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"We must persist in our efforts to secure additional funding"

Since the beginning of the year, Mark Rubin has been the new president of the Scientific Committee. He regrets that not all excellent research proposals can be funded. Therefore, he is highly motivated to apply his experience with creative fundraising from the USA to Switzerland.

Mark Rubin, what motivated you to apply for the presidency of the Scientific Committee?
I have known the joint research funding of the Swiss Cancer League and the Swiss Cancer Research foundation for many years. Even when I was still conducting research in the USA, I evaluated projects for both organizations. Shortly after coming to Switzerland, I became a member of the Scientific Committee. I thought it would be best for someone from this group, familiar with the rules and processes, to take over the excellent work of my predecessor Nancy Hynes – to continue selecting the best and most promising research projects. It is extremely important for me to provide fair and helpful evaluations to the scientists who submit their proposals to us.

That sounds like a lot of continuity. Where do you want to set new accents?
I am thinking mainly of two things. Firstly, we receive many excellent research proposals. Unfortunately, we cannot fund all of them due to a lack of resources. Therefore, I am highly motivated to raise more funds. I have had very positive experiences with creative fundraising and major donations in the USA, where many wealthy individuals financially contribute to cancer research. Even though many things are different in Switzerland, some approaches may still be applicable. We should try them because we must never give up on finding additional funds to enable further progress in cancer research, allowing us to better prevent, treat, or even cure cancer in the future.

And secondly?
Because we cannot fund all good projects, we need to prioritize more and focus, for example, on young researchers: they are at the beginning of their careers and face significant hurdles to start their own projects. It is particularly important for them to receive initial research funding. Therefore, I would like to encourage strengthening the targeted support of scientific young talent. I believe that it is attractive for many potential donors not only to support promising research projects but also the young talents driving these projects forward.

Where do you see potential for development?
Cancer research and treatment have made enormous progress in recent decades, leading to significant changes. The identification of disease signs, biomarkers, is becoming increasingly important, for example, in blood. I find this very crucial because biomarkers can help us detect whether someone has cancer as early as possible. At the same time, they also help us predict the best treatment. There is still so much to discover in this field.

And where do you see the greatest challenges?
It is an exciting time for cancer control. Today, we have the ability to assist numerous individuals with illnesses that were previously beyond our capacity to address just a few years ago. However, with these important successes, another development unfortunately occurs: cancer often returns due to developing resistance to treatment. Therefore, in the future, we must also focus more on how to prevent – or overcome – such resistance mechanisms. Additionally, due to the many encouraging successes, the public perception has formed that cancer has become treatable. Fortunately, this is true in many cases. But we must also understand: not in all cases. There are still types of cancer where we have made little progress. Strategies are needed to ensure that we do not shy away from these difficult diseases but continue tirelessly seeking improvements."

Pioneer of Personalized Oncology
Mark Rubin studied at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and initially specialized as a surgeon before later focusing on prostate cancer as a pathologist. After working at the University of Michigan and Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Rubin was appointed as a pathology professor at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York in 2007. There, he established and served as the founding director of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine from 2013. In 2017, he made the transition to the University and Inselspital in Bern, where he leads both the Department for Biomedical Research and the Bern Center for Precision Medicine. "After many years in the clinic, my work has increasingly shifted towards research in the laboratory. But I have never forgotten how important it is to close the remaining knowledge gaps for patients," says Rubin. "I want to find therapies for people who currently have no treatment options available."