Are we playing it too safe in cancer research? (Oops, Orac missed one)

This is just a brief followup to my post this morning about yesterday’s NYT article on cancer research. An excellent discussion of the NYT article can be found here (and is well worth reading in its entirety). In it, Jim Hu did something I should have done, namely check the CRISP database in addition to PubMed. A couple of key points follow about the examples cited in the NYT article.

Regarding Dennis Slamon:

I hate to criticize Dennis Slamon, because the HER2 to Herceptin story is a great one. But the image one gets of his research program being saved by a friend from Revlon while the NCI ignored him isn’t consistent with what you get when you search for his grants in the CRISP database. Slamon got an NCI grant in 1984 to work on “oncogenes in physiologic and pathologic states”. Two NCI grants are cited in the 1987 Science paper showing HER-2 amplification in breast cancer (one was probably for the collaborator’s lab), and he’s been pretty continuously funded by NCI since then. So I’d love to know what this story applies to.

Me too. Regarding Ellen Jaffe:

Eileen Jaffe has studied the enzymology of porphobilinogen synthase under a 20-year multiply renewed grant from the National Institutes for Environmental and Health Sciences. Recently, she’s been working on an idea called morpheeins, which she’s patented as the basis for drug discovery. I have no idea what was in the grant, but what I see doesn’t scream “missed opportunity to cure cancer” at me.

Which was my thought, too, looking at her publication record. Finally, regarding Louise R. Howe’s studies on signaling and cancer:

The plan, said the investigator, Louise R. Howe, an associate research professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, is first to confirm her hypothesis about the pathway in breast cancer cells. But even if it is correct, the much harder research would lie ahead because no drugs exist to block the pathway, and even if they did, there are no assurances that they would be safe.

I have no idea what Kolata has against Dr. Howe’s project. The same could have been said about HER2 in 1987.

Or about any number of oncogenes and targeted therapies. Yikes! The same could be said about what I’m working on. Oh, no, that must mean I’m not sufficiently innovative for Kolata’s taste…