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The Cancer Drug Industry 'March' Seriously Misleads The Nation

CHICAGO, Sept. 24 /PRNewswire/ — The following was released today by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Professor Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois School of Public Health and Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition, and Frank Wiewel, Founder, People Against Cancer.

On September 25 and 26, the cancer drug industry will hold the "March," led by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in the nation, under a banner promising "Research Cures Cancer". Well-meaning but misled citizens will march for a seemingly important crusade which, in reality, promotes enormous profits for the pharmaceutical industry.

Funded with over $3 million by multibillion dollar cancer drug industries — including the global giants Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Pharmacia & Upjohn — with support from main stream cancer survivor groups, the American Cancer Society (ACS) and, behind the scenes, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the goal of the "March" is to mobilize grass roots backing for doubling NCI's current budget from $2.6 billion to over $5 billion by 2003.

This is deja vu all over again. In a full-page December 9, 1969 New York Times advertisement entitled "MR. NIXON, YOU CAN CURE CANCER," paid for by the "Citizens' Committee for the Conquest of Cancer" whose leaders represented the cancer establishment, the public and government were exhorted: "We are so close to a cure for cancer. We lack only the will and the kind of money and comprehensive planning that went into putting a man on the moon. — Why don't we try to conquer cancer by America's 200th birthday." Responding to these misleading assurances, in December 1971, President Nixon was duped into declaring the "War Against Cancer" and sharply increasing NCI's budget.

Some $25 billion and 25 years later, there has been little if any significant improvement in treatment and survival rates for most common cancers in spite of contrary misleading hype by the cancer establishment and periodic claims for the latest miracle cancer drugs, claims which rarely have been substantiated. Meanwhile, the incidence of cancer, particularly non-smoking cancers, has escalated to epidemic proportions with lifetime cancer risks now approaching one in two.

The reason for losing the war against cancer is not a shortage of funds but their gross misallocation. NCI and ACS remain myopically fixated on damage control — diagnosis and treatment — and basic genetic research with, not always benign, indifference to cancer prevention. The establishment has trivialized escalating cancer rates and explained them away as due to faulty lifestyle, to the virtual exclusion of the major role of unwitting and avoidable exposures to industrial carcinogens in air, water, consumer products -- food, cosmetics and toiletries, and household products -- and the workplace. NCI and ACS have devoted the most minimal resources and priorities to research on such avoidable causes of cancer, failed to warn the public of these avoidable risks, and failed to provide Congress and regulatory agencies with available scientific information which would allow development of corrective legislative and regulatory action. Responding to recent criticisms, NCI has defensively claimed $1 billion expenditures for cancer prevention. However, more realistic estimates are well under $100 million, less than 3% of NCI's total budget.

Cancer establishment policies are strongly influenced by pervasive interlocking relationships and conflicts of interest with the cancer drug industry. With taxpayers' money, NCI funded the R & D for the anticancer drug Taxol manufactured by Bristol-Myers. Following completion of expensive clinical trials, the public paid further for developing the drug's manufacturing process. Once completed, NCI gave this industry exclusive right to sell Taxol at an inflationary price, about $5 per milligram, over 20 times the cost of production.

Taxol is not an isolated example. Taxpayers have funded NCI's R & D for over two-thirds of all cancer drugs now on the market. In a surprisingly frank admission, Samuel Broder, NCI director from 1989 to 1995, stated the obvious: "The NCI has become what amounts to a government pharmaceutical company." It should further be noted that the U.S. spends about five times more on chemotherapy per patient than Great Britain, although this is not matched by any difference in survival rates.

Not surprisingly, with enthusiastic support from the ACS, NCI has effectively blocked funding for research and clinical trials on promising non-toxic alternative cancer therapies in favor of highly toxic and largely ineffective patented drugs developed by the cancer drug industry. Additionally, the cancer establishment has systematically harassed the proponents of alternative cancer treatment.

These basic criticisms of cancer establishment policies and deceptive practices, with particular reference to minimal prevention priorities, were strongly endorsed in a February 1992 statement by a group of 65 leading national experts in public health and cancer prevention, including past directors of federal agencies, who urged drastic reforms of NCI policies and that funding for cancer prevention should be increased to equal that for all other NCI programs combined. This was followed in 1995 by a warning from 15 public interest organizations, representing some 5 million Americans, of the misleading industry-sponsored "Research Cures Cancer" campaign, and a recommendation that NCI be held accountable for its failed policies in losing the war against cancer.

Rather than increasing NCI's budget, it should be frozen and held hostage to urgent needs for drastic monitored reforms directed to major emphasis on cancer prevention rather than damage control. Furthermore, Congress should subject the cancer establishment/drug industry complex to detailed investigation and ongoing scrutiny.

Source: Cancer Prevention Coalition and People Against Cancer

Contact: Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, Chicago, and Chairman of Cancer Prevention Coalition, 312-996-2297; or Frank Wiewel, Founder, People Against Cancer, 515-972-4444/
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