The Cancer Questions Project, Part 9: Ellin Berman

Ellin Berman is a board-certified medical oncologist and hematologist with a clinical and research focus on new drug development in acute and chronic leukemias, including acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). As a member of the multidisciplinary Leukemia Disease Management Team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), she works closely with the many individuals who make up the clinical and research programs there. Along with other members of the Leukemia Service, she is involved in clinical trials of new drugs that hopefully will lead to new treatment approaches for these diseases. She has also worked closely with the Food and Drug Administration in this regard, and for the last 20 years have helped review new drug applications for the treatment of leukemia. She is a member of KSKCC’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), the committee that approves, monitors, and reviews research studies at the Center. She is an Associate Editor for the journal Leukemia Research, and reviews articles for a number of other journals including Blood, the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer Research, The Lancet, and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Azra Raza, author of the forthcoming book The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last, oncologist and professor of medicine at Columbia University, and 3QD editor, decided to speak to more than 20 leading cancer investigators and ask each of them the same five questions listed below. She videotaped the interviews and over the next months we will be posting them here one at a time each Monday. Please keep in mind that Azra and the rest of us at 3QD neither endorse nor oppose any of the answers given by the researchers as part of this project. Their views are their own. One can browse all previous interviews here.

1. We were treating acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with 7+3 (7 days of the drug cytosine arabinoside and 3 days of daunomycin) in 1977. We are still doing the same in 2019. What is the best way forward to change it by 2028?

2. There are 3.5 million papers on cancer, 135,000 in 2017 alone. There is a staggering disconnect between great scientific insights and translation to improved therapy. What are we doing wrong?

3. The fact that children respond to the same treatment better than adults seems to suggest that the cancer biology is different and also that the host is different. Since most cancers increase with age, even having good therapy may not matter as the host is decrepit. Solution?

4. You have great knowledge and experience in the field. If you were given limitless resources to plan a cure for cancer, what will you do?

5. Offering patients with advanced stage non-curable cancer, palliative but toxic treatments is a service or disservice in the current therapeutic landscape?