When Was the Last Cure? Achieving Breakthroughs

Stephen L. DeFelice, M.D.

Originally published in The Westfield Leader on December 22, 2011

SEEKING THE CURES…Westfield physician Stephen L. DeFelice, right, chairman of FIM, the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, is pictured at Capitol Hill discussing the Doctornaut Act with Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

WESTFIELD – In his first book, “Drug Discovery: The Pending Crisis,” way back in 1972, Westfield physician Stephen L. DeFelice wrote, “Our present system of drug discovery is almost designed not to cure the great diseases that confront us. There is no doubt that many will be cured in the distant future, but it is unfortunate that many must wait.” He blamed the increasing costly barriers for patients to participate in clinical studies, which are currently irrationally obstructive. By blocking the clinical testing of new therapies, he said that it does not take a genius to conclude that fewer breakthrough therapies will be tested and discovered. And that is exactly what has happened. In his experience, most who respond to the “cure” question cite polio. That happened in 1953! What puzzles him is that, except for AIDS patients, very few patients are angry about being denied their cures. This apathy, coupled with a pervasive image of clinical research as dangerous instead of as a vehicle of hope, remained un-budgeable. He emphatically proclaims that patients and healthy people (future patients) do not want free health care. They want health cures. “The patient would say, ‘Get rid of my disease,’ and the healthy one would say, ‘Prevent me from getting my disease.’ Well, the best way to frustrate their wishes is to block the testing of potential therapies in clinical studies.”

In a previous Leader-Times article, Dr. DeFelice proposed that doctors should be permitted to volunteer for clinical studies more freely than nondoctors, so more potential medical breakthroughs could be tested. He calls them “doctornauts” and proposed the Doctornaut Act, which was circulated by then Senate Majority Leader and physician, Bill Frist. But because of an overwhelmingly concern with “health care” and not “cure care,” the Act failed to interest a single enthusiastic advocate, which was bad news for patients. Dr. DeFelice says, “Frankly speaking, after over four decades of trying, I gave up the doctornaut ship. Then, as often happens in history, a spontaneous, out-of-the-blue energetic movement was recently born advocating the critical need of more creative clinical research. Strong advocates include the NIH, patient groups that primarily deal with rare diseases and, yes, Congress. This offers a wonderful opportunity for the passage of the Doctornaut Act, which would dramatically accelerate the discovery of medical breakthroughs including cures.” He believes that baby boomers and senior citizens should have a particular interest in the enactment of the Act because diseases common to them, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, will be much more rapidly controlled or eliminated than otherwise.

At age 75, Dr. DeFelice is now sufficiently energized to gather support of major advocates and supporters to pursue the enactment of the Doctornaut Act. For updates on this effort, visitwww.fimdefelice.org. And finally, since this article will be published just before Christmas, 2011, he wants to send a message to the North Pole. “I do believe in Santa Claus!”