Pancreas Matters letter, David Tuveson

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Dear Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Friends:

With heartfelt admiration, I bid you farewell from the Scientific Advisory Board of one of the best advocacy groups I have ever encountered: the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

When I was a young medical student in the 1980s, I became incensed at a new disease killing many of my patients, and thus I had the opportunity to meet clinical and lay advocates who tirelessly plotted strategies to combat the scourge of AIDS. From the late ’80s to the mid ’90s there was a wave of change in the fight against AIDS with the arrival of triple therapy, huge research funding increases, and a heightened public awareness of the disease due to a very active and effective advocacy movement.

These advances convinced me against becoming an HIV doctor, since that field seemed to be on the right track. Instead, seeking a different challenge, I became a cancer doctor and picked pancreatic cancer, because we seemed as desperate in 1995 in this area as we were with AIDS in 1987.

I worked slowly on this disease as a postdoctoral/oncology fellow until 2002, when I started my laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania and applied for my first grant: the Career Development Award offered by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Fortunately, I received this grant, and this funding served as a portal into patient advocacy efforts with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and my new field, where I quickly met a group of people who were as passionate about the plight of pancreatic cancer patients as the AIDS advocacy groups were in the ’80s.

Over the past decade, I have had the privilege to work with and mostly recently serve on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and have seen firsthand the impact this group has had upon pancreatic cancer. The results are truly striking. The public is now very much aware of what we are facing, and instead of silently giving up, over one fourth of all newly diagnosed patients now contact the Patient and Liaison Services, or PanCAN Patient Services, program for guidance.

Due to tireless and persistent advocacy on Capitol Hill, federal funding for research into the disease has increased five-fold over the past decade, and many new investigators funded by grants from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network have entered the field. No other disease has seen increases of these amounts in funding while the federal budget has remained flat. However, pancreatic cancer still receives a disproportionately small fraction of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget, reminding us to continue to fight for more federal dollars to go towards researching this deadly disease. While we don’t have our version of the “triple therapy” yet that is used to treat HIV, we are poised to take the strides necessary to develop more effective treatment strategies, and will be ready to use them when they become available.

The friendship and advice offered by these muses at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network served as my sounding board for many of the projects that we launched in Philadelphia and eventually at Cancer Research UK in Cambridge where I have been located for the last six years. The rather modest Career Development Award presented to me by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in 2003 has truly been transformative regarding my early career and provided a wellspring of unanticipated opportunities.

Over the past year, I decided to repatriate as I feel that we are actually quite close to finding that “triple therapy” for pancreatic cancer. I received a generous offer to establish a pancreatic cancer lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and to become the director of research at the Lustgarten Foundation. While I am excited to begin this next journey in my professional life and build stronger ties between the Lustgarten Foundation and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, I wanted to first acknowledge the role that the latter organization and all of its supporters have played in fostering my early development, and, more importantly, for providing the field and our patients with hope that we will eventually prevail. Together, this is inevitable.


David A. Tuveson, MD, PhD
Professor, University of Cambridge
Senior Group Leader, CRUK Cambridge Research Institute