By Amy Swinderman
2,832 pages: How do you measure, measure five years?
This editorial column will be my last in Drug Discovery News, as in a few short weeks, I will be stepping down from my post as chief editor of the news organization and entering a new chapter in my life. As I clean up my office and prepare to pass the baton to Jeff Bouley, who will be your new chief editor in 2014, I am reflecting with great fondness some of the amazing people I have met and the remarkable experiences I have had in the past five and a half years of leading our editorial team in the creation of these pages. Thus, as I exit stage left, I will take inspiration from the song “Seasons of Love” from the hit musical “Rent” (which explains my headline and lead, if you’re not familiar with it) and recall some of the memorable ways in which I will measure my tenure.
In vascillating politics, in disparate ideologies, in changing presidents: When I first started working for this publication in 2008, George W. Bush was president, the economic downturn had everyone crying “the sky is falling!” and the United States endured what was arguably the most volatile presidential election in our nation’s history. Shortly after Barack Obama succeeded Bush, he immediately impacted the industries we cover by changing the paradigm under which many researchers had operated in the field of stem cell research by lifting restrictions on federal funding for projects using controversial human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. President Obama then turned his attention to healthcare reform in the form of the Affordable Care Act, which recently became law and will likely have you all on pins and needles for the forseeable future.
In controversy, in interviews with influential people, in examination of the ethical issues impacting biomedical research: The aftermath of President Obama’s executive order on stem cell research launched three years of in-depth coverage on stem cell research, much of which was focused on the highly contentious lawsuit of Sherley v. Sebelius. The long court volley filled many of our pages before the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, but conflicting views on certain aspects of stem cell research remain. The main plaintiffs in the case, James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, both adult stem cell researchers, were incredibly gracious with me as the case made its way through the courts, eager to grant interviews and never flinching in their arguments that hESC research is not only unethical, but not as safe and efficacious as research using other stem cell forms. And those on the other side of the debate, researchers like Dr. Curt Civin of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, were equally open and vocal with me about the promise they believe hESC research will have on the future of medicine and patient care. I will always be grateful to these individuals for adding so much to the national debate and discussion on stem cells, and I am proud that our news team was able to go deep into the trenches of this important story.
In rambling voicemails, in cluttered e-mail inboxes, in hugs from strangers: The people who represent companies and research institutions like yours to people like me are vital to getting your messages out to the media and shaping public perception of your organization. Sure, some of them irked me by reading long press releases on my voicemail (yes, people do that!), but so many of them take great pride in establishing relationships with the media and working with us to tell your story. I will never forget how Lynn Blenkhorn from FeinsteinKean Healthcare ran up to me at a conference and hugged me like a long-lost friend, even though it was our first in-person meeting; the many great conversations I had with Mario Fante when he represented PerkinElmer, some of which were about work, but a lot of which were not; or the many conversations I had with former Clevelanders Ken Li from Bio-Rad or Stu Matlow from Thermo Fisher Scientific about the state of our city and forever-frustrating football team. These people, and so many more, not only made my job easier, they also made it a pleasure—and I thank them.
How about love? This space served a lot of purposes for me, including an opportunity to examine industry trends and themes for particular issues, but the columns that seemed to strike a nerve with most readers were those penned about special people who represented the reason why we’re all here and doing what we do. Reflecting on how Alzheimer’s disease claimed the life of my husband’s Granny and how I hoped organizations like the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute would give families hope; on the state of autism research from the perspective of Lori Lesko, one of our contributing editors who adopted an autistic child from Romania; on the challenges a friend faced when his wife Michaela was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and came up against a shortage of the chemotherapy drugs she needed—these were the stories that seemed to touch people the most and served as a reminder that “filling unmet medical needs” is not just a buzz phrase for press releases, but the tie that binds us all together. As I completed this issue, Michaela’s recent scans showed she is healthy and cancer-free. That’s great news, and I can’t wait to read someday about the amazing medical breakthroughs I first reported on while they were in their infancy in these pages. Thanks for helping me tell your stories, and thanks for reading.