A new mission

How does the phrase go? 50 is the new 40? As I sit squarely in between those two numbers (and I tend to be somewhat introspective), this year’s ASCO Annual Meeting was really something for me. It was more than a chance to reconnect with colleagues, more than a dizzying marketing extravaganza, and more than a bustling rush from presentation to presentation. This year, more than any of the other 15 or so ASCO Annual Meetings I have attended, the entire meeting felt like a statement on our industry’s relationship with cancer.

For those of you who have not attended ASCO in the past, ASCO stands for the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Anyone in the world who is anyone in oncology attends this meeting. (About 40,000 people attended this year!) The McCormick Convention Center in Chicago is an appropriate location; the soaring atriums do not seem high enough to hold the collective intellect of such a crowd, and each of the cavernous exhibit and plenary halls engulf you with the enormity of the event. I stood by the door of Hall B one morning and watched as oncologists, researchers, and ‘corporate types’ – each undoubtedly with resumes that make their parents proud – streamed into the room and vanished into the darkness.

After 15-20 minutes, I joined the party. To my utter amazement, the ten giant screens all lit up simultaneously with my entrance. While I would have greatly enjoyed such a greeting, a presentation was the source of this burst of light.  My eyes adjusted, and it occurred to me that I was now amongst an army. An army of the brightest, most caring, and most compassionate people that have ever walked the face of this earth. Brilliant research minds who have dedicated years to understanding the myriad of genetic mutations and other factors that result in this scourge of cancer. Clinicians whom always answer the call for patients and families, who, despite how much good they do and comfort they provide, are driven to save every single father, mother, brother, or sister that enters their clinics. Even those often-reviled corporate types (of which I am one) share in a loud, reverberating call to arms – we can beat this!

I listened, and I left humbled.

Crossing the atrium again, needing to clear my head, I walked through Hall C. In contrast to the plenary presentation hall, Hall C was bright and colorful – the product and company names jumping out at you. The exhibit area snaked through the building, surrounding the central stairs, and protruded into the entire room. I wandered about, pausing at displays of the safety and efficacy of products, marveling at the variety of compounds and approaches in pipelines, and reading about the latest diagnostics and tests, generally in awe of information laid out before me. It was too much to comprehend. The room – like the savage genius of cancer – seemed endless with innumerable paths leading from one side to another. Yet every turn brought me to another remarkable set of data, a novel genetic screening, or a patient-centric data tool.

As I exited the hall, another plenary session ended. The ‘Cancer Crusaders’ came streaming out – seemingly with renewed spirit and a spring in their step – making beelines to see something or speak to someone about what they had just learned. Groups strode by yammering in English, Spanish, French, and other languages that I did not immediately recognize. The passion was palpable.

I turned around, and it clicked.

The collective might of our oncology community was making progress. Every path in that massive exhibit hall was filled with data, with clues and a research community that will not give up. It was heartening and motivating. We have figured out a way to treat many cancers, to almost cure some.  Every day we get closer to understanding enough about this hideous disease to banish it forever. That day is not here yet, but it is coming.

I traveled back to Halloran’s Boston office with a renewed sense of purpose.  Halloran Consulting Group must always enable our clients, their researchers, and physicians, to do what they do better. We must always help our clients and their products positively impact human health, better, sooner, and faster.  To challenge ourselves and think with this goal in mind, Halloran has established a mission to inspire our work each and every day.

That mission is to improve human health by making life science companies better at what they do.  This goal, while conceptually simple, is a monumental task but ultimately the legacy we will leave behind.