Climbing Everest

At 29,000 feet above sea level, Mt Everest is the highest mountain on Earth. Assaults on the summit began in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1954 that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzeng Norgay climbed up and stood on top of the world. Their’s was the second attempt of the ninth British expedition in thirty five years.

Hillary’s memoirs reveal the final ascent as a somewhat whimsical moment. As the two explorers climbed, Hillary all of a sudden became aware that every direction he moved in was down. It was only then he realised they’d conquered the mountain and were standing on the summit. Hillary and Tenzeng enjoyed the view for a few minutes, buried some sweets, along with a small wooden cross, and then headed back down the mountain, knowing the descent was equally treacherous.

Since 1954, over a thousand people have climbed Everest. Although the mountain has a fierce reputation for fatalities, with around 120 corpses still littering the frozen wasteland, it is possible to climb Everest. If you have the right training, the right frame of mine and a proper expedition, it can be done. Although, it must be said, a friend of ours tracked to Base Camp and lost 25kg in the arduous, month-long process, so moving on from there to the summit is no trivial task.

Finding a cure for cancer is very much like climbing Everest. There are assaults on the summit coming from every direction. Cancer will never be trivial, but it will be conquered, and the conquest has already begun with the cervical cancer vaccine.

My wife and I have a special interest in these medical expeditions, as she survived breast cancer in 2009. Having had surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, she is doing wonderfully. I am so very thankful for the medical assistance she has received. Cancer, though, has robbed the world of so many brilliant minds, Carl Sagan, Douglas Adams, Steve Jobs, Michael Crichton and, today, Christopher Hitchens, to name but a few.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I invested a significant amount in Ecobiotics and its subsidiary QBiotics, two related medical research companies here in Queensland, Australia. Using a holistic approach to drug discovery in the Australian rainforest, they’ve isolated a compound known as EBC-46 that has had some spectacular results in breaking down solid tumours. With stage I/II human trials due to start in 2012, the drug holds significant promise. It is a good assault on the summit of Mount Cancer.

Every couple of months, though, an article appears where other researchers are pushing for the summit. This week, the results of a vaccine trial showed significant results in mice, breaking down breast cancer tumours in triple negative cases, where all other current therapies would fail. If these results with mice translate into humans, this vaccine will save tens of thousands of lives.

For me, it’s tempting to worry about our investment in QBiotics, but then I remind myself why we invested in the first place. We invested to go on the offensive against cancer, to be an active part of the campaign regardless. For me, it matters not who plants the first flag on the summit of Mount Cancer. What matters is that the mountain is conquered. And, like Everest, once it is, it will be conquered again and again, from different routes, by different means, and each of these will enrich our world for the better.

Fifteen years ago, someone invested in the development of Herceptin and that, along with so many other incremental steps, saved the life of my wife. So it is nice to be an active part of further medical research that will help stem the tide of this insidious disease for others.

I’m proud to support cancer research.

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