Dr. Jack Kreindler is just as interested in the journey toward a cure for cancer as he is in the cure itself. He’s a physician, physiologist and serial technology entrepreneur. He is also the founder and director of London’s Centre for Health and Human Performance, an organization that culls scientific and technological expertise from around the world in order to tackle the most complex and chronic diseases, including cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that cancer will kill more than 600,000 people in the United States this year alone.
24Life recently caught up with Kreindler at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine conference in San Diego to learn about the U.K. Brain Cancer Mission and to find out why big data gives him hope in the search for a cure.
Jack Kreindler: I’m glad you mentioned the word “path” because when it comes to cancer, the journey toward a cure is as important as the cure itself. I’m honored to have worked with a very well-known and beloved figure in the U.K., Baroness Tessa Jowell, on the U.K Brain Cancer Mission. She had incurable glioblastoma, which is brain cancer, and even though she sadly passed away, the call to action of the mission lives on. Specifically, we are using connected data, artificial intelligence and breakthrough biotechnology, and we are compiling information about treatments for that disease that are even showing a hint of working. We are building a vast knowledge graph from which a cure, or combinations of cures, may eventually arise. That’s actually the type of process that happened with HIV, where we went through a lot of trial and error and stumbled toward solutions that turned it from a fatal disease into something that is very manageable today.
24Life: You mentioned the process of trial and error. How important are clinical trials in finding cures for cancer and other complex diseases?
JK: Clinical trials are vitally important from two perspectives: data gathering and design. Data is something that we must gather and generate from every patient case because from each individual case, we add strength in numbers to the cumulative data. We pool the data and the learning associated with it so we can design ever more effective trials, increasing both the clinical and ethical efficacy. After all, our goal is to design treatments that not only work but also balance the risks with the quality-of-life needs of patients.
24Life: How can an individual patient’s data advance the larger quest for a cure?
JK: I’ll tell you a story that illustrates that point. There’s a remarkable man named Parker Moss who joined me at the conference to share the cancer journey of his young daughter Vanessa. Between the ages of 4 and 8, she spent 800 nights in the hospital, lost her hair four times and went through three cardiac arrests. Tragically, she died from her cancer while on a groundbreaking stage I trial. Unfortunately, the accumulation of what she went through—all those nights in the hospital, the things that worked, the things that didn’t—none of that data was captured or shared in a way that could make it into the next case. So out of this father’s grief came his resolve to do something to help the next person with cancer, hence his involvement with the U.K. Brain Cancer Mission.
He brought everyone to tears at Exponential Medicine with Vanessa’s story and made three specific calls to action: First, we must generate patient data from every case as a means to build a foundation of knowledge from which to develop new and more effective treatments. Second, we must view cancer through a new framework, less as a heterogeneous disease and more as an evolving heterogeneous disease. That means we need to think about the problem less like the game “Battleship” and more like chess, in that we must learn to outwit the progression of the disease versus simply enabling new, resistant clones of the disease. Finally, [we must] regard hope as part of the therapeutic process so that loved ones can have confidence that everything that could be done for the patient was done, and in a way that honored their quality of life. And while there is no replacement for the loss of a loved one, there can be solace and meaning in providing valuable data that may help future patients.
24Life: Whenever we talk about big data, there are always concerns about privacy and permission for data sharing. What are your thoughts about that?
JK: I think we have to be very sensitive to the fact that data geeks and tech entrepreneurs are into big data, but there’s a learning curve for everyone else. I think we have to appreciate that certain people will want to be data donors and others won’t, and that will affect the impact of the overall knowledge base. And there are issues around data governance and data provenance—how do we reward data owners and contributors for their efforts? Do we use ledger technology or some other means to thank them or pay them? And what guidelines should exist in terms of selling this information to pharmaceutical companies, for example? Clearly, these are issues in a world where our health will be increasingly governed by data we collect from our body.
24Life: How can capturing data level the playing field to make effective treatments and potential cures available to developing countries?
JK: Today, there is absolutely no excuse not to build data systems that can span wide geographies, thus supporting poorer countries. I think there is real hope that in a connected world, we can dramatically scale access to information, which will help small countries, and in turn, we can benefit from the knowledge they contribute to the data graph. I believe that ethically and economically, things that increase access to the early detection and treatment of illnesses on a global scale will help decrease costs, as well, so it becomes valuable from both humanitarian and economic perspectives.
24Life: What can our readers do to help advance the hope for a cure?
JK: First, I would say if anyone finds themselves in the situation of having a hopeless diagnosis, resist despair and fight for the right to try experimental treatments, where your data can be captured and used to advance knowledge. Just as Tessa Jowell did with the inception of the U.K. Brain Mission, sometimes you can dramatically change the perspective of politicians, policymakers, the scientific community, etc., just from sharing your own story. And if people want to have a look at what we are doing in the U.K., they can check out our website at actforcancer.org.uk.
Photo credit: georgejmclittle, Adobe Stock; Courtesy of Jack Kreindler