June 12, 2000
Volume 52, No. 35
Gore trumpets his cancer battle plan in speech
By Michael Terrazas
Vice president and presidential hopeful Al Gore picked Emory as the setting for a June 1 policy statement in which he an-nounced his intention-if elected-to work to double the amount of federal money devoted to cancer research.
His choice, and his timing, could not have been better.
"Imagine the day when a simple blood test can detect any cancer early enough to treat it," said Gore, dressed in a short-sleeve, button-down shirt. "Imagine the day when we'll have to visit a museum to see a radiation machine alongside an iron lung, both dusty relics of the past."
Before the vice president took the dais, more than 1,000 people jockeyed for shade on the sunny morning, and Secret Service agents buzzed around the courtyard behind the Anatomy & Physiology Building. The first few rows of chairs gleamed with white lab coats; Gore had selected Emory because of the happy confluence of one of the nation's top health science centers with the headquarters of the American Cancer Society.
Michael Johns, executive vice president for health affairs, welcomed the gathered crowd and the media to the event. Johns introduced Patrick Kardian, who is undergoing treatment at Emory for recurrent Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"The chances of me getting picked [to introduce Gore] were about as good as my getting Hodgkin's disease in the first place," Kardian said before relating his history fighting the disease. "I am determined to be a success story in the war against cancer-and it is a war."
Gore called Kardian's remarks "powerful testimony," and then launched into a description of what he would like to see happen to cancer research in the United States. Among the specific items in his plan were ensuring fast-track review and coverage by Medicare of new treatments, capitalizing on the knowledge gained through the human genome project, and increasing the ability of adults to participate in clinical trials.
"Cancer death rates have seen their biggest drop in history recently," Gore said, then listed a number of encouraging statistics and breakthroughs. "These have all been announced not in the last three years, but in the last three weeks. Imagine what will happen in the next three weeks."
"It's a very exciting time to be able to start putting some of this newfound knowledge to test, to see if we can really change the way cancer is traditionally treated and have an impact," said Margaret "Kenny" Offermann, associate professor of medicine and associate director for academic initiatives at the Winship Cancer Center, which co-sponsored Gore's visit.
"The overall increased emphasis on taking things from discovery into clinical trials is exciting because the only way we're really going to find out if these things work is by trying them and by continuing to fund very important research," Offermann continued.
Gore, whose sister died of lung cancer, compared the fight against the disease to World War II, saying that many historians consider the turning point of that war to be when the Allies broke the Nazi secret code. "With the completion of the genome sequence, we're on the verge of cracking another enemy's secret code-and this enemy kills more Americans every year than died throughout the entirety of World War II.
"It was nearly 40 years ago that President Kennedy set a national goal of putting a man on the moon," Gore said. "And as we work to fight all cancer, let us reach for a new and higher goal, one that challenges our capacity but may now be within reach: within 10 years, no one in America should have to die from colon cancer, breast cancer or prostate cancer.
"We may not get there, and certain forms of these diseases may be
beyond our reach. But of this much we can be certain: if we don't set the
goal, we will never get there."