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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Eric Winer adds role at Susan G. Komen for the Cure

winer komen100.bmpDr. Eric P. Winer (left) today was named chief scientific adviser to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast cancer advocacy group.

He will remain director of breast oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School while taking on the new role at Komen. He explained in an interview why he is excited about the opportunity and about the future of breast cancer research.

Why did you agree to join Komen?
Itís a way of helping an organization that I view as a very strong organization to do even better in the future. Komen is about raising money for research and increasing those funds to answer the most appropriate questions as quickly as possible. This is now a way for me to have a slightly larger influence beyond the exam room, beyond my own institution and to work in an organization that is really trying to do good.

What are some of the questions that need answers?
We have new treatments that are better treatments, but one of the issues that arises is, the better the treatments get, the more important access to care gets. When you have a disease that is very poorly treated, it almost doesnít matter whether people have access if theyíre not going to get well. When you have a disease that can be more effectively treated, access to care ó and this applies in the United States and worldwide ó becomes increasingly important. Among the various goals that Komen has is trying to improve access to care.

Whatís important on the research agenda?
This is a time when there really have been advances in our understanding of breast cancer biology that we need to translate into treatments in the clinic that will actually help patients with breast cancer and cure women with breast cancer. This is occurring at a time when federal funding for research has gone down, so organizations like Komen become even more important in terms of their ability to support research.

How will you influence the research that gets done?
Research funds will still be given out to investigators based on the peer review system. However, we can put out requests for applications in specific areas, as has always occurred with federal funds. Itís an important way to ask for proposals in areas where we think there can be the biggest bang for the buck.

What are the significant advances in breast cancer research over your 20-year career?
There are really two major areas: One is that we have finally understood that breast cancer isnít one disease but a family of fairly distinct diseases that each requires different treatments. One-size-fits-all doesnít work. And our understanding of that is paired with the increasing ability to identify treatments for each of those different subtypes. An example is the drug Herceptin for HER-2 positive breast cancer. HER-2 positive breast cancer is a distinct entity and we have treatments that work based on that.

What do you see for the future?
One of the exciting things about the work Iíve been able to do, by no means by myself but with hundreds of others, is that there really will have been a dramatic change in breast cancer. For a disease that was terrifying to women and that took many lives, I think that it will be a disease that takes very few womenís lives by the time Iím at the end of my career.

How old are you?
Iím 50. I donít view this as preparation for retirement.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:38 PM
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