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Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer
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Follow along as this New York Times bestselling author details the astonishing scientific discovery of the code to unleashing the human immune system to fight in this “captivating and heartbreaking” book (The Wall Street Journal).
For decades, scientists have puzzled over one of medicine’s most confounding mysteries: Why doesn’t our immune system recognize and fight cancer the way it does other diseases, like the common cold?
As it turns out, the answer to that question can be traced to a series of tricks that cancer has developed to turn off normal immune responses — tricks that scientists have only recently discovered and learned to defeat. The result is what many are calling cancer’s “penicillin moment,” a revolutionary discovery in our understanding of cancer and how to beat it.
In The Breakthrough, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Nurse Charles Graeber guides readers through the revolutionary scientific research bringing immunotherapy out of the realm of the miraculous and into the forefront of twenty-first-century medical science. As advances in the fields of cancer research and the human immune system continue to fuel a therapeutic arms race among biotech and pharmaceutical research centers around the world, the next step — harnessing the wealth of new information to create modern and more effective patient therapies — is unfolding at an unprecedented pace, rapidly redefining our relationship with this all-too-human disease.
Groundbreaking, riveting, and expertly told, The Breakthrough is the story of the game-changing scientific discoveries that unleash our natural ability to recognize and defeat cancer, as told through the experiences of the patients, physicians, and cancer immunotherapy researchers who are on the front lines. This is the incredible true story of the race to find a cure, a dispatch from the life-changing world of modern oncological science, and a brave new chapter in medical history.
It seemed to me then, and still does, that some such built-in immunologic mechanism ought to exist for natural defense against cancer in humans.
—LEWIS THOMAS, 1982
Cancer is alive. It’s a normal cell, mutated and changed, and it continues to change in the body.
Unfortunately, a cancer drug does not mutate or change.
A drug may poison or starve the cancer for a time, but whatever cancer cells remain will continue to mutate. It only takes one. The drug dances with cancer, but cancer dances away.
As a result, these types of drugs are unlikely to ever truly cure cancer.
But we have killers in our bodies, and scouts and soldiers, a dynamic network of cells more nimble than any cancer. This is our immune system, a living defense as old as life itself.
This system mutates. It adapts. It learns and remembers and matches an innovating disease step for step.
It’s our best tool to cure cancer.
And we have finally discovered how to unleash it.
This is the breakthrough.
The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.
—SIR WILLIAM OSLER, 1849–1919
Until very recently we’ve had three main methods for treating cancer. We’ve had surgery for at least three thousand years. We added radiation therapy in 1896.1 Then in 1946, chemical warfare research led to the use of a mustard gas derivative to kill cancer cells. Those poisons were the foundation for chemotherapy.
These “cut, burn, and poison” techniques are currently estimated to be able to cure cancer in about half of the people who develop the disease. And that’s remarkable, a true medical accomplishment. But that leaves the other half of cancer patients. Last year, in the United States alone, that translated to nearly six hundred thousand people who died of the disease.
The fight was never fair. We’ve been pitting simple drugs against creative mutating versions of our own cells, trying to kill the bad ones while sparing the good ones and making ourselves sick in the process. And we’ve been doing that for a very long time.
But now we have added a new and very different approach—one that doesn’t act directly on cancer, but on the immune system.
Our immune system has evolved over 500 million years into a personalized and effective natural defense against disease. It is a complex biology with a seemingly simple mission: to find and destroy anything that’s not supposed to be in our bodies. Cells of the immune system are on constant patrol, hundreds of millions of them circulating throughout the body, slipping in and out of organs, searching out and destroying invaders that make us sick and body cells that have become infected, mutated, or defective—cells like cancer.
Which raises the question: Why doesn’t the immune system fight cancer already?
The answer is, it does, or tries to. But cancer uses tricks to hide from the immune system, shut down our defenses, and avoid the fight. We don’t stand a chance, unless we change the rules.
Cancer immunotherapy is the approach that works to defeat the tricks, unmask cancer, unleash the immune system, and restart the battle. It differs fundamentally from the other approaches we have to cancer, because it does not act upon cancer at all, not directly. Instead it unlocks the killer cells in our own natural immune system and allows them to do the job they were made for.
Cancer is us. It’s the mistake that works. Cells in the body regularly go rogue, their chromosomes knocked out by particles of sunlight or toxins, mutated by viruses or genetics, age, or sheer randomness. Most of these mutations are fatal to the cell, but a few survive and divide.
99.9999 percent of the time, the immune system successfully recognizes these mutant cells and kills them. The problem is that rogue 0.0001 percent cell, the one that the immune system doesn’t recognize as an invader and does not kill. Instead, eventually, that 0.00001 percent cell kills us.2
Cancer is different. It does not announce itself like the flu or any other disease, or even a splinter. It doesn’t seem to sound an alarm in the house of the body, or provoke an immune response, or show symptoms of immune battle: no fever or inflammation or swollen lymph glands, not even a sniffle. Instead, the tumor is suddenly discovered, an unwelcome guest that has been growing and spreading out, sometimes for years. Often by then it is too late.
To many cancer researchers, this apparent lack of immune response to cancer meant that the goal of helping an immune response to cancer was futile—because there was nothing to help. Cancer was assumed to be too much a part of our selves to be noticed as “non-self.” The very concept of cancer immunotherapy seemed fundamentally flawed.
But throughout history, physicians had recorded rare cases of patients whose cancers apparently cured themselves. In a prescientific age these “spontaneous remissions” were seen as the work of magic or miracle; in fact, they are the work of an awakened immune system. For more than a hundred years researchers tried and failed to replicate those miracles through medicine, to vaccinate or spark an immune response to cancer similar to those against other formerly devastating diseases like polio, smallpox, or the flu. There were glimmers of hope, but no reliable treatments. By the year 2000, cancer immunologists had cured cancer in mice hundreds of times, but could not consistently translate those results to people. Most scientists believed they never would.
That changed radically and recently. Even for physicians, this change was invisible until it was at the doorstep. One of our best modern writers on the subject of cancer, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, does not even mention cancer immunotherapy in his nonetheless excellent Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of the disease, The Emperor of All Maladies. That book was published in 2010, only five months before the first of the new-generation immunotherapeutic cancer drugs received FDA approval.
That first class of cancer immunotherapy drugs would be called “checkpoint inhibitors.” They came from the breakthrough discovery of specific tricks, or “checkpoints,” that cancer uses like a secret handshake, telling the immune system, Don’t attack. The new drugs inhibited those checkpoints and blocked cancer’s secret handshake.
In December 2015 the second of these checkpoint inhibitors3 was used to unleash the immune system of former president Jimmy Carter. An aggressive cancer had spread through his body and he wasn’t expected to survive; instead, his immune cells cleared the cancer from his liver and brain. The news of the ninety-one-year-old president’s miraculous recovery4 surprised everyone, including the former president himself. For many people, “that Jimmy Carter drug” was the first and only thing they’d heard about cancer immunotherapy.
But the breakthrough isn’t any one treatment or drug; it’s a series of scientific discoveries that have expanded our understanding of ourselves and this disease and redefined what is possible. It has changed options and outcomes for cancer patients, and opened the door to a rich and uncharted field of medical and scientific exploration.
These discoveries validated an approach to beating cancer that is conceptually different from the traditional options of cut, burn, or poison, an approach that treats the patient rather than the disease. For the first time in our age-old war with cancer, we understood what we were fighting, how cancer was cheating in that fight, and how we might finally win. Some call this our generation’s moon shot. Even oncologists, a cautious bunch, are using the C word: cure.
Hype can be dangerous, just as false hope can be cruel. There’s a natural tendency to invest too much hope in a new science, especially one that promises to turn the tables on a disease that has, in some way, touched every person’s life. Nevertheless, these aren’t overhyped theories or anecdotal wonder cures, but proven medicines based on solid data. Immunotherapy has gone from being a dream to a science.
Right now there are only handful of immunotherapies available. Less than half of all cancer patients have been shown to respond to these drugs. Many who do respond profoundly, with remissions measured not in extra weeks or months of life, but in lifetimes. Such transformative, durable responses are the unique promise of the cancer immunotherapeutic approach, and part of what makes it attractive to patients, but it’s important to note that that promise is different from a guarantee for any one outcome for any individual patient. We still have work to do to widen the circle of responders and truly find a cure. But the door is open now, and we’ve only just begun.
Several of the immunotherapists I interviewed compared the discovery of these first cancer immunotherapy drugs to that of penicillin.5 As a drug, penicillin immediately cut infection rates, cured some bacterial diseases, and saved millions of lives. But as a scientific breakthrough, it redefined the possible and opened a fertile new frontier for generations of pharmaceutical researchers. Nearly one hundred years after the discovery of that one simple drug, antibiotics are an entire class of medicines with a global impact so profound that we take it for granted. Invisible terrors that plagued and poisoned mankind for millennia are now casually vanquished at a drive-through pharmacy.
The discoveries of how cancer tricks and hides from the immune system were immunotherapy’s penicillin moment. The approval of the first checkpoint-inhibiting drug that regularly and profoundly changed outcomes for cancer patients redefined the direction of scientific inquiry. That’s now kicked off a gold rush in research and investment and drug development. Seven years after the approval of that first solitary checkpoint inhibitor there are reportedly 940 “new” cancer immunotherapeutic drugs being tested in the clinic by more than a half million cancer patients in 3,042 clinical trials, with another 1,064 new drugs in the labs in preclinical phase. Those numbers are dwarfed by the number of trials testing the synergetic effectiveness of immunotherapy combinations. The research is advancing so rapidly that several drug manufacturers have successive generations of drugs stacked up in the clinical trial pipeline like planes waiting for clearance at LaGuardia, requiring new FDA “fast track” and “breakthrough” designations to speed them through the approval process to cancer patients who don’t have time to wait. Major advances in cancer usually come in roughly fifty-year increments; cancer immunotherapy has already made a generational leap, seemingly overnight. Describing what is coming next, many scientists smile and use words like “tsunami” and “tidal wave.” The pace of progress is rare in the history of modern medicine, unprecedented in our history with cancer. We have an opportunity to fundamentally redefine our relationship with a disease that for too long has defined us.
This is the story of the geniuses, skeptics, and true believers, and most especially the patients who spent their lives, and the many more who lost them, helping refine and verify this hopeful new science. It’s a journey through where we are, how we got here, and a glimpse of the road ahead, told through some of those who experienced it firsthand, and some who made it possible.
Patient 101006 JDS
Scientific theories… begin as imaginative constructions. They begin, if you like, as stories, and the purpose of the critical or rectifying episode in scientific reasoning is precisely to find out whether or not these stories are stories about real life.
—PETER MEDAWAR, PLUTO’S REPUBLIC
Jeff Schwartz’s story begins in 2011, when researchers had discovered some of the secret handshakes cancer uses to trick our defender immune cells. Newly invented treatments blocked that handshake and unleashed the defenses in our blood. These drugs were available in trials, but not everybody knew about them.
Many cancer doctors were unaware of the new developments that might save their patients’ lives. Others refused to accept that such a breakthrough was possible. That refusal denied their patients the option to try it. It sometimes still does. It’s why Jeff Schwartz was willing to share his story.
Jeff Schwartz knows he was one of the lucky ones. His father died from lung cancer in the ’90s after increasingly ugly attempts to beat it—the usual protocols of cut, poison, and burn; surgery, chemo, and radiation. Just before the spring of 2011, Jeff was diagnosed with cancer too, kidney, stage 4.
So Jeff considers himself lucky, or blessed, or—he doesn’t really like to put too fine a point on it, you know? It wasn’t because he had some sort of influence or special knowledge or anything of the sort. What separated Jeff from the hundreds of thousands of people who died of the same disease during the same time was that he happened to live in California and happened to walk through the right door at the right time. That’s changed the way Jeff thinks about life and living. Now he hopes his story might reach someone else so they don’t have to be lucky.
I met with Jeff in his room on the forty-third floor of a hotel in midtown Manhattan. Jeff looks a little like a more biker version of Billy Joel post-booze and post–Christie Brinkley. He was dressed in jeans and a blue Izod shirt that hid the hard edges of the titanium cage that prevents his spine from collapsing. Surgeons had implanted it there, like he was Wolverine, after tumors had eaten away his spinal architecture. He told me about the cage. He pointed out the scars. These were facts, that was all, part of the story he was telling.
Jeff Schwartz had been a kid in Rockaway, Queens, who went through the public school system and drove a cab while he earned a degree in accounting and economics. His first job was at the mortgage desk of Lehman Brothers, his next at a Japanese bank run by Harvard MBAs. Neither was a good fit. Jeff was a music guy. He played guitar “pretty good,” he says; it was his secret identity, the other thing you tell people at parties when they ask what you do: “I’m an accountant, but really _______.” And maybe for good measure Jeff might talk about any of the hundred-plus Grateful Dead shows he’d seen, or how he’d been given Allman Brothers tickets for his bar mitzvah, or show you the first two measures of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” tattooed around his left ankle like a musical mandala. Nights after the trading floor closed he’d head to the East Village to mix boards at CBGB and the Mudd Club for Talking Heads, Blondie, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids—he’s especially proud of assisting in the recording of Blank Generation. Maybe he wasn’t cool, he says, but he was on the scene.
His passion transitioned to his career because of baseball. He’d done a favor for a guy, and the guy thanked him with a pair of expensive tickets. Jeff had been a diehard Yankees fan his whole life. These were Mets tickets, great seats, really wrong team. So Jeff gave the tickets to a friend, who invited another friend and, long story short, that friend made him a job offer to be a junior guy with his company, a financial firm for clients in the music business. Jeff would come on as the young guy to help with the young talent. His first client was a new girl act, Joan Jett. That worked out for a few years, exciting times, and eventually he opened his own shop and moved out to Malibu.1 His wife was a record company exec, they had a kid, they had a Lexus. He had an eye for talent and made 5 percent of what he made his clients,2 and when one of his acts blew up, like Ke$ha or the Lumineers or Imagine Dragons, Jeff made good. But the real perk was his access. Stopping by their live shows was the coolest counterbalance to careful spreadsheets and checked math.
He admired the musicians, dug the music. But his value lay in the practical side. Music is a profession, though many musicians fail to realize it until it’s too late. “Most acts are one-hit wonders, guys smoking pot in their dorm room, they come up with a song that happens to be pretty good and then, that’s it,” Jeff says. “I tell my acts: If you don’t want to be serious then you’re wasting everyone’s time. Yeah, be a rock star, but this is how you’re going to buy your house. It’s going to be your retirement account. It’s how you’ll probably meet your wife or your husband. It’s more than lifestyle, it’s your life.” As far as he was concerned, the song you wish you wrote? It isn’t “Yesterday.” It’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’round the Ole Oak Tree.” They’re both about remembering, but only one made a billion in Muzak covers alone.3
Jeff helped with the contracts, advised on royalty deals. There were writing fees and pennies from records or plays on streaming media, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify—the music world was changing fast in the early 2000s, and you had to watch every stream. The more digital the music got the more free it got, and the more it served as advertisement for the payoff of an international tour. Sending an act off was like christening a new trade ship after years of building. It could make or break, and Jeff wanted to be there.
And so in February 2011 he was in Portland, Oregon, watching the roadies set up for the first night of Ke$ha’s new tour and wondering if maybe he was pushing himself too hard. The 2011 “Get $leazy” tour—the dollar sign in place of the S being Ke$ha’s trademark—had packed shows scheduled across the Americas, Europe, Australia, and Japan. Jeff had taken Ke$ha on when she was a kid playing club dates. She’d blown up when Rihanna had signed her to open on her world tour, and now, at twenty-three years old, she was positioned to leave port and capitalize on the zeitgeist, with Jeff on deck to help steer the finances.
Jeff didn’t need to show up, but his presence there was a personal reminder to his talent. He was looking after their investment, and that investment was themselves. They should do the same. He really couldn’t avoid opening night, no matter how he felt. Which was too bad, because Jeff was feeling like crap.
He was always a little sick these days, a little weak, more than the usual morning stiffness—and the general ache now lasted all day. That came with hitting fifty, he knew that, the way his hair had gone white and thinned at the top. He’d adapted, wore it cut short with a white goatee. Late nights and discomfort were part of the rock-and-roll soul swap, same as the inevitable weight gain of late drive-through meals and no exercise. At least there was an upside—between the pain and the nausea, he was losing weight. He hurt, but he looked good. When he hit 180 pounds, he was happy to recognize his old silhouette in the hotel mirrors. But the weight kept dropping and he felt something else, a dread he couldn’t put his finger on.
Ke$ha, decked out in a rhinestone-studded leotard and laser-shooting sunglasses, ducked into the spotlight. Jeff felt cold. There was a pain in his side, or his belly, or his back—somewhere in the middle there. He wasn’t feeling any better as Ke$ha came back out in a star-spangled getup and fishnets to sing her hit, “Fuck Him He’s a DJ.” Jeff found a seat and watched the backup dancers and the band, professional musicians whose costumes were described as a cross between “Mad Max and prehistoric birds.” It was nearly midnight when Ke$ha finally performed a lap dance on an audience member duct-taped to a chair. An extra in a giant penis costume pogoed around the couple in a choreographed number.
Jeff checked his watch. The encore was thundering. Thank you, Portland, Oregon, and good night. Maybe, Jeff thought, he needed to just go lie down. But the pain he’d felt had been at a different level, and it didn’t go away. Ke$ha’s buses headed off to the next stop on the tour. Jeff stayed behind and quietly drove himself to the hospital.
A doctor looked him over. A phlebotomist took his blood. They ran the numbers, brought him back in, asked him to sit down. He remembers the doctor telling him that the first thing that stood out was his hemoglobin count. It was staggeringly low. With numbers like that, his blood didn’t have the means to transport oxygen to his muscles or his brain. That was probably what accounted for his exhaustion. But what accounted for the low hemoglobin? It might be cancer.
That suspicion led Jeff to the Angeles Clinic on LA’s Wilshire Boulevard—PET scans, the usual round of tests—and on President’s Day weekend Jeff was told: kidney cancer, stage 4. He didn’t know about stages, but he did know there wasn’t a stage 5.
He also didn’t know, and in the moment of shock wouldn’t have cared, that he was one of about sixty-three thousand people in the United States to get a diagnosis of kidney cancer that year. Of those, a far smaller percentage would get a diagnosis for the rare and specific cancer Jeff had. It was, in the language of cancer specialists, an especially “interesting” type of cancer, a particularly aggressive variety called sarcomatoid renal cell carcinoma.
“The doctors tell you, don’t go online when you get your diagnosis,” Jeff says. There’s no good that can come from trusting everything put up on the internet to interpret your fate. “But of course, that’s exactly what you do.”
He got as far as his car. He took out his phone and looked. The numbers, at first, looked—not bad, really. The five-year survival numbers, the standard numbers given for cancer at that point, were nearly 74 percent. That’s a passing grade, a majority, Jeff remembers thinking.
But then, reading further, he saw that the good number depended on other factors. The most important was how early you caught the disease.
The kidneys sit in the lower back, two filtering masses about the size of fists on either side of the spine, right about where you might hold someone to slow-dance at a junior high prom. They’re complex filters, composed of millions of tiny, capsule-shaped glomerular filters that sort out what the body needs from what it must discard. But like a demolition worker clearing out asbestos from a condemned building, those glomeruli are heavily exposed to all the concentrated toxins that come through the body. They are more likely to undergo DNA mutation as a result of that exposure, just as exposed skin catches more UV radiation and is more subject to the mutations that facilitate melanoma.
The survival rates Jeff was looking at were when you caught it early—when it was just in the kidney and the tumor was no larger than seven centimeters.
The United States doesn’t like metric measures, so it tends to translate them to nuts and fruits, and sometimes eggs and vegetables, to describe tumor size. For a five-centimeter, stage 1 tumor, the American Cancer Society site uses a lime. Stage 2 is a lemon, or a small orange, still localized as a mass within the kidney. Stage 3 means the tumor has started to spread within the kidney. The growing, spreading cancer—a peanut, a walnut, or an orange—if it’s stage 3, is still contained within the kidney area, so it can be more readily targeted by conventional cancer therapies—specifically surgery and radiation.
Since most of us have two kidneys, and can survive on one healthy functioning one, cutting out one whole kidney—what they call a radical surgery—is a common approach. But Jeff’s diagnosis was stage 4. That meant the tumors had entered the bloodstream and moved elsewhere, and possibly everywhere.
No matter where those mutated renal cells moved—they could fill the lung, lodge in and take over the liver—they would always be called “renal cancer.” (This naming system, as anachronistic as describing tumors in terms of fruits, changed because of cancer immunotherapy in 2017, itself a breakthrough.) And so when those mutated renal cells started colonizing his spine, Jeff’s cancer was “kidney cancer,” stage 4. And on the tiny screen of his flip phone, stage 4 kidney cancer looked really bad. The five-year survival rate hung at a guttering 5.2 percent, and it had been about 5.2 percent since the 1970s. The last new scientific advance for treating kidney cancer had been made thirty years ago. There isn’t any way to put a positive spin on that. You just close your phone, sit in your car, and wait until you’re calm enough to drive.
There really isn’t a good time to get a diagnosis like that, Jeff knew. Jeff was busy—but everyone is too busy for this sort of thing, and once he went through the usual reactions he realized that too. But hey, come on. He was really busy. His business was booming, his acts needed him, and he now had two little kids—one three years old, the other just a year. He wasn’t going to stop working, he wouldn’t make a big thing of it. He told only those clients who really needed to know, who’d need to make professional decisions. He told Ke$ha he was sick, didn’t say how sick. That seemed OK. Mostly, he decided to just keep moving forward.
Next, Jeff was referred to the larger affiliate hospital, the mothership, to see their kidney specialist. Maybe it was Jeff’s mood, but this doctor, he decided, was “a fucking prick.”
Let’s call him Dr. K. He had looked at the numbers. Stage 4 kidney cancer was pretty much a death sentence, especially in this rare agressive form, but there was always a chance. Dr. K started Jeff on a drug called Sutent. As the label promised, Sutent gave Jeff the usual symptoms of extreme nausea, lack of appetite, and daily dry heaves.
- "The Breakthrough not only provides good background and good understanding for patients, but is also a wonderful read, a book easily picked up but not easily put down -- I'd recommend it for any patient interested in immunology of cancer."—Dr. James L. Gulley M.D. Ph.D., Director of Medical Oncology, Cheif of Immunology, National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- "THE BREAKTHROUGH artfully traces the history of old and new developments that may have -- finally -- resulted in an actual cure for the most dreaded of all diseases. This book and the advances it describes offer far more than the usual glimmer of hope...Graeber does a good job of hacking through it all, interspersing the medical research with interesting accounts of patients and their determined physicians."—The New York Times
- "A gripping chronicle of the 100-year overnight success of Immunotherapy. For myself and millions of other cancer survivors, THE BREAKTHROUGH is a book of immense and essential hope."—Michael Fitzgerald, co-founder and CEO of Submittable and author of Radiant Days
- "Only Graeber, one of America's greatest non-fiction writers, could take a subject so complex, dense and sprawling and turn it into a rollicking high-tension medical thriller. Masterful."—Douglas Rogers, award-winning journalist and author of The Last Resort
- "There is no villain more ruthless than cancer, which has robbed us all of loved ones who had to endure untold suffering before they succumbed. But after decades of frustration and toil, scientists finally understand how to vanquish the disease by activating the human body's natural defenses. The intimate stories behind this triumph lie at the heart of Charles Graeber's THE BREAKTHROUGH, an expertly crafted and exhilarating account of life-saving ingenuity at its most dazzling. You will never encounter another book so incisive about the art of medical sleuthing, or so poetic about our innate drive to hold on to all that's beautiful in this world for as long as we can."—Brendan I. Koerner, Wired contributing editor and author of The Skies Belong to Us
- "Engaging...In Mr. Graeber's hands, the evolution of immuno-oncology is both captivating and heartbreaking. We are immersed in the stories of the brave, desperate patients who try emerging therapies...We can't fail to see ourselves, our friends and our families in these stories."—The Wall Street Journal
- "Graeber concisely reviews the science of cancer...The risks of tinkering with an intricate immune system are obviously high, even perilous. But the potential reward is a cure. Exciting reading."—Booklist
- "Graeber does it again. He takes a complex topic -- this time advances in cancer treatment -- and weaves an engaging narrative that engages you to the end. With cancer as a leading cause of illness and death, this book is a timely and important account of the challenges and possibilities for new horizons in cancer treatment."—Diana J. Mason, PhD, Senior Policy Service Professor (George Washington University School of Nursing),Professor Emerita (Hunter College, City University of New York)
- "Lucid and informed...Graeber gives readers a basis for both understanding the challenges involved and for cautious optimism that a cure can be found."—Publishers Weekly
- "[A] deft, detailed study of cancer immunotherapy...From the once-discredited pioneer William Coley to immunologist and Nobel laureate James P. Allison, they form a brilliant, driven, admirably stubborn group that Graeber brings vividly to life."—Nature
- "Crisp and suspenseful...an inspiring medical narrative."—BBC
- "Fascinating...[Graeber] weaves human stories with accounts of scientific progress, looking beyond the "cut, burn, and poison techniques" -- surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy -- to focus on the myriad ways the immune system can attack cancer, and provides hope that a cure might not be beyond imagination."—The National Book Review
- "Rare and thrilling...a hopeful, even inspiring, book about cancer."—Minneapolis Star Tribune
- On Sale
- Nov 13, 2018
- Page Count
- 320 pages