publication date: Jan. 26, 2018
Conversation with the Cancer Letter
Gary Reedy describes plan for turning around the American Cancer Society
CEO of the American Cancer Society
Gary Reedy has a big turnaround project on his hands.
As CEO of the American Cancer Society, he has to stem the charity’s decade-long decline in gross receipts, which has been slipping gradually from around $1.039 billion to the 2016 level of $779 million.
TOTAL PUBLIC SUPPORT
$1B (rounded from $1,039,325)
$1B (rounded from $1,008,462)
Source: American Cancer Society
In addition to being one of the oldest charities and having one of the most recognized health organizations in the US, ACS is the largest continuous private funder of cancer research. While other organizations are more focused on specific diseases and treatment modalities, ACS, is big—the biggest.
If it can be reengineered, i.e. if it can find new urgency and new ways to raise money, ACS might be positioned to stand up for the needs of cancer patients and the future of cancer research as it is being threatened by the Trump administration’s budgetary priorities.
The society has been around since 1913. Its critics say it has grown stodgy, bureaucratic, not sufficiently focused on research, reliant in fundraising practices of a different era, a big political and economic structure in search of urgency. ACS has been trying to streamline its organization for decades, and in 2011, it took fiduciary control from its 12 autonomous divisions, creating a single structure (The Cancer Letter, Nov. 18, 2011).
For decades now, it has been weathering competition from groups focused on specific diseases—hematologic malignancies, breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer. Some of these groups are nimble, able to energize their constituencies.
In a move that signals a new open style at ACS, Reedy, a former Johnson & Johnson executive and a long-time ACS volunteer, agreed to sit down with Paul Goldberg, editor and publisher of The Cancer Letter, for an in-depth conversation focusing on the obstacles ACS faces today and to brainstorm ways to overcome them.
“From my standpoint as I sit here, I’m grateful for the incredible grassroots network that we have and for every one of those people that gives us $45 or $50 at a time, but I also see incredible opportunity to keep that base and hopefully continue to grow it, but also to expand up the pyramid, if you will, into sports, into entertainment, into corporations, and into high net worth individuals,” Reedy said.
Reedy is a pharma industry guy. He came up through SmithKline Beecham, Centocor, and J&J. After 37 years in pharma jobs, he is accustomed to cranking out tangible results, ambitious sales quotas, quantifiable targets, aggressive strategies.
“The society has got, I’d say, somewhat of a risk-averse culture, and I’m really trying to change that because I believe passionately in our mission and what we’re here for. And I believe we have to take some risks,” he said in a conversation with The Cancer Letter. “I told my board, ‘We’re not going to take any type of risk that’s going to intentionally compromise the society or the integrity of the society, but we’re going to take some risks. And some of them aren’t going to turn out so well, but we’re going to learn from those and we’re going to move on, we’re going to move forward.’”
Reedy has been in the ACS job for almost three years now, and his contract has been extended by another three. This should be enough to change the slope of the gross receipts curve, he says.
His challenges include finding a fundraising strategy that will fill in the funding gaps left by the ACS biggest fundraising program, called Relay for Life. During these events, members of competing teams take turns circling a track in such a manner that every team has a member on track at all times. Relay events last for six to 24 hours.
“The truth be told, I think that we were a little slow as far as refreshing the product and as far as changing the product and saying, ‘Look, it doesn’t have to be a specific way. The most important thing is that you’re coming together as a community to take a stand against cancer. Whether you want it to be for 24 hours or if you want it to be for 12 hours or six hours or whatever, do it the way that your community wants to do it,’” Reedy said.
Reedy said the society will grow Relay, but will also move toward raising funds from corporate donors and high net worth individuals, as well as pursue “venture philanthropy” projects, where donors would be able to make tax-deductible contributions for ACS to use to invest in cancer ventures.
“What we’re going to be doing is investing in both early-stage, late-stage companies, technologies, and all in the cancer world, obviously, but we’ll be investing either for an equity position or revenue stream so that, as the product or the company and as they reach commercialization or they’re sold or whatever, then whatever our position is in that company, we’ll be able to cash that in and put it right back into the research pot.” Reedy said. “The American Cancer Society is putting in the first $10 million, and then we’re going to match the next $15 million that we raise, and we have a target to raise at least $100 million in the first year or so.”
During the Moonshot years, Reedy made a pledge to nearly double the commitment to research, increasing it from the current level of $150 million to about $250 million. That doubling would also include investment in commercial projects, Reedy said.
Reedy spoke with Paul Goldberg, editor and publisher of The Cancer Letter.
Could I ask you to help me understand where ACS is now and what the future looks like? In 2007, ACS grossed about over a billion, what are you grossing now?
We peaked out in 2007-2008 right around $1.1 [billion], and now we’re a little north of $800 million.
Paul, I think what happened more than anything else — a couple things.
First of all, 2008 happened, and that was tough on everyone, and the same time that that was going on, our biggest revenue producer that we’ve ever had, Relay for Life, was entering the decline phase of its lifecycle. And that was a huge moneymaker for us, and it has continued to decline every year since 2008. So, not all of that decline came from Relay, but the majority of it did.
What happened to Relay? Why would it not continue to pump money?
First of all, it started in 1985, so everything goes through a life cycle. In 2008, it was 20-some years old. So that happened, but the other thing is that we’ve seen, Paul, and I think other charities will probably say they’ve seen this as well, is that the community peer-to-peer fundraising has really declined.
If you think about it, how things have changed in the last 30 years, when people used to have more free time on their hands, and could engage in events, and you could take your family and go places and spend… heck, when Relay started, it was a 24-hour event. Fast-forward 30-some years, and things are so hectic today.
And if you look at community fundraising across the board, it’s actually showing declines. I think it just has to do with the world we live in today, that people are getting much more interested in raising money different ways and, as I like to say, “having an experience” and being able to “get in and get out.”
So maybe you go for something that lasts a couple hours, and then you go on to your kid’s soccer games or whatever. I think that’s the biggest thing is Relay had been around for a long time had really, I think, done a terrific job as far as bringing communities together, bringing survivors together.
The truth be told, I think that we were a little slow as far as refreshing the product and as far as changing the product and saying, “Look, it doesn’t have to be a specific way. The most important thing is that you’re coming together as a community to take a stand against cancer. Whether you want it to be for 24 hours or if you want it to be for 12 hours or six hours or whatever, do it the way that your community wants to do it.”
I think we were slow to make that transition, and that’s what we’re doing now. The Relay is still a very viable product, and a lot of communities still love doing it, but as I like to say, we’re letting the communities do it on their terms. Whatever makes sense for that community.
What’s also interesting is the sociology on that. I’ve been covering this field long enough, I guess, to remember the precincts as part of ACS. I mean, there used to be this massive grassroots structure. And, of course, you had more divisions than there were states when John Seffrin took over. And now, over many years it’s been trimmed quite a bit. What I’m wondering about is whether there’s a cost to that as well? Of course, there are savings from it, but the cost is that the link with the community, the urgency of it. It’s not so local anymore. Is that what might be happening?
I think that there is some truth there, Paul. And if you look at where we are now—and I’ve been a volunteer with this society since 2000, so I’ve actually witnessed a lot of this as a volunteer and also as a board member.
I think, going back to 2012-2013, when we made the decision to move from a federated model with these individual governing units into a single enterprise, I think that some of the communities felt abandoned. And I believe here in the next two or three years post that time, that we became in many ways more centralized than decentralized. And also, the federated model, you have, I guess, ultimate decentralization with each of the government units more or less calling the shots.
I think there we got out of the communities some, maybe not and totally by design are intentional, but I think what we’re doing now is we are getting back into the communities. And what we did this past year, we went from 11 divisions to six regions, to 46 markets.
The idea here is to really get back into those markets to where it’s the volunteers along with the staff in those respective markets that are saying, “Okay, this is how we want to fight cancer in our markets. This is what makes the most sense, this is what’s going to have the greatest impact, and this is how we want to raise funds to help pay for that.”
One of my goals that I have had since I walked in here was to give the society back to the volunteers.
We started in 1913. A group of volunteers formed at that time the American Society for Cancer Control, and it’s been volunteer-led and staff-supported for that entire time. I think there was a period of time there when we became a little bit more, in the other direction, a little more control and command from the staff standpoint, and probably disenfranchised some of our volunteers in some of our communities. But now we’re trying to get back to what made us great as far as really being much more, I like to say, customer-focused.
Face it, if not for volunteers out there helping us fight this fight, we would not be able to do a third of what we do. I’m trying to put the society back in the hands of the volunteers, so that they can really be passionate about helping us deliver on the mission in their respective markets and communities, and also be passionate about helping us raise funds to support those activities.
I guess that’s a question of urgency. How do you get urgency? How do you wrap it up? I’m sure you have some urgency, but one can always use more.
I’ll tell you one thing, Paul, I have incredible urgency, and I know my board of directors does, too.
When I was chair of the board back in 2012-2013 and we went to a single enterprise versus a federated model, we also downsized the board from 43 board members to 21, and in doing that, we also transitioned to a competency-based board versus a geographically based board.
And I will tell you, each year the board has gotten stronger and stronger, as far as looking at the competencies, that we need to be as impactful and as relevant as possible, and to help us think about new ways of having mission impact, and new ways of raising revenue.
The board has a high sense of urgency, as do I, as does my senior leadership team. And I would say that within the organization now, both at the staff and the volunteer level, that people are excited and are really wanting to get down to the work of delivering a mission and raising revenue.
Now, does everyone have the same level of urgency? No. I mean I think that would be highly unusual if they did, I would love if they did, but I think people are getting more excited, both the staff and volunteers, about the society and what it is we’re doing and how we’re doing it, that they’re wanting to be part of it.
You’ve had time to assess the whole situation, it’s been more than two and a half years; right?
Yeah, a little more than two and a half years. I started at the end of April in 2015. It’s been two years and eight months.
By now, you must have a pretty clear idea of how you turn this around and really make it work, and give it the urgency. How do you do it?
I’ll tell you, I feel that I do, and I’ll tell you one of the first things that we did.
I think one of the smartest things we did, Paul, when I came in is we went through a strategic planning exercise with the board and put together a strategic plan. And we actually did it in a 90 day period of time, which was pretty remarkable, but had full board buy-in and we were all excited, because we felt great about the plan.
I cautioned the board, I said, “Look, putting strategic plans is the easy part, executing against it is the toughest part, because many times organizations both for-profit and not-for-profit spend a lot of time doing strategic planning, then they take the plans, put them on the shelf, and may or may not dust them off and look at them.” But we have really been executing this plan ever since we approved it in November of 2015.
What we’re doing is, from a mission standpoint, we are really putting a lot of focus on research. The society today is the largest not-for-profit private funder of cancer research in the United States. We fund about $125 million of basic research grants per year, and we said that we want to double that.
We said in 2016 that we wanted to double it in the next five years to get it to $250 million a year that we want to be funding. And we’re also looking at what we’re doing from a cancer control standpoint.
And versus trying to be everything to everybody, we’re saying, “Okay, based upon our experience, our knowledge and our skillsets, what is it that we can really either lead or participate in and have the greatest impact?”
From a cancer control standpoint, we’re looking at major platforms. We had a platform going for the last couple years to get 80 percent of the eligible population in the U.S. screened for colon cancer by 2018, and have really been working diligently on that and are making fairly significant progress. Will we get to 80 percent by the end of 2018? No, I don’t think so. We will, within some age populations, but not across the board. We’ve made a lot of progress, there’s a lot more people that are not going to be dying from colon cancer as a result of that, and obviously we’re going to keep on going with the campaign.
We’re getting ready at the first of 2018 to launch a campaign to eliminate all HPV-related cancers globally through getting young boys and girls vaccinated. We’ve got a vaccine out there now that works against 90 percent of the HPV-related cancers out there, so we think there’s a terrific opportunity both in the U.S. and really outside the U.S. to eradicate these cancers, cervical cancer being the most prominent, once and for all. We’re taking on major platforms like that from a mission and from a cancer control standpoint.
From a patient services standpoint, we have our call center that’s available 24/7, 365. I mean, each year, it takes over a million and some calls from people asking for help or looking for hope or just wanting to talk to someone. We’re really beefing up that. We’re beefing up our lodging program with our Hope Lodge and our hotel partners, and we’re really beefing up our transportation services through our volunteers and through some other pretty innovative partnerships. And then we’re looking at new revenue streams.
Pursuing corporate giving
Let me interrupt you for a second. Remember John Seffrin [immediate past ACS CEO] used to say that the ACS raises money $60 at a time?
Is that feasible anymore? What are the alternatives?
Fortunately, we have got an incredible grassroots base, who are Relay for Life and our community events help us raise that money. Sixty dollars at a time is being generous, it’s more like $45 at a time. But where we have not played and played very effectively, Paul, is through partnerships and through partnerships with corporations, through getting funding through foundations, through high net worth donors, working with high net worth donors to deliver on the types of programs in cancer research and cancer control that they want to.
We have not been very successful either in the sports field or the entertainment industry, so we’re starting to develop some relationships and partnerships there to help other organizations join with us to raise money on behalf of cancer.
From my standpoint as I sit here, I’m grateful for the incredible grassroots network that we have and for every one of those people that gives us $45 or $50 at a time, but I also see incredible opportunity to keep that base and hopefully continue to grow it, but also to expand up the pyramid, if you will, into sports, into entertainment, into corporations, and into high net worth individuals.
Urgency—in Washington and globally
And to expand the mission to international as well, right?
We are. I don’t know if you saw the article in The New York Times.
Yeah, I wanted to get to that. Yes, it’s similar to what Cancer Research UK is doing and similar to a lot of what the other people are doing, which is I guess is where things are going, to go towards more of an international role.
I think we have to play a role internationally to the extent that we can. Now, we’re not hiring people to work outside the U.S., we have a global group here. It’s not a very large group at all, but we work through partnerships and we work with other organizations and countries and with other cancer organizations to both share our knowledge and expertise, and to partner with them to put together something that hopefully is sustainable.
If I look outside the U.S. and see what the cancer burden is, it’s hard to not engage in that, because you can have an impact.
What about Washington? Right now, there is obviously no shortage of controversies, and with those controversies there are opportunities to enhance urgency—by standing up for the people who give you the $60 at a time or $45 at a time or others.
I think you’re very familiar with our 501(c)(4) organization—the ACS Cancer Action Network. And we are very active at both the state and the federal level. I mean we have people in every state, and then we’ve got some of the best policy talent and lobbyists in D.C. that advocate daily on behalf of cancer patients.
And this always gets to be sticky, and especially in today’s environment, if you come out in support of something or if you come out opposed to something based upon which side of the aisle created it, then all of a sudden you’re labeled “partisan.” And, obviously, ACS CAN is absolutely, as is the American Cancer Society, non-partisan.
What I tell people all the time, Paul, is we advocate through the lens of the cancer patient. We are advocating on behalf of cancer patients and what’s best for cancer patients. We have a saying here at the American Cancer Society that where you live should not determine if you live. We’re always advocating for increased research funding, we’re advocating for increased access to care, we’re advocating for increased screening.
We are very actively engaged in Washington, and you’ll see us come out—on some legislation reviews we’ll say, “Absolutely, no, oppose this,” because of the impact it’s going to have on cancer patients, and on other legislation we’ll say, “Hey, these parts of it are really good for cancer patients, but these parts are not.”
I see you doing it; don’t get me wrong. I’m just wondering whether enough people see you doing this. I’m still stuck on the question of urgency.
It’s interesting that you say that, because what we try to do, and some people have said to me before, “Gary, you should be out there and you should be on the national networks and you should be talking about health care, and you should be talking about what cancer patients need.”
And I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but what we’re trying to do is work through our network and our systems to be as effective as possible. I can tell you there is a huge sense of urgency there. But anything we can do to create greater urgency—that’s one of the things I’m trying to do here with the society—my whole thing, Paul, is relevance.
That’s another way of saying urgency.
Yes. I’ve said to the staff and to the volunteers, “We have got to focus on relevance. What we’re doing, we have to make sure that it is relevant to eliminating this disease and hopefully accelerating the progress towards the elimination of it.” And I said, “Only if we are relevant, then will we have the opportunity for people to invest in us.”
And I personally have gotten rid of the term “donor.” I use the term “investor,” because whether someone’s investing $50 in the American Cancer Society at a time or whether they’re investing $50 million, to me they’re both investing that money in us because they feel like that we’re one of the best games in town for making a difference, for making an impact.
Relevance, nimbleness, urgency—I’ve said over and over to my staff and to the volunteers, “If we’re not being nimble, if we’re not being urgent, if we’re not taking risks, then who should be? Because our mission is to help eliminate this disease.”
Why am I not seeing you on national TV right now? I’m on the question of getting credit for, if we’re building up the urgency or for standing up for your constituency at this time.
Yes. As a matter of fact, and I will tell you, Paul, as we said, I’ve been here 32 months, and I have intentionally spent my time really listening, really examining the organization, really laser-focused and executing this strategic plan. We’ve made great progress on execution of the plan, and I’ve got a really good leadership team in place, and my plan for 2018 is to be out there more and to be more visible.
Yes, me personally. I’ll tell you, it’s funny, I’ve had a chance to talk to a lot of volunteers and some people that didn’t even know me, that I’ve just met at conferences, and they all same the same thing, they say, “The American Cancer Society needs a face. People know the society, but they need a face to connect to a society.”
And they say, “And you should be that face. You should be out there and you should be advocating on behalf of these cancer patients, and you should be carrying the American Cancer Society flag on a national level.” And I said, “Look, I don’t disagree with you, and I would be happy to do that and I will do that, but I want to make sure that we have our house in order before I go out and start on the speaking circuit or whatever.” But the plan for 2018 is for me personally to be out and to be much more visible.
What would Mary Lasker say?
I’m glad I asked. What would Mary Lasker say right now? She would probably say, “Go out there, Gary.”
Mary Lasker is a true inspiration to me. I didn’t know her personally, but boy, the people I run into that actually knew her and just reading about her—and I tell people this, Paul, and I don’t know if you agree or not, but I think that she is the one person that had more of an impact on this organization than anyone else that I know.
Of course. Well, she bought it from the surgeons. She made it more public. She was fighting the good fight in a way that really I, in my career, I have really not seen ACS fighting in the same way. And maybe it’s time.
As you well know, she’s the one who changed the name. She changed it from the American Society for Cancer Control to the American Cancer Society. No, I’ll tell you what, I would relish the opportunity to even do to a small degree what Mary was able to do for the society as far as, really, it’s relevant, it’s prominent, making sure that the society was front and center on all these issues. And my intention is to do that to the best of my ability.
Well, you’re changing the trajectory. I mean that’s your job now, right?
Mary Lasker did more than change the trajectory—the National Cancer Act happened because of her.
It’s hard to go back to the numbers after talking about Mary Lasker, but what’s the percentage of the money you raised that goes to the mission?
And you’re spending about $125 million on research?
Research, right. Actually, in 2016 it was $150 million.
Oh, $150 million. That’s with direct and indirect costs?
Yes. And that’s both our research as well as our intramural program. That’s research combined. Our intramural program is the one that produces Cancer Facts & Figures and all the nutritional information and all the prevalence and all that. A little north of $150 million in 2016.
Yeah. And Joe Biden got you to commit to $250 million—is that still going to happen?
That’s the plan. We’re definitely focused on that, and I’d love to tell you right now that I know exactly how it’s going to happen, but we have two or three different initiatives that we’re working on that we think will get us there, but that’s still the plan. By the end of 2021, I want to say that we have spent at least a quarter of a billion dollars on research.
So that’s still on track?
Absolutely. I don’t know if you’ve heard this yet or not, Paul, and probably haven’t, because we’re just getting ready to officially launch it in 2018, but we are launching a venture philanthropy fund.
I am truly excited about this. We’ve already set it up as a separate LLC of the American Cancer Society, non-profit. People can invest in this fund and they’ll get the whatever tax treatment that they would get for supporting a non-profit, they’ll get that same tax treatment. But they will not be getting a return, because any returns that we get from our investments we’re going to plow right back into the fund.
And what we’re going to be doing is investing in both early-stage, late-stage companies and technologies, all in the cancer world, obviously, but we’ll be investing either for an equity position or revenue stream so that, as the product or the company and as they reach commercialization or they’re sold or whatever, then whatever our position is in that company, we’ll be able to cash that in and put it right back into the research pot.
What I like to tell people is that we have a fairly significant track record in funding research, or at least identifying good research to fund. And as you well know, 47 of our researchers have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, and we have a bunch more in queue that will be winning it. I like to tell folks that this is a good way to increase the probability that you could have a major impact in finding one of the next cancer breakthrough–plus it is something that you can feel like that you’re a part of it.
We’re going to use our scientific advisors and our business advisors on the fund, as well as our extensive network of researchers to look at these opportunities, and try to invest in the ones that we think have the greatest potential.
There’s going to be a lot of them that are not going to progress. That’s just the nature of research. But all you need is a few singles and a double and a triple and maybe somewhere down the road, a home run, and you have this sustainable model for funding research.
So we’re going to launch it in first quarter of 2018. The American Cancer Society is putting in the first $10 million, and then we’re going to match the next $15 million that we raise, and we have a target to raise at least $100 million in the first year or so.
I’m hoping, Paul, that we can start making some investments, and then, three or four years down the road, hopefully get some returns coming in.
And I would love, in the next maybe eight to 10 years, that this fund would be at least up to a half a billion dollars, from the money we’ve continued to raise, as well as from the returns that we’re starting to get back into it. That’s the goal. That’s going to hopefully create a source of funding for us to continue to invest in and fund the best resources out there.
But that doesn’t count against research, right? The $250 million is actually research proper, or is it applied research going through this venture fund?
It will be both. Since this money will be invested in research, it can count towards the $250 million, but that’s only when we invest. If we raise $100 million in the next 12 to 18 months, that’s not all going to go towards research. Only the year that we invest in technology, would that money go towards research. We could have a $100 million fund, but only invest $15 million of it in any given year, so that $15 million would be counted towards research.
It would be all the money that you would be putting into research to commercialize inventions…
Right, yes. Behind the NCI, we’re the second largest funder of basic research, and we’re still going to fund that. And I still hope to be able to put at least $125 or $150 million a year into that, because we have so many grants that go through our peer review process that we run out of funding.
It’s not for a lack of great science to fund, it’s just for a lack of funds to support it. We want to continue to raise as much money as we can to support basic research, but this money raised in this venture fund will be invested specifically in more translational research and technologies that we could hopefully get a return from.
What’s the payline now on that? What’s the percentage of the pay line?
It’s 14% which is lower than I stated. Hopefully we will be able to increase it in the years ahead.
Separate review for commercial projects
How would you manage conflicts in the venture fund, because the investment you’d be making would presumably be altering the marketplace. And what kind of a peer review will you use? Will it be different from the scientific peer review?
We’re going to have probably six to eight scientific advisors that are going to be looking at this. That will be their main responsibility.
And these are world-renowned researchers and scientists that will be looking at the type of opportunities that we’re thinking about investing in, and hopefully we bring some opportunities to potentially invest in, as well as a panel of six to eight business advisors.
In a lot of ways, we’re going to run it like a venture fund because we’re running it ourselves, but we’re going to use these scientific advisors as well as business advisors to look at the different opportunities to invest in this early-to-late-stage technology and saying, “Based upon our knowledge, based upon what’s going on, we feel like that these investments here are good investments.”
Is there going to be some kind of—I don’t want to use the “Chinese wall,” because I don’t think that’s the word used anymore—but is there going to be some kind of a separation of church and state? How do you separate it?
Yes. That’s why we set it up as a separate LLC. It’s going to be called “Bright Edge Ventures” and he type of research that it is investing in will be decided by the scientific investors and business advisors, and it will be totally separate from the type of research that we are funding through a grant review process.
And that will continue to be decided by our review groups and by our extramural research council. It’s two separate entities.
This alone could take care of the trajectory problem.
I’ll tell you, it’s my hope. I’m a very optimistic person, but I try to be conservative on projections. But I have spoken with a lot people, Paul, over the last couple years about this venture fund, and I’ve spoken with venture capitalists, I’ve spoken with researchers, I’ve spoken with high net worth individuals, and people are truly excited about the potential.
And it’s all, getting back to your original question around urgency, it’s all there to accelerate getting these products to patients sooner, and hopefully ending this disease sooner.
Cancer in Africa vs. HIV in Africa
Now, the international program, it does bring urgency. I didn’t understand a couple of things from the New York Times story.
What I didn’t understand is, how it actually works, because cancer is really different from AIDS. You’re taking cancer drugs that are difficult to transport and have severe side effects, and taking them to a country like Ethiopia, where there are no oncologists, actually. Well, they have four, I believe. How do you make that happen in a better way that actually does benefit people?
And you bring up some very salient points. As you well know, with chemotherapeutic drugs, a lot of them have to be refrigerated, they have to be handled properly, they have to be reconstituted under a hood.
That’s part of the whole program, is to make sure that where these drugs are going to be made available, that there is the proper procedures to make sure that they’re used effectively, and that there are also oncologists onboard, or if there’s not an oncologist—which I’m not aware of, at least the hospitals where we’re doing this, they’re not all oncologists—but at least they have access to oncology.
There are four or five main partners in this, but one of them is NCCN, and there are a group of oncologists from those countries—I think there’s about 40 oncologists, Paul, and they have formed their own group to where they are looking at the NCCN guidelines for these most common cancers and for the chemo therapeutics that are being provided, and working with NCCN to make sure the guidelines are applicable to their individual countries and to their situations so at least they have something to go by on when to use the drugs, how to use it based upon NCCN guidelines.
It’s a very involved, extensive process. We’re doing some of the work, but there’s a lot of people involved in this that are also doing work on the ground. And to your point, a lot of this is more or less patterned after how the AIDS epidemic was addressed.
But that was an easier one, in a way.
Because that was just bunch of pills, you take them over, and make sure people take them.
Yes, this is a little more complicated. NCCN is an important partner here, as well as IBM. IBM has provided an incredible service as far as, first of all, developing a tool called ChemoQuant that really helps the hospitals identify, or I should say keep a record of which drugs they have and, which ones they need, and how to procure them so they can get a supply of the drugs and have them on hand.
And then IBM is also working on the example I just shared with you on developing the guidelines with NCCN, developing a guidelines tool for the oncologists to use that has their customized guidelines in it. We’re trying to use the knowledge from NCCN, and then also the technology from IBM to put tools in both the pharmacists hands as well as the oncologists hands to help facilitate delivery of these drugs.
“There is time”
What’s your time frame in terms of changing the trajectory? Are we going to start seeing results soon? How much time is the board giving you?
When I signed on in April of 2015, I signed a three-year employment agreement, and the board just renewed that in November for another three years. That will be April ‘18 through April ‘21.
So, you have time.
Yes, there is time. That’s the absolute answer. The society, since 2008, that we talked about early on, had experienced revenue declines each year up until 2016, and 2016 we had our first revenue increase in like eight or nine years, and our total revenues were up about three and half percent.
This year they’re going to be lower than 2016, but a lot of that was by design, because there were just a lot of fundraising things that we were doing that really were not having that much impact, and at the end of the day were probably costing us more to do them than we were actually getting out of them.
Part of the strategic plan, Paul, was looking at everything we’re doing across the board, and looking at it from efficiency and an effectiveness standpoint, and where it’s having impact in the communities, where people are engaged, then we are continuing to do that and will continue to, and will also continue to make it more customized.
But in areas where we were doing Relay events or whatever, there was very little engagement and we were putting a lot of time and resources into it, and from a revenue standpoint, we’re actually losing revenue. We cut those out. We knew going into ‘17 that our revenue more than likely was going to be a little bit less than 2016, and it is, but for 2018 going forward, I’m expecting to have revenue increases every year from here on out.
Yes, you also have had some staff cuts. How may people are working at ACS now, and do you need to cut some more?
Since I’ve been here, we have had three reductions in staff. I was here for about six months, just listening and watching and absorbing before I made any cuts, but I would like to say, Paul, that for the most part, I have made the reductions that I feel like I need to make.
I told the staff, “As long as I’m CEO you can always expect and anticipate change. And I’m not going to be changing just for the heck of changing, but we’re going to continually look at the organization and see, how do we need to be organized and what type of competencies and skillsets do we need to have to be as impactful as possible?”
I’m not trying to telegraph massive changes on the front, but what I am trying to telegraph is that it will be constant change. But from my perspective, I feel like that the changes that we’ve made in the last two and a half years, for the most part, are the most significant changes that we have to make.
To summarize, I guess we will be seeing you speaking more for the society, right?
Will we be seeing the society become more of an international organization?
I think we’d say having more global presence. And like I said, it’s very important, we’re not hiring people in these countries, we’re doing this work through partners, just like the African thing with IBM and Clinton Health Access initiative, and NCCN. It will all be through partnerships.
Definitely, I would say more entrepreneurial, more risk taking. The society has got, I’d say, somewhat of a risk-averse culture, and I’m really trying to change that because I believe passionately in our mission and what we’re here for. And I believe we have to take some risks.
I told my board, “We’re not going to take any type of risk that’s going to intentionally compromise the society or the integrity of the society, but we’re going to take some risks. And some of them aren’t going to turn out so well, but we’re going to learn from those and we’re going to move on, we’re going to move forward.”
Getting back to your urgency question, I feel an incredible amount of urgency. I felt that as a volunteer, and I certainly feel it now as CEO to do whatever we can as quickly as we can to have an impact on this disease. This year, there’s going to be 600,000 Americans that are going to lose their life to the disease, and it will be 8 million people that’s going to lose their life to it.
We are making progress, and we’re in an unprecedented area of progress right now from a research standpoint, so to me, the urgency should be the highest it’s ever been, because I think we have the greatest opportunity to have an impact like we’ve never had an impact before.
Is there anything we’ve missed, anything you wanted to add?
The one thing I’ll add is, I’ve gone around the country saying to anyone that will listen that the American Cancer Society is open for business, that we will partner with anyone. That, by doing so, we can have a greater impact on this disease than either of us can have by ourselves.
From my standpoint, people that are involved in cancer, we all have the same mission, we’re all involved in it because we want to eradicate this disease, so let’s work together and get there quicker versus doing our separate things.
I think down the road that you’ll see a lot more collaborations with the American Cancer Society, maybe collaborations with organizations that you would look at as being a competitor, but to me it’s all about how fast can we get across the finish line? Let’s work together and get there quicker.
Tobacco conflicts policy sacrosanct
I did a story recently about John Seffrin (The Cancer Letter, Oct. 6, 2017). Essentially, it was about the ACS anti-tobacco policy. That’s still staying, right?
You’re not looking at it?
No, I mean our anti-tobacco policy is as strong as it’s ever been.
And it’s staying strong? It’s sacrosanct?
Yes. If you look at tobacco, and as you well know, it’s the only product that’s regulated by the FDA that if used as intended, will kill at least 50 percent of the people that use it. And I personally have absolutely zero tolerance for tobacco companies and for tobacco, and our position is the same it’s always been. We will do anything we can to help people quit.
Well, the comingling of funds is another one. ACS is one of the few places that does not allow it.
Oh, no, you’re absolutely right. Yes, absolutely not. That’s the other thing I’m excited about, too, is there’s a lot more people reaching out to me now to say, “Hey, if you ever have a board seat, I’d love to be on your board.”
I think that’s a good sign, that people are starting to see the society in a different light, and to see a society that’s really out there and has a sense of urgency and is trying to have a huge impact. And I tell people that we’re reinventing ourselves to be more relevant and to be more contemporary.
But if a board member has any type of relationship with a tobacco company or has any securities in tobacco companies, they can’t be a board member. They could be board member if they sold their securities, but if they have any type of relationship, absolutely not. And we do not take any type of funding from tobacco companies or anything.
The entrepreneurial thing is also coming through. You’re obviously thinking entrepreneurially about what the ACS can do.
Well, thank you. I tell folks, Paul, that I spent seven years in the pharmaceutical industry and I said, “Today I am working just as hard as I’ve ever worked in my career.” And I say, “Most evenings I go home fairly exhausted, but I feel great. I just really feel great.”
I felt great when I was working in the industry, because I felt like that we were developing drugs that were giving people their lives back and extending their lives, but this is a whole different type of feeling—when you feel like you’re involved in something that’s really going to impact people’s lives not only today, but for generations to come.
Thank you so much.