President Carter, a New Drug, and the Long Road of Research

During his press conference today, President Carter showed us all what dignity and grace looks like, dressed in blue jeans and a blazer.

President Carter addresses the news media Thursday morning (Photo: Erik S. Lesser, European Pressphoto Agency)

Mr. Carter laid out what is known about his cancer, his plans moving forward, and most remarkably shared his own personal approach, saying, “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes.”

During the press conference, he noted that he had taken a new drug that harnesses the power of the immune system to fight melanoma. That fact led Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., deputy chief medical officer and resident blogger, to make an important observation about cancer research.

“One remarkable aspect of this is the fact that President Carter is benefiting, quite directly, from investments the United States government made to cancer research during his administration.

“A strong research infrastructure is now coming to fruition to tackle the immune system to treat melanoma and a number of other cancers. It started decades ago, and I remember clearly the promise I felt as a young physician doing research in immunotherapy.

“Without that investment decades ago, we would not be where we are now, being able to understand and harness our own immune systems to treat cancer. That understanding in turn led to drugs whose benefits were first reported only in the last five years or so.

“In fact, the  drug the President is receiving, Pembrolizumab, has just been approved by the FDA, and has offered new hope for patients with melanoma. Until 2010, we were still using some of the same drugs we were using in the early 1970’s. No truly effective new treatments were available, and too many people suffered as a result.

“Our research efforts have taken time, but have made this progress possible—and the journey started in the early 1970’s. It’s remarkable and gratifying that President Carter would be able to benefit all these years later from research conducted during his administration. That’s what ‘investing in research’ is all about.”

About David Sampson

I am the director of medical and scientific communications for the American Cancer Society national home office.
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