The Cancer Questions Project, Part 14: Larry Norton

Dr. Larry Norton, a breast oncologist, is well-known as a leader in the development of drug treatments for breast cancer. His research has established the importance of using sequential combinations of drugs — a strategy aimed to overcome different drug sensitivities among the cells in a tumor. He has served in leadership positions in several national cancer-related organizations, including serving as president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in 2001-2002, and is chairman of the board of directors of the ASCO Foundation. Currently, Dr. Norton is serving as the Senior Vice President at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a Professor of Medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College with over 350 published articles and book chapters to his name.

Azra Raza, author of 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?