Conference Season

I suppose it can be said that the month of March is the official kickoff of conference season. This month I attended two very important conferences: the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s (“MARF”) Mesothelioma Symposium at the National Institute of Health (“NIH”) in Bethesda Maryland and Perrin Conferences’ Cutting Edge Issues in Asbestos Litigation at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. As you can imagine, the two events had a great deal in common and a number of big differences. Below is a two-part blog entry with my takeaways from each of these two very special gatherings.

PART 1: Honoring Creative Doctor-Scientists

MARF’s Mesothelioma Symposium is set up for medical professionals on one side of the NIH’s conference center and for the victims of mesothelioma and their friends, family, and caregivers on the other side of the meeting area. The Symposium is not a legal event, however, an aging client of mine whom I will call the Professor had invited me for the third year in a row, and I finally made it happen this year. I can say this man is “aging” and “getting old” with complete enthusiasm because he is a pleural mesothelioma victim who is now 3 years out from his date of diagnosis.

I had twice regretted being unable to accept the Professor and his wife’s invitations to attend MARF’s Mesothelioma Symposium. With a mesothelioma client, every day is precious and you never know what the future holds. You simply stay positive and hope for the best. All of us here at Meirowitz & Wasserberg are so proud of this man for his brave battle against this insidious form of cancer.

The conference featured the most cutting edge medical professionals from across the country, including the top mesothelioma specialists from NYC:

  • Lee Krug, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Valerie Rusch, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Tao Dao, MD, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Marjorie Zauderer, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Garrett Nash, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Marc Ladanyi, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Andreas Rimner, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Dimitry Zamarin, MD, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Harvey Pass, MD, New York University – Langone,
  • Daniel Sterman, MD, New York University – Langone
  • Joshua C. Leinwand, Columbia Univeristy Medical Center

While there were professionals from all over the country, and in fact, the world who deserved recognition, I want to specifically mention those doctors from New York City who treat my clients: past, present and future.

I want to single out and salute Valerie Rusch, MD, Vice Chair of Clinical Research for the Department of Surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, for her incredible work extending lives. MARF presented the Pioneer Award to Dr. Rusch for her work with GL-ONC1, a type of intravenously administered viral therapy. The drug is a virus modified from a strain of a virus used to treat smallpox, and there isn’t a lot known about the level of tolerance patients can handle.

“GL-ONC1 is a modified form of the smallpox virus, [the] vaccinia virus,” said Dr. Rusch. “So it’s a virus about which we know a great deal because it’s given to literally millions of individuals throughout the world. So we know actually that it’s a very, very safe virus to give.”

GL-ONC1 is a virus that attaches to mesothelioma cells in the victim. When the virus merges into the cells, it starts replicating and attacking cancer cells. It may also prevent metastasis.

I represented 2 of the first 12 mesothelioma victims in this clinical trial. They are both still alive, and faring better than most of my clients. It is clear that the treatment is not a cure for them, and that they still face a deadly battle with mesothelioma. But in the meantime they are doing much better than I expected when I first met them a few years ago. Thank you Dr. Rusch, for going beyond the traditional treatments and coming up with something newer, more innovative, and more effective.

And of course I would be remiss if I did not tip my cap to the entire staff who put on this event. They make finding a cure for mesothelioma their number one priority.

PART 2: Agreeing to Disagree

The asbestos litigation conference in Beverly Hills was a far cry from the brainy corridors of the Mesothelioma Symposium at NIH. This conference focused on litigation and featured balanced panels with attorneys from both sides of the bar, including some in house counsel, representatives of insurance carriers, and a handful of the most important asbestos judges from across the country.

Mesothelioma and lung cancer (caused by occupational asbestos exposure) were the two topics the panel discussions circled around at the conference. These bipartisan styled conferences are important for all of us in the litigation. It is the perfect environment for us to learn from each other (and sometimes argue) which makes us all better lawyers in the long run.

The speaking panels primarily featured lawyers from both sides who advocated intelligently for their side and took their best shots at the opposition. Unlike the throws of litigation where the lawyers often become very contentious, this conference gave us the opportunity to hear both sides with courtesy, humor, and respect in a collegiate environment. And so, whether or not we agree that:

it was this company or that company that caused my client’s mesothelioma;


if the number of lung cancer cases being filed nationally is too big or too small;


if punitive damages should be back on the table (after being off the table for 17 years) in certain situations in New York City;

I think we can all agree that these are human lives we are dealing with and that even the toughest asbestos defense lawyers would not want their own children breathing in airborne asbestos fibers.