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Canada Can Conquer Cancer - Update January 2009
March 22, 2010

It seems the world is in a crisis which expands beyond financial markets and the economy. Today, more than ever, there is a need for bold vision and focused action as both problems and opportunities have never been more significant. Beyond the economy, there is a crisis in the world that involves the complex disease of cancer. The International Union Against Cancer (UICC) is a global not-for-profit organization that is based in Geneva and tracks the trends in cancer. Suffice to say cancer is basically a deadly epidemic world-wide that is among the leading causes of death. 


Most countries are examining their competitive advantages and their spending priorities. The U.S. will be spending over one trillion dollars on a stimulus program which involves infrastructure as well as other spending. Importantly, President-Elect Barack Obama has also made healthcare reform a major national priority. Cancer is now the leading cause of death in the United States, or about equal in terms of deaths to heart disease. It will be interesting to see how spending on initiatives like the electronic health record and new research and clinical programs will change the way healthcare is provided in the US.


As Canadians, we can be proud of our healthcare system and the quality and universality which is evident throughout our system. While Canadian healthcare is not perfect and many issues exist which can be improved upon, our healthcare system is a true competitive advantage and improves the quality-of-life advantage for Canadian citizens.


Cancer is also a leading cause of death in Canada and in Ontario alone someone is diagnosed with cancer about every 8 minutes. The statistics are frightening and virtually every Canadian family has been touched directly or indirectly by this disease.


What most Canadians don't realize is how accomplished the cancer research professionals are in Canada. The Campbell Family Institute at the Princess Margaret Hospital is the organization that I am most aware of and work with on a daily basis. This organization and the rest of the research staff at the Princess Margaret Hospital include basic, translational, and clinical researchers who have global reputations through their work and performance. Many other institutions in Canada from the University of Toronto to McGill University to the B.C. Cancer Agency and others also are fortunate to employ some of the most accomplished research scientists in the world.

Dr. Ben Neel heads up the research enterprise at Princess Margaret and The Campbell Family Institute. Ben was recruited from Harvard Medical School about four years ago and joins leaders like Drs. Tak Mak, John Dick, Frances Shepherd, Malcolm Moore, Mary Gospodarowicz, David Jaffray and dozens and dozens of others who are global leaders in their field. Right here on University Avenue in Toronto we have a powerhouse cluster of cancer research excellence including research staff from The Campbell Family Institute, Sick Kids Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto, and many others housed in the wonderful MaRS Discovery Towers. Scientific discovery in the field of cancer is something every Canadian should know more about and should be proud of.


As our governments and other leaders consider strategies to generate employment and to improve the quality of life for Canadians, they should understand and appreciate the emerging global powerhouse that we possess in cancer research. Canadian cancer researchers punch way above their weight class in terms of funding but have also distinguished themselves in terms of discovery. Commercialization of this scientific discovery could lead to very significant wealth creation and job creation opportunities among Canadian knowledge workers. Most importantly, the human suffering which would be addressed by a fundamental cure for cancer or a series of treatments which would make cancer a chronic disease people could live with as opposed to die from would be beyond economic value. One of the greatest accomplishments of the next 100 years will be achieved when we discover more of the answers to the complex disease which we call cancer.


I remember back when the US decided it was going to focus its resources to put a man on the moon. Solving the complex mystery that is the disease of cancer is more urgent and probably more difficult than putting a man on the moon. Canada should have such a national strategy and a focused call to action “to conquer cancer”.


I have worked at The Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation for seven years and have observed the quality and quantity of science discovery led by Canadians in the world of cancer research. I believe and the evidence would support Canada's opportunity to play a lead role in conquering cancer in our lifetime. I believe Canada can conquer cancer. We need a strategy, we need the will, and we need the focus on making this a national priority. We have the intellectual capital in place now. From stem cell research in the lab of Dr. John Dick to the incredible productivity of Dr. Tak Mak and to the lab benches as well as bedsides of our leading research and medical institutions, Canada is well positioned.

Building cars and drilling for oil have been traditional strengths of the Canadian economy. A strong case can be made that we should amass significant resources against the national opportunity to conquer cancer. The old military strategy of “massive resources against limited objectives” suggests Canada must understand what we are good at and what we can lead the world in.

Every day at The Campbell Family Institute I see the core of scientific talent that could in fact help Canada conquer cancer for the world. For more information visit The Campbell Family Institute, the Ontario Cancer Institute or Princess Margaret Hospital.


Canada Can Conquer Cancer

Let's make this a national priority.

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