So James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA and Nobel Laureate for same, at the European Science Conference (ESOF 2012) has opined that a cure for cancer is but five years away if we really put our minds to it. To be honest I think that's a bit far fetched.
For starters, cancer as a disease whilst often being lumped together under that single identifier is anything but the monolithic problem it is often simply portrayed as. The word 'cancer' at its most basic refers to situations where cells go rogue but covers a plethora of disease affecting different parts of the anatomy with varying causes and various treatments along with incurable types. I could well be wrong but I'm unaware of any base commonality found in all forms of cancer that would lend itself to an across the board treatment. With research you might find a cure for one and be a step closer to eradicating the problem, but all? Seems somewhat unlikely and five years to find such a commonality a bit optimistic even with unlimited funding.
He had some other troubling statements* related to this such as, "...if we could short-circuit processes, and test drugs on people who had terminal cancer, a cure could be found quickly." Undoubtedly there is some level of needless red-tape but much of what exists is there to ensure that research is carried out in an ethical manner that does not treat people as disposable guinea pigs just because they're terminal. There must be sufficient foundational research to justify human level trials, that is to say, there must be reasonable grounds to suppose that any given treatment can do what it is supposed to do and researchers are not just stabbing blindly in the dark. That it also has as little risk of causing death or egregious side effects as can be reasonable expected in any drug / treatment entering human trials. I suppose it might help if terminal cases could sign acquiescence to such procedures fully cognisant of the risks, but I thought this was already the case. Other processes could be the unavoidable grant application process, there is only so much money and lots of people looking for it, no real way to short-circuit this.
"He said the world needed a stronger incentive and he criticised what he called the cancer industry which he suggested was all about money."
I'm not sure what he means by incentive, unless cancer becomes a contagious disease and then an epidemic it's not going to be any worse or threatening than it already is. But "cancer industry?" That's the kind of language I expect from the alt-med crowd and their regular decrying of scary 'n' evil Big Pharma. He seems to miss that a goodly amount of cancer research is carried out through government science funding and other donations in universities, hospitals and institutes often specifically aimed at cancer research. These are not controlled by the pharmaceutical industry. What research the pharmaceutical industry does is about money, they are first and foremost a business and research costs a lot of money, money they generally wish to get back. They may do many less than stellar things like zealously protecting patents and high prices but I don't see anything to suggest that they're making an industry out of cancer, sitting on some global cure. The drugs designed are not merely palliative care drugs but ones designed to kill specific cancers; dead people have no more need for any drugs, live people make better customers. I don't think there is anything to be made by needlessly demonising pharmaceutical companies, certainly nothing that will further humanities struggle with cancer type diseases.
* - These are not his specific words but those attributed to him by local national news reporting from RTE
. It is obvious that they have attempted to convey his basic and main points thus potentially missing qualifying information or other pertinent points, I only go on what was reported.
Hope is but the first step upon the road to disappointment.