An annual event, named for Gerald Fink ’62 (above), connects students with alumni in health, policy, medicine and bioscience. Photo by Jonathan Jackson ’19.

The acting director of the National Cancer Institute, a former CEO of a health plan and other alumni met on campus in January to share their experiences with students and discuss the latest cancer treatments and technologies.

The ninth annual Gerald R. Fink ’62 Bioscience Symposium, titled “Amherst at the Forefront of Access to Care and the Treatment of Cancer,” was dedicated to the memory of Rice Cowan Leach ’62, who died in April 2016.

Established in honor of Fink, the symposium enables students who aspire to careers in health policy, medicine and bioscience research to interact with alumni in these fields. About 1,000 people have attended the symposium over the years, noted George W. Carmany ’62, health care investor, former chairman of Tufts Medical Center and member of the Advisory Committee on Education at Harvard Medical School, during the event.

This year’s speakers covered such topics as cancer immunotherapy, lessons from the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, and Leach’s work as an advocate for disenfranchised communities. Isaiah L. Holloway Jr. ’17, who interned at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, gave a presentation on a new genome- editing tool.

In discussing disease prevention, David M. Lawrence ’62, former chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, invoked car travel as a metaphor: Spending more time and resources on treatment than on prevention is like trying to fix accident-prone highways by building more body shops.

The keynote speaker was Douglas Lowy ’64, acting director of the National Cancer Institute, who is best known for developing the technology that underlies the FDA-approved human papillomavirus vaccines.

Lowy talked about “precision medicine,” which uses knowledge of the workings of disease on the molecular level to treat (in this case) cancer. He argued that this approach can also be important in the prevention of disease. 

“Where the individual characteristics of the patient are sufficiently distinct,” he said, “interventions can be concentrated on those who will benefit, sparing expense and side effects for those who will not.”