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Every data point has a face: what Michael Becker taught us

Micel Becker was a biotech executive before advocating on behalf of patients. When he discovered that he had cancer of the head and neck, he decided to make himself known in public, which had an impact, both in the drug industry and elsewhere. of the.

Becker said that cancer removes much more than it gives. But he wanted his own experience to show people the risks of the human papillomavirus, the cause of his illness, and the importance for preadolescents to receive the vaccine that prevents infection by the HPV. Over the last 10 years, the number of HPV-related head and neck cancers has increased rapidly. In 2018, there were 12,900 new cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In total, it is estimated that the HPV virus is causing 34,000 cancers per year, including cancers of the cervix and genitals.

"I urge all parents to talk about the HPV vaccine to your child's doctor" Becker wrote in STAT. "I would like my parents to have this opportunity when I was young, as it could have prevented cancer from killing me."


But Becker, who had held the positions of CEO of one company, Cytogen, and CFO of another company, Relmada Therapeutics, also reminded biotech specialists that people with illness are not not abstractions.

the Forbes Healthcare Summit Last year he took the stage with apparent lameness as a result of spreading his cancer to the bones. He invited the public to think beyond the word "data" when it comes to patient studies.

"Do not forget this data, whether artificial intelligence or information captured on your computer, there is a person like me, a person with a family, a person with children, a person who has been affected by this disease. Remember that data always has a face, "he said.

Becker was diagnosed with stage 4 head and neck cancer caused by HPV in December 2015. Usually, this type of cancer has a high cure rate. After aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy, he had no cancer for six months. Then, a year after his initial diagnosis, the cancer came back. If she comes back, the disease is often fatal.

He wrote a book about his experience entitled "A walk with a goal"After a directive his father gave him when he was young: walk with determination, as if he had somewhere to go. After cancer, his goal was to talk about his illness, which he did regularly, including in a segment on "CBS This Morning", and on a blog this has been widely read in biotech circles for Becker's account of his progress and for the photos of his dog Humphrey.

Becker believed early on the ability of drugs that strengthen the immune system to treat cancer. He quickly tried an experimental immunotherapy and felt that it could have helped him survive longer, but he was also amazed at how much traditional chemotherapy had mastered his illness. He took a medication that he had helped develop to combat the side effects of chemotherapy.

I knew Becker a lot better when I decided to make him the subject of a video for Forbes. We did several interviews for this, and I visited him at home and spent time with him during a chemotherapy session. In one of these interviews, he referred to a decision he took not to continue his treatment, another example of his willingness to share heartbreaking personal decisions with the world.

At first, Becker seemed turbocharged without the chemo slowing him down. But his cancer has advanced. Today, after the death of Becker at age 50there was an effusion of memories about him. David Sable, an investor in Special Situations Funds, remembered sitting with Becker for the first time years agowhen Becker was a CEO. He was expecting a flood of hype. Instead, he remembered: "The needle on the bullshit counter has never moved."

And it never did. Becker repeated to me that he wanted to make an impact by telling the story of his illness. He did. It certainly had an impact on me.

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