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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 3, 2009 9:35 AM. The previous post in this blog was Sellwood South. The next post in this blog is How to speed up traffic on 217. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

OHSU guy does good

Oregon Health and Sciences University may be falling apart financially -- it suddenly lost another chief financial officer on Friday, just as we were all drifting off into a weekend-long, sports- and holiday-induced coma -- but at least some of the docs are still doing great stuff. Check out this fellow. I'm not being sarcastic -- his is a cool story, indeed. There's even an internet chat room angle.

Comments (9)

My 2 favorite mementos from my time as a Tribune columnist are an autographed picture from Ray Charles and a letter from Dr. Druker that he sent me after my column about him came out:


HERO TIME AT OHSU
We’ve all seen the bizarre architectural designs by the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher. Well, the layout at OHSU would give Escher a headache. But since it’s a major health facility, he’d certainly be able to find some treatment. Major health facility? I have it on good authority that Oregon is leading the way in the worldwide effort to cure cancer. That’s the opinion of our own Dr. Druker, who might be involved in the single most important story ever to come out of Portland.

In a news world driven by crime and celebrities, last Thursday’s announcement that the FDA had approved Geevec, the drug Dr. Druker helped develop, figured to get less than top billing. Instead, by 4:30 our time, it was the lead story on CNN’s Headline News. It was the lead story on both NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, and the ABC Evening News with Peter Jennings. Dan Rather, sporting a new Sweeps haircut, went with the breaking FBI documents story about Timothy McVeigh, but got to Geevec in the first nine minutes. It was hard to tell which was the poorer decision: his choice of lead stories or the haircut.

This is one of those rare times in the course of human history when you cannot over-hype the implications of a story. Simply put: we all dread the scene where you’re in the doctor’s office and they tell you it’s over; there’s nothing they can do. Dr. Druker’s drug tells 5000 people a year with a rare type of leukemia that there is now a treatment so promising that the only hesitancy is in whether to call it a cure. Plus, the ultra-slick approach it takes, attacking just the cancerous cells, will eventually be duplicated on other cancers. There’s finally a real chance that this whole tragic world of chemotherapy and radiation treatments will fall into the Dark Ages of Medicine where it belongs. Cancer will be whipped, as certainly as Dr. Druker appears to have whipped this type of leukemia. Sometimes you have to make yourself be pessimistic just to keep from jumping for joy.

I wanted to meet the guy. It came down to wanting to say thanks, so I hopped in the car and tore up to his press conference, minus the parts where traffic to OHSU was stopped cold. Negotiating the parking situation, I found myself saying, “Give them their cable car; give them whatever they want.” Finding the place on my third building, I sat just outside the door, taking notes as the good doctor and two of his patients spread the great news.

A reporter asked questions about the patent being owned by the drug company, instead of OHSU, which was like asking NASA about their relationship with Tang, when they just announced landing on the moon.

I waited for the room to start clearing, then I approached Dr. Druker, shook his hand, and thanked him. With his patients on both sides, he was the epitome of someone leading a worthwhile life. Then I asked him my question: “What are you going to do with the Nobel Prize?” He laughed,
indicating his patients. “You know what, I’m going to put it next to pictures of these guys.” Folks, we’ve got a hero at OHSU.

P.S. It looks like that Nobel Prize hasn't happened yet, but this is the American version. Oh, and I was being ironic about the tram. I was all over the tram back then.

Very cool story indeed. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you for this story, very inspiring.

GREAT stuff. Read the bit about how he doesn't make any money off the drug and realize that according to GOPsters, this should never even happen. Someone motivated by something other than money?! Impossible, they scoff.

The most moving part of the press conference back a few years ago was when the patients talked about literally saying goodbye to their relatives because they were at death's door, when Dr. Druker swooped in with this drug that switches off the harmful cells and only the harmful cells.
The problem is that each type of cancer will require it's own designer molecule to flip the switch. That will take time - possibly decades - but the strategy is gold.

And you have to ask -- why isn't being in this kind of business good enough? Why do the big honchos at OHSU have to do the speculative development thing? Why take Oregon dollars and spin off a speculative business in Florida, FCOL?

What bothers me is that OHSU will attempt to paper over all sorts of shortcomings with the good and noble work of Dr. Druker.

When caught with their hand in the public till, taking more than they need, they will point to Dr. Druker, and say, "See what we do?"

When they kill and maim due to bad medicine, they will point to Dr. Druker, and say, "See what we do?"

I fear that Dr. Druker will become an excuse for the continuation of a whole raft of other, more averse, aspects of OHSU which are desperately in need of reform and revision.

Thank goodness a profit-seeking company took a gamble on finding a cure for a deadly, but rare, cancer. Look what that leap of faith led to. Novartis* (the hero of this story) deserves every penny they get from the sale of this drug. I have no doubt that this treatment would have never come about if our government was involved in the prioritizing research. Keep this in mind when you question the practices of the "evil" drug companies, when you believe government could do better, and when you and your loved ones are faced with the (non)decision between accommodating the legitimate and deserved expense of sophisticated treatments or death.

*The reference to Novartis includes the initial development company.

Dr. Druker is an amazing human being and Portland/OHSU is fortunate to have the benefit of his talents.

I cannot agree with Molly that Novartis is the hero of the story. Drug companies spend billions chasing the next big thing (and they recover those billions--and much more--by charging a lot of money for the few successful drugs). It is completely irrelevant that the actual cancer research they supported was for a rare cancer BECAUSE the approach was to find a different avenue that, if successful, could be applied to other cancers (which, as the story played out, was the case). Does Novartis get credit for making the effort? A little, maybe. Was it an amazing "leap of faith"? Hardly. They make hundreds/thousands of bets regularly. Some pay off; some don't. But it's just that...a bet...purely for financial gain. Would Novartis make the bet if Gleevac did not have prospects for other cancers? Unlikely.

So, instead of peddling ideological b.s. (i.e., trumpeting how great capitalism is and bemoaning the evils of government), let's celebrate the selfless person (Dr. Druker)--the real hero--whose efforts helped a lot people.


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