A privileged few get filthy rich—while innocent millions suffer
Two news stories caught my attention this week. One from Boston, the other from Los Angeles. Both were stories about how big money is being made in the cancer industry. The richest man in Los Angeles owes his vast wealth to the 41-year war on cancer and the never-ending search for the cure.
Meanwhile, at my local Big-Y supermarket during the entire month of October, all customers are greeted with the same cheery question from the cashier:
“Would you like to donate a dollar for breast cancer research?”
From the super rich to the bottom rung of the middle class, everyone gets a chance to participate in the cancer industry. And it has become so ubiquitous, that one tends to feel a pang of guilt if she doesn’t pony up that dollar when asked by the cashier. After all, what would her neighbor in line next to her think if she was too cheap and/or too uncaring to help fight cancer?
But are we really fighting cancer? Or are we just all participating in an incredibly complex process of producing drugs to treat symptoms, providing jobs for millions, and creating vulgar levels of wealth for a privileged, and very shrewd, few? From L.A. to Boston; let’s take a look.
In Los Angeles. Mr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (part owner of the Lakers) made the news this week after announcing a joint venture to create a nationwide system for sharing DNA and other data on cancer patients.
So is L.A.’s richest man doing this out of the goodness of his heart or is he just pumping more energy into the industry that has made him one of the wealthiest people on the planet? Exactly where did all that wealth come from? From Reuters (See link below):
By 2008, Patrick Soon-Shiong controlled 82 percent of APP Pharmaceuticals, the company he started to develop injectable drugs to treat cancer and other illnesses. Soon-Shiong sold the company for $5.6 billion to Germany’s Fresenuis Kabi Pharmaceuticals, netting him $4.6 billion.
In 2010, he sold Abraxis BioScience, which he had spun off from APP in 2007, to pharmaceutical company Celgene Corp. for $2.9 billion. His 82 percent stake was worth $2.4 billion.
Question: How rich would Mr. Soon-Shiong be without the cancer industry?
In Boston, another story about making money on the cancer train. An MIT finance professor and hedge fund manager (Andrew Lo), wants to bring Wall Street-style financial engineering to curing cancer. From the Boston Globe article:
Named this year as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, Lo runs an investment firm in Cambridge called AlphaSimplex Group, with $3 billion in assets. He is known for his “adaptive markets” financial theory, which maintains that prices and investors are not always rational.
Now he is proposing an idea that would go beyond his own firm, creating a “megafund” that would flood early-stage research in cancer drugs with $30 billion. By supporting as many as 150 experimental compounds at any one time and bringing in large numbers of investors, he argues, the risk would be spread over a much larger base. Even if just a few of the treatments prove effective, Lo estimates the fund would be profitable, earning equity investors annual returns of 7 to 10 percent.
“Only with massive scale can you reduce the risk of this early-stage research,’’ said Lo, who pitched his megafund idea in a paper published Sunday in the journal Nature Biotechnology. “Finance is a means to an end. It’s a way to allow us to collaborate on problems of unprecedented scale,” he said.
Results? With all of this “collaboration on problems of unprecedented scale,” what kind of progress has been made? How are we doing with our “war on cancer” that was famously launched by President Nixon—41 years ago?
The Scoreboard (As I see it—using football scores)
- 91 points (13 touchdowns) for raising awareness of the disease
- 77 points (11 touchdowns) for raising money (billions)
- 56 points (8 touchdowns) for creating jobs (millions)
- 49 points (7 touchdowns) for increasing the nation’s GDP (driving up the cost of health care)
- 3 points (one field goal) for finding the cure (and this may be generous)
- 2 points (one safety) for explaining the leading cause of cancer and the simple steps that people can take to either prevent, slow, stop or reverse most cancers.
Those simple steps, of course, are simply teaching everyone the importance of returning to the natural, health-promoting, diet for our species. But, there’s no money to be made by preventing cancers.
The big money is being made in treating cancers—and with the cancer genome atlas just beginning to gather momentum, the cost of these personalized treatments will continue to spiral out of control and will soon bankrupt our entire nation. Current score:
Cancer Industry: 259 —– Innocent Public: 5
You think this is lopsided? It’s going to get a lot worse if our government doesn’t start telling all citizens about the leading cause of cancer and the simple steps to control it.
Even when they ever tell us the truth, only a small percentage will follow the health-promoting advice. But it will be a much-needed step in the right direction.
- Source article. MIT economist pitches cancer mega-fund
- Source article. L.A.’s richest man ups the ante for city, cancer fight | Reuters.
- Earlier blog. Cancer “Breakthroughs” that Cost Too Much and Do Too Little
- Earlier blog. Breast cancer—more confusion & false hope about genetics
- Earlier blog. Dr. Ornish. Turning off cancer genes, reversing heart disease
Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com
- The movie that’s changing the lives of millions: Forks Over Knives DVD
- Healthy Eating, Healthy World, The ”big picture” about food (our book)
- An essential scientific resource: The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
- Dr. McDougall’s new book, The Starch Solution, with lots of great recipes.
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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation