Dr. Ron Berenson is an unusual guy. He’s a cancer researcher and entrepreneur. He also has an identical twin brother, Jim, who is also an oncologist and cancer researcher. I can’t think of another set of identical twin oncologists, can you?

Ron lives in Seattle near me, and Jim lives in Los Angeles. I can never tell them apart.

After working at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Ron founded a company called CellPro that developed a special glass column that purifies bone marrow cells before they are re-infused into patients having autologous transplants - basically getting their own cells back after the clean-up and other cancer therapy. The company had a lot of promise, but closed after losing a patent fight on appeal.

Before long, Ron was at it again, this time with a concept at Xcyte Therapies to fight CLL in a new way by helping retrain T cells to mass and fight the leukemia they missed the first time around. Again, Ron was a master at getting investment. Unfortunately, while some leading cancer experts believed in the investigational approach, changing personnel at the FDA were less enthusiastic. As Ron explained it to me recently, the FDA puts up hurdles that can make things really tough for smaller companies.

Of course, the hurdles are there to help protect the public and to ensure that new medications are safe and effective. This is a costly process, and not all small companies can afford to do the required clinical trials. They must often resort to licensing agreements with larger companies that have more available cash to spend. On the other hand, some people feel that, especially in the area of cancer research, the FDA rules are too strict and should be loosened.

Where do we draw the line between patient safety and the need for faster approvals? It’s a tough question.

So, what’s a researcher to do? Happily, Ron says he’ll try again - this time looking for new discoveries in autoimmune conditions. As Ron mentioned this, I whispered to myself, "Thank God." I sleep better knowing there are researchers who continue to persevere even where many others might be greatly discouraged. I admire Ron, and I was very pleased to hear that he’ll keep trying.

I am betting Ron will one day hit it big - not just for him - but for many, many patients who will benefit from his hard work as well.

Keep plugging away, Ron!

–Andrew