A Triumph in the War Against Cancer

Oncologist Brian Druker developed a new treatment for a deadly cancer, leading to a breakthrough that has transformed medicine

"We're just seeing the start of matching patients with the right drug and seeing rapid improvements," says Dr. Brian Druker. (Robbie McClaran)
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His remark sounded like something out of a time machine programmed to years or decades from now, when people will nonchalantly talk about their deadly genetic mutations and the drugs that stymie them. It’s an image Druker often conjures. “In the not-too-distant future,” he wrote when accepting the Lasker-DeBakey Award, “clinicians will be able to thoroughly analyze individuals’ tumors for molecular defects and match each person with specific, effective therapies that will yield a durable response with minimal toxicity.”

Mayfield has never been treated by Druker but has consulted him. “I was sitting in my local oncologist’s office one day ten years ago, and my cellphone rang,” Mayfield said. “It was Dr. Druker. I’d sent him an e-mail. I was stunned. I told my oncologist, ‘It’s rude to answer this call but this is my hero.’ He’s such a kind and gentle and dedicated man, not the least bit arrogant. He has saved so many lives. Everybody in the country should know his name. He’s the kind of idol we should have, instead of sports stars.”

Mayfield’s Web site has an “appreciation album” dedicated to Druker, filled with tributes from CML patients. Snapshot after snapshot shows people smiling in bright sunlight—hiking, planting trees, drinking champagne—people who felt moved to say they owed him, well, everything. They submitted dozens of poems and limericks, such as this one by a patient named Jane Graham:

There once was a doctor named Brian
On whose research we all were relyin’
He knew we were ill,
So he made us a pill,
And now we’re not plannin’ on dyin.’

Contrary to Expectations

Druker met with LaDonna Lopossa in the examining room where he sees study patients every Thursday. George, who says LaDonna has an “unsinkable-Molly Brown quality,” had driven her down from Battle Ground for her checkup. She sat in a chair while Druker, wearing a loose-fitting dark blue suit, leaned against the edge of an examining table. “I wouldn’t be here without you,” LaDonna said (possibly for my benefit).

“Well, you’re here,” Druker said. “You’re doing well.”

“I’m, like, dancing-in-the-streets well.”

“Great. Any problems?”

“No. I just have a rash.”


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