In a recent interview with Brown University's Eli Adashi on Medscape One on One, National Cancer Institute Director Harold Varmus marked the 40th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, which started the so-called "war on cancer." But Varmus says the metaphor is outdated and doesn't convey what cancer researchers and clinicians are doing today. Cancer is not a single disease, but rather is a "constellation of diseases," Varmus tells Adashi. "We have a much deeper understanding of cancer in the sense of a byproduct of the way life is organized, and we have a sense that there are many puzzles to be solved."
Varmus also discussed proposed improvements to the cancer research program and reforms to the clinical trial system. Changes have been made to how trials are conducted so that they not only determine whether a drug works, but also why it does or does not work. Varmus also said that benefits from groups like the Human Genome Project are beginning to show, and that genomic tools allow cancer researchers to accelerate their work and learn about cancer in more detail and more efficiently.
Overall, Varmus says he's optimistic about the way cancer research is progressing. "We have an incredible amount of information. We have strong support. We have $5 billion a year to spend at the NCI and I plan to spend that well," Varmus said. "I am optimistic because of the strength of the science that we do that we will make significant progress."