Don Listwin, a successful high-tech executive, lost his mother to misdiagnosed ovarian cancer and thus began his mission to stop the needless loss of women’s lives to a disease that is virtually undetectable until it is advanced and probably fatal.
Named after the practice of using canaries to alert coal miners about deadly gases, the Canary Foundation breathes an unprecedented, entrepreneurial spirit into cancer research. Recruiting Nobel Laureate, Dr. Lee Hartwell, to help form “best-in-class” science teams, Listwin launched the teams with resources and a sense of urgency more common to Silicon Valley start-ups than academia. Bolstered by tools like powerful new software to share data, high-tech project management support and a collaborative culture, the teams present new discoveries as though they were exciting applications for the next net gadget.
On advice from the biomedical brain trust at Canary, the teams have expanded to exploring early detection for lung and pancreatic cancers, leveraging discoveries that might unlock the key to many types of cancer. Progress, however, is slow in the world of biomarkers and genome sequencing.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 1.5 million new cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2009 and 292,540 men and 269,800 women will die of some form of the disease. Statistically, survival rates improve dramatically when cancer is diagnosed early and the disease is confined to the organ of origin. Hence, the canaries.
The Canary Foundation is a trailblazer in focused and managed research, and at integrating best talent with best technology. They insist on integrating disciplines from across multiple institutions to attack problems in a “new, collaborative, action-oriented manner with the foremost objective of translating research into clinical applications.”
They are the world’s first non-profit organization dedicated solely to the funding, discovery and development of tests for early cancer detection.
Listwin may have created a model for future scientific research. I believe his mother would be proud.