Dr. Greg Friberg (GF): I remember quite distinctly, a biochemistry class, learning about how cells grow and normally are controlled and having so many questions about what cancer was and why that perfect orchestra of activities would go wrong. I was drawn to oncology not only because of that science, but also because of really that chance to help patients. After a few years of practicing, I found myself wanting to focus on research exclusively. Research can help whole populations, and so not a day goes by that I don’t feel like I help patients. Curious how you made that transition moving more into the full-time research.
Dr. David Reese (DR): After completing medical school, my first rotation as an intern – literally day one – was on the bone marrow transplant and oncology wards. And I was exposed to an internationally known cancer researcher. So he asked me to stop by his laboratory, and I ended up staying in his laboratory for about 10 years. I then had a chance to join a big biotechnology company – that was an opportunity that I jumped at because it gave me the chance to then take this research and really try to apply it broadly and reach large numbers of patients with hopefully transformative therapies.
DR: I’m very interested in how you balance the desire to advance science and develop new treatments with always knowing that there are persons and families on the other side of that fence.
GF: There are some fundamental truths that I try to follow as I design studies and think about how to deploy these drugs. One is that people don’t want to live as Greg the Cancer Patient. They don’t want to be going back and forth to their doctor; they don’t want to be identified as “here’s someone who’s sick.” They want to be well again, and they want to live their life free of that burden. So the implications for someone like myself are, “I need to think about how to deploy new therapies, how to come up with treatment regimens that give people that time to live their life.”
DR: Like all oncologists, we all carry around patients with us that we’ve treated over the years – many of whom went on experimental therapies, and they didn’t make it. And when I get discouraged, it’s those people that I remember — the ones you didn’t save as much as the ones that you saved, that keep you going. A family member once asked me after her husband had passed away from a very aggressive cancer that we had tried to treat in numerous different ways and were not successful – she was devastated, and she looked at me and said, “Can’t you do better than this?” And I’ve always carried that phrase with me. We have to do better than this; we just must. And I think it’s incumbent on those of us who’ve been trained, that society has invested in, to give back and try to really bend the curve.