Ron Leuty of the San Francisco Business Times wrote a nice obituary for breast cancer advocate Barbara Brenner, who founded the notoriously feisty Breast Cancer Action. The San Francisco-based organization took aim at Big Pharama, Big Biotech and what she called the “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness.
Brenner died of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, at age 61.
On their site, BCA referred to Brenner as, “Social justice activist. Corporate ass-kicker. Civil rights advocate. Profound changer of lives. Visionary.”
Leuty wrote about the organization Brenner founded:
The nonprofit became the first breast cancer organization to refuse funding from any corporation that profits from cancer or contributes to cancer by polluting the environment.
BCA was one of a few breast cancer advocacy organizations to speak out in support of the Food and Drug Administration revoking its conditional approval of Genentech’s blockbuster cancer drug Avastin for metastatic breast cancer. The drug’s side effects, as the FDA eventually cited, outweighed its benefits for breast cancer patients overall.
I talked with Brenner back in 2007 when I was writing about what she referred to as “Pinkwashing” for a story in Stanford Medicine Magazine:
It irks BCA director Barbara Brenner that companies come off looking so good when they do so little. “Women are being encouraged to buy something rather than do something,” she says. In some cases the companies promoting breast cancer awareness might actually be doing harm. She points to BMW, which gives $1 per test drive during the month of October to breast cancer research. That same test drive spews toxins into the environment that, even if they don’t contribute directly to breast cancer, certainly aren’t a net health positive. Or there’s the bottle of Sutter Home white zinfandel that earns $1 for breast cancer research with each purchase. That’s despite the fact that alcohol increases breast cancer risk.
Both breast cancer and ALS are diseases with active stem cell research programs in California and world-wide. CIRM funds research in solid tumors, including breast cancer. Here is a list of those awards. We’ve also committed more than $48 million to ALS research, including two teams that are working toward clinical trials testing stem cell-based therapies for the disease.