Remembering Laura Ziskin, pioneer in collaborating to fight cancer

Producer Laura Ziskin arrives at the 22nd Annual Producers Guild Awards on Jan. 22, 2011, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook remembers Laura Ziskin, producer of the "Spider-Man" film franchise and co-founder of Stand Up To Cancer, who died on Sunday evening after a seven-year battle with breast cancer. She was 61.

Laura Ziskin's fierce, brave fight with breast cancer is over but she battles on through the organization she co-founded, Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C.)

I was lucky enough to work with her - though way too briefly. She blended a Hollywood producer's understanding of how to get things done with a patient's frustration that not enough was getting done to help create today's new model for cancer research: collaboration among researchers, drug companies, and government.

The hundreds of millions of dollars Laura helped raise are awarded to researchers on a big condition: cooperate with each other. This may sound obvious but academics are used to competing for scarce NIH funding.

Stand Up To Cancer, building on a concept championed by people like Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation founder Kathy Giusti, told grant applicants they had to play in the same sandbox. Not only could they no longer eat each other's lunch, they had to prepare lunch together.

The result has been a dramatic acceleration of research. An example is the rapid development of a new type of lung cancer treatment by scientists in California and Maryland. Last September, we profiled that stunning teamwork in a segment that aired on the "CBS Evening News" the night of the 2010 Stand Up To Cancer broadcast:

During rehearsal just before that broadcast last fall, Laura was in full producer mode, attending to every detail while warming us all with her delicious personality. That is how I will remember her: in the thick of it, a class act trying to help others.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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