ISO a Scientific Revolution in Cancer Research

This is a guest post from Susan K Finston, President of Finston Consulting. Do you have a response to Susan’s post? Respond in the comments section below.

Susan Kling Finston
Even if you have never heard of Thomas Kuhn, your thinking about science has most likely been effected by his theory of what causes paradigm shifts.

Over 50 years ago, Thomas Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1961), one of the most cited academic books of all time.  Kuhn’s theories about the fashion of research challenged the conventional wisdom of science as a logical, step-wise progression.

Kuhn demonstrated that rather than a step-by-step process, scientific research proceeds in fits and starts, with new, potentially important discoveries bumping up against established theories and prevailing fashions. He documented the empirical difficulties of establishing new science paradigms, where scientists may have a vested interest in preservation of the status quo.

Simply put, scientists with funding are loathe to discard research programs, regardless of whether they are breaking new ground – that is the human condition.  And grant-making organizations and corporate funders similarly prefer the familiar over the unknown.  This has the effect of pushing away new, possibly better ideas, even in the face of inconsistent data.

So until an overwhelming amount of these data points accumulate that cannot be reconciled with the existing paradigm, the science establishment resists change.  Then once the tipping point is reached, we come to Kuhn’s paradigm shift where continuing the status quo becomes unacceptable and change is unavoidable.

Now we can add Cancer R&D models to the long list of Kuhn’s illustrations where a science revolution is long overdue and blocked by over-commitment to the status quo.

Given the vast financial resources needed to bring new cancer drugs to market, the substantial time required to move from in vitro to in vivo research and through the regulatory process, and the professional stake of countless scientists and institutions to the status quo, the area of cancer research may be the least open to science revolution.

This is a research environment that rewards predictable R&D over truly ground-breaking research models, and where over $100 billion dollars is spent on research yielding few new effective therapies or cures:

“Jim Watson, the Nobel-winning discoverer of DNA’s double-helix structure, caused a minor sensation recently by arguing that curing most metastatic cancers — cancers that spread in the body — remains more daunting than ever, while researchers pursue scientific dead ends.  Lamenting a “conservative” research establishment that he suggested is reluctant to take scientific risks, he urged scientists to follow new, unexplored, yet more promising directions.”

Given recent high profile failures of late-stage cancer programs, even cancer research fast may be reaching the point where it is no longer possible to ignore the need for truly novel approaches.

Are you ready for the coming revolution in cancer R&D?

About the author:
President of Finston Consulting LLC since 2005, Susan works with innovative biotechnology and other clients ranging from start-up to Fortune-100, providing support for legal, transactional, policy and “doing business” issues. Susan has extensive background and special expertise relating to intellectual property and knowledge-economy issues in advanced developing countries including India and South Asia, Latin America and the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. She also works with governments, s and NGOs on capacity building and related educational programs through BayhDole25. Together with biotechnology pioneer Ananda Chakrabarty, she also is co-founder of Amrita Therapeutics Ltd., an emerging biopharmaceutical company based in India with cancer peptide drugs entering in vivo research. Previous experience includes 11 years in the U.S Foreign Service with overseas tours in London, Tel Aviv, and Manila and at the Department of State in Washington DC. For more information on latest presentations and publications please visit

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