An Amazing, Unprecedented Documentary on Cancer

  • | Mar 30 2015 |

At Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT), we strive to revolutionize how we treat and understand cancer. The scientists we fund, and the donors who share their resources, envision a world where a cancer diagnosis doesn’t signal hopelessness. They imagine a world where cancer is a manageable disease — one that doesn’t require surgery, radiation or the harrowing side effects that come with a course of chemotherapy.

We also know ACGT is part of a larger narrative: The war on cancer. It’s a war that has touched countless lives, and involves so many brave patients and dedicated researchers. Cell and gene therapies — the revolutionary treatments that harness the human immune system to effectively battle cancer cells — are showing more promise than ever. And that promise will be featured in an upcoming television event.

This week, PBS is debuting an unprecedented documentary: a six-hour, three-part program produced by legendary filmmaker Ken Burns that traces the history of cancer and explores what lies ahead. Titled “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” the program is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name, penned by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. Dr. Mukherjee is an author and physician who has dedicated himself to battling cancer – he both treats patients and works diligently to uncover new and innovative ways to conquer cancer.

“Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies” is an ambitious project — it’s “the most comprehensive documentary on a single disease ever made,” according to PBS. The program will explore cancer’s appearance and impact thousands of years ago; it will spotlight the efforts in the 20th century to understand, control and cure cancer; and it will detail the cell and gene therapy work being done today that holds tremendous promise and hope.

ACGT invites and encourages our supporters to tune in. The documentary dovetails with our mission, our motivations and our accomplishments. And it culminates on an optimistic note: “The series also features the current status of cancer knowledge and treatment — the dawn of an era in which cancer may become a chronic or curable illness rather than its historic death sentence in some forms,” PBS explains.

We’re also tremendously proud that “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies” includes a few faces familiar to the ACGT community: Dr. Carl June, an ACGT grantee, immunotherapy pioneer, and member of our Scientific Advisory Council, and Emily Whitehead, the amazing young girl who — with the help of Dr. June — was able to fully recover from near fatal leukemia. Both Dr. June and Emily Whitehead make appearances in the film, and share their stories.

Their stories are inextricably linked to ACGT. Dr. Carl June — who has carried out watershed breakthroughs during his time at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine — received an ACGT grant a few years ago to battle blood cancers. It was through this work that Dr. June was able to save Emily’s life — and make history. For those interested in learning more, read The New York Times story.

This won’t be the duo’s first time on the small screen: In February, Dr. June and Emily Whitehead were featured in the VICE/HBO documentary “Killing Cancer,” which focused on our ability to now weaponize the human immune system against cancer. Other ACGT personalities were featured prominently, as well: 2013 grantee Dr. John Bell and Scientific Advisory Council member Dr. Stephen Russell.

Dr. June and Emily Whitehead’s inclusion in “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies”— along with their appearances in “Killing Cancer” — are a testament to ACGT and so much of what we stand for: conquering cancer, optimism and the power of private philanthropy.

For those who share our mission and passion, please tune into the PBS documentary this week. The program will be showing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; broadcast details can be found here.