Individual patients understandably lack fluency in the subtleties of DNA mutations and protein expression pathways, and have no view into the hundreds of academic and pharma research sites applying new molecular insights to therapy development.
At Cure Forward we devote every energy to this work. Supported by a multidisciplinary team, the Cure Forward Patient Guide helps each patient to develop a comprehensive clinical and genomic profile that can be shared with his or her doctor. Always the goal is to empower the patient to draw on the community experience to problem solve and direct his or her own care.
This is very serious work — yet Cure Forward is a joyful workplace. We attract people — oncologists, nurses, geneticists, patient guides, internet and social media experts, software developers, business people — who are inspired by how our patients approach their challenges.
I am blown away particularly by our Precision Medicine Advocates, mostly cancer survivors. You can’t understand what they do late at night on social media, or in direct contact with people in need, in terms of a “work ethic” — it’s more of a “love ethic.” They make loud noises, sometimes joyful and sometimes angry, fighting for the people they help with their hard-won wisdom and encouragement.
First days at Cure Forward — humbling for sure. But you can feel the bond that forms when people lock arms with each other, and with people they’ve never seen, to fight a good fight. Grateful to be here — very cool.