Thursday, July 28, 2011

In the Chemo Room: A guinea pig

Never did I imagine I would be walking through the Phil Anschutz-funded doors of the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora volunteering to be a guinea pig for cancer research.

But that's what I did on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday when I went for my first screening and scan appointments to enter a clinical trial for a drug called MEHD7945A, sponsored by Genentech Inc. out of San Francisco, which I suppose wants to manufacture and sell the drug once it is cleared by the FDA.

The consent forms are pretty clear: "You are being asked to take part in this research study of an investigational drug called MEHD7945A. The study drug is being looked at to see if it could be a treatment for advanced cancer. "Investigational" means that the study drug has not been approved by the U.S. Food and  Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is the U.S. government agency that reviews the results of research and decides if a drug can be sold in the U.S.

"You are being asked to be in this study because your tumor has grown or spread during or following chemotherapy or other treatment, or there is no standard therapy for your type of cancer.... The purpose of this research study is to determine the safety of the study drug and to determine the highest tolerated dose ... that can be given to subjects safely.... This is a Phase 1 study. This is the first time that MEHD7945A will be given to humans and is in a very early stage of development.... Please carefully read the sections on risk and benefits below."

The forms went on to describe known side effects, which so far have been mild in most subjects, but the forms don't rule out death or some lesser cataclysmic personal reaction to the drug and they schedule your first infusion (mine is on Wednesday) as a 10-hour day to make sure you don't have one.

The scans taken this week are done to establish a baseline for growth or reduction of the colorectal cancer growing in my lungs. The best results the researches will tell you about, however, is a possible stabilization of the growth and spread of the tumors. That's one reason entering the trial is considered one way a cancer patient who has gone through "standard" treatment and not defeated the disease can prolong his or her life beyond the time it would take for it to kill you if left unabated.

Dr. Wells Messersmith, the "study doctor" in charge of my treatment, told me July 8 that I don't look like someone who has cancer -- I've been gaining weight lately -- and my hope is that I keep up those appearances (and energy) while this new drug stabilizes my disease.

But none of all that is what amazed me most as I walked through the doors of the Anschutz cancer pavilion this week. What amazed me was the beehive of economic activity represented by the center during what has been the third of probably the three toughest economic years in the state's history.

Patients and employees alike hurried in and out of the pavilion; cars fueled by $3 gas, big buses and small carts ferried people in and out of jammed parking lots; hospital shops and cafeteria, information desks and check-in outposts were hustling with an assured, customer-service oriented dispatch.

I never thought I would have to be grateful to Phil Anschutz, but the marvel that has been created by The Anschutz Foundation -- which has contributed more than $100 million to building the center -- the University of Colorado, the city of Aurora, the state of Colorado and the federal government calls forth a deep sense of relief over having available to me the very best opportunities to beat my disease.

I don't mind feeling like a guinea pig.

Maybe my participation in this clinical trial, like all the work being done at the medical campus, will save a few lives down the road. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Regis-based Capital Congress reaching out for small business

I just posted two ideas to a website being run by the Colorado Capital Congress, a new advocate for providing capital to small businesses that need it to survive in today's harsh economic climate.

That's a big chore to take on in Colorado, as Karl Dakin, executive director of the Sullivan Chair for Free Enterprise at Regis University, well knows.

He and "some other guys" tried to convince the legislature last session to create a public/private entity that could capitalize startup businesses to the tune of $25,000 to $250,000. They were turned down on a party-line vote in a House committee.

"They didn't want to see another government entity involved in funding" private business, Dakin told me in an interview Sunday. So Dakin took his ball and went home to Regis where last month he and Paul Alexander, director of the school's Institute on the Common Good, founded the Capital Congress.

On June 29, the pair held an organizational meeting with Denver-area business owners, some business financiers and at least one state legislator, Pete Lee, D-Manitou Springs, where they outlined a process for the congress to vet new ideas for accomplishing its cause: filling a shortfall of up to $10 billion a year in capital funding for Colorado small businesses.

The Colorado Capital Congress,, will collect, improve and then vote on ideas submitted from the general public, and then bring that agenda to next year's legislature with an assurance to elected officials the ideas have the backing of some of their constituents and represent a dire need for businesses in the state.

Capital, or cash, is always what most small-business owners lack if they can turn their attention from survival to actually strategizing about growth.

The growth of small businesses in Colorado is the largest single contributor to job growth in the state, so if politicians are sincere about finding jobs for Colorado's unemployed they will at least give a listen to Dakin and Alexander's suggestions when the next lawmaking festival rolls around in January.

"Business-friendly" is a descriptor many elected officials adopt for themselves when trying to persuade voters to support them. When the time comes to actually do something for voters who have believed in the descriptor, many state officials in Colorado do a free-market shuffle and beg off the issue.

I hope this Congress will hold some political cold feet close to the fire. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Media Salad: Tossed into business

Christine Tatum was president of the Society of Professional Journalists for a year before she left the Denver Post to go into business, eventually for herself, as the founder of a Denver-based firm that provides competitive intelligence to other small and medium-sized companies.

She likes the fact she is taking journalism on a new route, that she is hiring fellow former journalists to provide her clients the information they seek, and that, while doing so, she and "the fellas" are still fulfilling the "calling" they answered when they became journalists.

"Which was to give people useful information," she said, information that can "enlighten" business decisions that are made every day. She calls the firm Media Salad Inc., and describes it on her website as: "a rapid-response research and reporting service that works on demand to deliver Market Intelligence so our clients can make informed strategic decisions faster.

"Our professional reporters and editors will work from around the globe to put independent findings in your team's hands for quick action."
Christine Tatum
Tatum, like many other reporters who have fallen out of the news business because the news/advertising model imploded, has created a new model for journalism based on the skills and craft she learned as a reporter, which she is now taking to market as a business owner.
Ironically, she believes what she has created could be taken inside a newspaper or other large news organization, providing a new client-driven revenue stream that puts a higher price on more targeted business information than what can be passed along in a general news story.

New revenue streams are what newspapers, magazines and most other media, including broadcast television, need to survive. Right now, traditional, general media has a hard time reaching the small niche audiences their once mass audiences have been broken into on the Internet.

"The information is not customized enough for these people," she says of her clients and the news industry. It's too generalized. "Sometimes a news story that is written raises more questions than it actually answers for you, and you can't call the reporter up and say, 'Hey, I'd like you to get rolling on that follow-up story.'" The newspaper reporter will "tell you where to get off," said Tatum.

But her "reporters" can start digging deeper at that point to "track competitors, vendors and donors; find and background potential partners; identify new market prospects; ... [and] track changes in regulation," she says on her website.

At the same time, Tatum says she hasn't forgotten how to tell someone where to get off.

"I make very clear at the outset," she said, "we give you the good, the bad and the ugly because we would not be doing our jobs for you if we didn't."

"And if they decide they can't swing it, and they find us obnoxious or all of a sudden we're telling them things ... or flagging things that they think: 'Oh my gosh, I just can't deal with this every day,' ... if they can't swing it, then I don't want to work with them. I just don't. I'm not interested in the money."

That sounds like the old technology reporter Tatum was when she worked for the Post or the Chicago Tribune before that. She's not afraid to tell stories of getting burned by the first business that hired her away from the Post, nor of her own dissatisfaction with the technology the Post was trying to use to build it's digital offerings at Denver

Strangely, in terms of business, Tatum is not driven by a desire for great profit, which like many journalists, might disqualify her and them from the bruising, no-holds-barred world of free-market enterprise.

"I would be very, very happy if I just accomplished modest financial goals," she said, "as opposed to, 'Oh, we're going to be acquired by Google next week,' ... or, 'Oh, we're about to win like all of this massive investment.'"

Instead, she she'd rather know she helped a struggling fellow journalist feed his family, or make a tuition payment with the supplemental income she provides her independent contractors --her "reporters."

"Call me crazy, but I think that a lot of journalists have also answered a calling; it's not that you decided to go off and make lots and lots of tons and tons of money. You answered a calling, and in a weird way, I view what I am doing and continue to do professionally is answering that calling."

In other words, practicing a specialized, small-company journalism, independent of the big media dollars that no longer support as many journalists as once was before. It's the new journalism of the 21st century. Taking your writing craft into your own small business.

You may have heard that before on this blog. It's the pitch for my own small business.