Eric Rosenthal Reports

Thoughts and observations about issues, trends, and controversies in the cancer community.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Story Behind TIME’s Cover Story on Stand Up To Cancer: How It Came Together, and Why Now?

Earlier today Time released its April 1 edition with the cover story “How to Cure Cancer: Yes, It’s Now Possible -- Thanks to New Cancer Dream Teams that are Delivering Better Results Faster,” by Bill Saporito.


The article, which had the inside headline of “The Conspiracy to End Cancer,” featured the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s (EIF) Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) funding model of multidisciplinary, multi-institutional translational research dream teams given a finite three years to translate their findings into a treatment or insight that would benefit patients.


I’ve been covering SU2C for OT since the initiative’s inception in 2008, so I was curious about why the mainstream media chose this particular time to focus on the topic, especially since it was just a few weeks away from the Annual Meeting of Stand Up’s  scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research; the meeting will be held this year in Washington and will include the “Rally for Medical Research” on April 8.


 I spoke via telephone with Saporito, a Time Assistant Managing Editor who directs the magazine's coverage of business, the economy, personal finance, and sports, and who previously wrote a cover story related to Stand Up in September 2008, “He Won His Battle With Cancer,” with Lance Armstrong adorning its cover.


Saporito, a five-year esophageal cancer survivor in 2008, said he initially approached the topic back then because he had read that cancer was nearing the dubious distinction of overtaking heart disease as the number one killer of Americans and that progress in cancer research seemed to be slow.


Fast forward to 2012, and Time was approached about covering SU2C’s then-upcoming September fundraising and awareness multi-network telecast, and at about the same time Saporito heard about MD Anderson Cancer Center’s “Moon Shots” initiative that also involved team research looking into lung, prostate, melanoma, breast, and ovarian cancers and three types of leukemia.


Saporito said the issue began to come together at that point, but admitted that when an editor initially asked him about looking into Stand Up’s September telecast he wasn’t interested at first because he considered it to be strictly an event and not necessarily news.


So he instead asked the question: “Is this research model working?”


“And,” he said,” the point is that this model is working, and one can point to the evidence that says yes, and now it seems that the National Institutes of Health and [institutions such as] MD Anderson are changing [and adopting similar models].

Katie Couric

I also spoke with ABC-TV journalist Katie Couric, one of the cofounders of Stand Up, who said that she had asked her friend and colleague Time Deputy Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs about covering Stand Up’s telecast. 


Couric, a longtime colorectal cancer advocate for awareness and research, who lost her husband Jay Monahan to the disease in 1998 and subsequently cofounded the EIF’s National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance (NCCRA), noted that the newsweekly had previously published a cover story on colorectal cancer.


She said she thought that the general public was not getting enough information about Stand Up’s accomplishments and that Time could look at the big picture.


“It didn’t happen during the TV telecast, but I’m really grateful that they pursued it and found that it was worth a cover story,” she said. “I’m thrilled because I really believe some of the unsung heroes of our country are cancer scientists trying to unlock the secrets of the disease.”


Couric said that she always believed two heads were better than one and that 10 were better than two, and she believed that the team-oriented approach could yield better and faster results.


She said that Dennis Slamon, MD, Director of Clinical/Translational Research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and co-leader of one of the SU2C Dream Teams, had been instrumental in coming up with the concept of dream teams working together to fast-track results and had helped develop the model in 2000 when she started NCCRA.


Slamon is Director of the Alliance’s medical advisory board, and his Herceptin work was supported by another EIF cancer-related project, the Revlon Run/Walk for Women, she noted.

Finally, commenting on Stand Up’s Hollywood connection and her cofounders, Couric said: “Hell has no fury like type-A women pissed off by the lack of progress in cancer research.”