James Watson’s Quest: “A Geneticist's Cancer Crusade: The discoverer of the double-helix says the disease can be cur
Posted Nov 27 2010 12:00am
A terrific and hopeful piece in The Wall Street Journal today : An interview with James Watson, the legendary co-discoverer of DNA, sharing the 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins.
The headline atop Allysia Finley’s story speaks to a positive can-do spirit rarely seen in healthcare journalism these days: “A Geneticist's Cancer Crusade: The discoverer of the double-helix says the disease can be cured in his lifetime. He's 82.” In fact, Watson has been making this point for a while now; last year, in the midst of the Obamacare debate, he wrote a New York Timesop-ed calling for victory in the war on cancer. Yes, Watson was willing to use the “w” word: war. Serious Medicine is a war against disease, while health insurance can be seen as a kind of accommodation--some might even say appeasement. Yes, its true: cures are more important than care, even if the power class of Washington DC thinks the opposite--or at least acts that way.
Here are some good parts of the new Journal piece:
'We should cure cancer," James Watson declares in a huff, and "we should have the courage to say that we can really do it." He adds a warning: "If we say we can't do it, we will create an atmosphere where we just let the FDA keep testing going so pitifully."
The man who discovered the double helix and gave birth to the field of modern genetics is now 82 years old. But he's not close to done with his life's work. He wants to win "the war on cancer," and thinks it can be won a whole lot faster than most cancer researchers or bureaucrats believe is possible.
What’s missing in the political-medical discussion, Watson declares is one word: leadership:
He says he's the better for it because it taught him how to be a leader, something he thinks there are too few of nowadays. "The United States is suffering from a massive lack of leadership. There are some very exceptional, good leaders. I'm not saying they don't exist, but to be a good leader you generally have to ruffle feathers," which Dr. Watson believes most people aren't willing to do.
Finley notes that Watson has some new enemies:
"The FDA has so many regulations," Dr. Watson says. "They don't want you to try a new thing if there's an old thing that might work. . . . So you take the old thing, but we know cancer changes over time and we would really like to get it whacked early, and not late. But the regulations are saying you can't do these things until we give you a lot of s— drugs," he snorts. "Shouldn't this be the patient's choice to say I would rather beat the odds with a total cure rather than just to know that I am going to have all my hair fall out and then after a year I'm dead? . . . Why should [FDA commissioner] Margaret Hamburg hold things up? There's the cynical answer it gives employment to lawyers.”
Ah, the lawyers. "Right now America is being destroyed by its lawyers! Most of the people in Congress just want work for lawyers." He quickly adds: "I was born an Irish Democrat, so I wasn't born into a family which instinctively says these things. But my desire is to cure cancer. That's my only desire."
And then some final words:
"I'm going to look optimistically and of course sometimes it doesn't work," he says. But "you move forward through knowledge. You prevail through knowledge. I love the word prevail. Prevail!"