It is the first week in June and for many families this is a time of looking forward. There are graduations and weddings that lead to limitless possibilities of what the future can look like. Optimism permeates every event as loved ones move from one stage of life to the next. It is a time when it seems that so many things are possible.
I also love this time of year because it is the time the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) comes to Chicago. We all have our favorite meetings and annual get togethers, but for me this is the most impressive one of all. I love the fact they always come to Chicago and don’t rotate between different “destination” cities as to me this indicates they are all about business. The group is masterful at getting press coverage, which starts about a month before and continues throughout the summer. The show is first-class, like so many other medical meetings. All of this is good, but to me what stands out is the remarkable innovation and science that just seems so cutting edge compared to other therapeutic areas. In so many ways, ASCO represents everything that is good about our industry.
Having worked in almost every therapeutic area, I can tell you there is no area as complex and exciting as the oncology area. According to the IMS 2011 industry annual report, it is clearly the biggest area with sales of over $23 billion in the US. Working in this area demands an incredible level of scientific acumen, that is unmatched in most other therapeutic areas. It is an area of sadness, pain, joy and hope that seem to be happening all at the same time. If space exploration was the “frontier” of the second half of the 20th century, I would argue that oncology may be the “new frontier” of our times today. The mysteries of this area seem to be unfolding on a daily basis.
Perhaps I am a little too much of an idealist, but I always felt the beauty of our industry was the way science and business intersected to help people and wipe out disease. In so many ways, it is the ultimate competition where brains battle diseases and our industry is right in the middle of it. In order to win, high level skills are needed in both areas. Perhaps the most animated discussions over the years happened when building new sales teams. Should we hire those with scientific backgrounds, perhaps even nurses and pharmacists, or is it better to hire cell phone sales people who really understand business? My answer would always be that we should hire those who are capable of living and thriving in both worlds.
Note that I say we need to hire people who are “capable” of succeeding in both areas. This means that they have the capacity or ability, not necessarily that they currently have all the skills just yet. Perhaps it would be better to talk about the potential or desire to work in both areas. One of the most interesting sections of the program for the ASCO meeting is the list of 24 provocative questions raised by the National Cancer Institute and sessions that will deal with these topics in some way. Take a little self-test and read the questions and see how conversant you are with this science, and perhaps more importantly, how interested you would be in hearing at least a lay-person’s answers to the questions. Could you list 24 provocative questions for the business part of our industry?
When you see the graduates or those recently married walking out after the ceremony I bet you think about how much they are going to learn and grow over the coming years. Isn’t this true about our industry as well? It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out or have been in the industry for 40 years. There is so much more to learn. That is why this really is a “new frontier” and we need to constantly challenge ourselves to get better.
Our industry truly is on the cutting edge of both science and business. We make a difference in peoples’ lives. It takes tremendous skills to be able to balance science and business together, especially during times of tremendous market uncertainty. This is what our work is all about. When you hear people criticizing our industry just ask them what they thought of ASCO this year and the incredible progress we are making. Smile big and be proud.