From Science magazine, May 2002:
Tongues wag as von Eschenbach keeps ties to National Dialogue on Cancer
Three years before Andrew C. von Eschenbach became director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), he helped create the National Dialogue on Cancer. This amorphous private entity, funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), brings together VIPs and cancer organizations to talk about how to conquer cancer.
It also attracts controversy. The Dialogue has been criticized as unfocused, as well as being a dosed shop dominated by one sector of the advocacy community. Some detractors have also suggested that von Eschenbach, who stepped down as ACS president-elect when he was nominated to the NCI post, is too cozy with the group.
As vice chair of its steering committee, von Eschenbach says there's nothing mysterious about the group, despite its meetings behind closed doors. "It's nothing but a forum that allows groups, individuals, organizations, interested parties to ... deal with how they might effectively address cancer as a societal problem," he says. Former President George Bush and his wife Barbara are co-chairs of the Dialogue and have hosted gatherings at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine. The 150-some participants range from celebrities such as CNN talk show host Larry King to politicians, federal officials, biotech executives, and prominent cancer research clinicians.
Some prominent advocacy groups have been reluctant to participate in the Dialogue, partly because they say it too closely tracks ACS's views. In particular, some groups chafe at the society's effort to shift the emphasis from research to public health--such as education campaigns encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles and be screened for cancer.
The Cancer Letter, a Washington, D.C., newsletter, published a series of articles in the past 2 years questioning some of the Dialogue's activities. These included receiving funds from an ACS government contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the Dialogue used to fund participants' travel and other expenses. The newsletter argued that the Dialogue was essentially lobbying for CDC, which ACS has asserted should have a greater role in the national cancer agenda. ACS officials dispute that and say there is nothing improper about their use of the funds.
The Bushes are now leading a drive to raise $15 million to bankroll the Dialogue's projects, and yon Eschenbach says that NCI will staff some of these activities. But not everyone is pleased by his decision to commit federal resources. "It's something Rick [Klausner, previous NCI director] would never do," says the leader of one advocacy group. The problem, says the advocate, is that the Dialogue "is really not a shared agenda."--J.K.
It's not what you know . . .