by: Moss, Ralph, Ph.D.
Ralph Moss is the former assistant director of public affairs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He has spent fifteen years investigating the field of cancer research and is the editor of a quarterly newsletter, The Cancer Chronicles. He is the author of six books, including An Alternative Approach to Allergies, A Real Choice, a study of breast cancer patients, and Free Radical, a biography of Nobel Prize winner, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, for which he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He has written and produced several documentaries, including "The Cancer War" for PBS. Dr. Moss received his Ph.D. from Stanford University and currently teaches science writing at the New School for Social Research in New York City.
In 1974, I was hired as science writer and subsequently as assistant director of public affairs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Sloan-Kettering is the world's largest private cancer center. At that time, we had 4,600 employees and dealt with tens of thousands of cancer patients from around the world. It really seemed like an ideal job for someone like myself who was interested in the cutting edge of science.
The first day I arrived, my boss gave me a very strange assignment. I was to track down information on one of the scientists at the center who it turned out was painting white mice with black splotches with a magic marker and claiming that he was actually transplanting black skin onto the white mice. This work had been so highly acclaimed that it made the front cover of Time magazine. However one of the lab technicians had become suspicious and when he rubbed the black skin with a little alcohol, lo and behold it disappeared. It had been applied with magic marker. The person who did this was punished by being given $40,000, and he has been practicing dermatology in the south since then. I thought this was a strange way to be introduced to a job at a place that's like the Harvard or the McGill of cancer science.
The next thing they gave me to do, practically the same afternoon, was to answer a stack of correspondence which my predecessor had not gotten around to answering. There were 100 to 150 letters to be answered. The center got loads of mail from all kinds of people who were concerned about cancer, and most of those letters were about a substance called laetrile. Laetrile is a derivative of apricot kernels, and it contains, embedded into the molecular structure, cyanide. The theory of the laetrile proponents was that the cyanide somehow broke off and killed the cancer cells, but normal people were unaffected by it. Well, I had watched 20-20, so I knew that laetrile was quackery, and we were giving out a press release at that time which said that we were investigating laetrile and had no evidence that it was effective.
About two months later when I was still a rookie at the job, I visited the Walker Laboratories, Sloan-Kettering's animal research facility, to interview an elderly scientist by the name of Kanematsu Sugiura. By the way, this story is told in full detail in my book, The Cancer Industry. Dr. Sugiura was a wonderful character to interview. He was almost 80 at that point and he had been in cancer research since 1912. So he had 62 years of experience in the field and he had risen to a full member of the Institute. At the end of the interview, I asked him what he was doing at the present time. He was officially retired and did not have to come in, yet I knew he was coming in to work every morning at 8:00 and going home at 5:00. He told me he was working on amygdalin. It took me a minute to realize that amygdalin was another name for laetrile. I was very perplexed and asked him what there was to work on if it doesn't work. He said, "Oh, but it does." He took down one of his notebooks. He kept meticulous notes on all of his animal experiments going back to the 1920's and 1930's. He showed me that the tumours in the mice who were administered laetrile stopped growing; whereas the tumours in the control mice continued to grow and the mice died. I said, "Well, that's amazing!", not because these were the greatest results anyone had ever seen, but because I was sending out a press release saying we had not gotten any results at all with this substance. Dr. Sugiura said, "Well, that's nothing. The really important result is the prevention of metastases, the spread of cancer, which is what cancer patients die from nine times out of ten." Cancer spreads from some organ like the breast to a vital organ like the liver or brain or kidneys, and you die from the effect of that secondary growth, the metastasis. In laetrile treated mice, only 20% showed metastases in the microscopic examination after death. In the ordinary untreated or saline-control animals, 80% had metastases. So you can see that is quite a significant difference right there, between 20% having spread and 80% having spread. That was astounding to me. There were no drugs, and as far as I know, there are no drugs that control the spread of cancer in animals or in humans. It's one of the holy grails of cancer research to find a drug like that. Here it was - here was a drug that did that!
I could not believe what I was hearing and asked him why the officials at the center were so against this substance. He said, "Maybe the doctors are making too much money in the cancer field". Now, this statement from a man in his 80's who had spent 62 years in the cancer field astounded me, and it began a whole train of events in my life. I began by questioning successively higher officials at the center, starting with my boss who was director of public affairs, up to the top, to the president of the center. I asked each of them what was going on - why weren't we releasing the truth about laetrile? I got evasive replies to put it mildly. One of the most interesting replies came from the vice-resident for research at Sloan-Kettering. He showed me the American Cancer Society's book on unproven methods of cancer management, the quack list, and told me that this is where they get their ideas. He was an exceptionally honest man, but would obviously not come out in public and say that.
I was really in a quandary, because as time went by, the official position on laetrile became increasingly negative until, contradicting all established facts, in the summer of 1975, the other vice-president of the center told an interviewer from Medical World News: "We have found laetrile negative in all the animal systems we have tested." Now, this was patently untrue. We had tested it in three animal systems. It had been positive in all three animal systems, mainly in the prevention of metastases, and in the improved health and improved well-being of the mice. The mice who got laetrile had shiny coats. It acted like a vitamin just like its proponents said it did. My options at that point were very few. I could have just quit and gone off quietly. But what about all the people who had cancer who were calling every day, and the 500,000 people who are dying every year of cancer in the U.S. alone? So I kept on pursuing the truth of this matter, and it kept on getting worse and worse. Ultimately, I called a press conference to issue a counter report to the Sloan-Kettering report on laetrile. The result of course was that I was fired for "failing to carry out my most basic job responsibilities"
So my most basic job responsibilities, I guess, was to lie on behalf of Memorial Sloan-Kettering. I couldn't do that and I didn't do that. I had no connection at the time with any alternative cancer therapies. I didn't particularly like the laetrile movement. I didn't think laetrile was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I wasn't at all convinced that there were alternative treatments for cancer. I pretty much felt that surgery, radiation and chemotherapy were the way to go. But I knew that they were lying and that's about all I knew. I was suddenly out of a job. So my wife went out and got a job and has been working ever since while I do this investigation, trying to figure out what's going on in the cancer world. The political sphere of the cancer industry interests me very much.
POWER BEHIND SLOAN-KETTERING
Memorial Sloan-Kettering is a private non-profit organization. It became apparent to me in the four years I worked there that it was the board of trustees who ran the outfit. Even though they were not doctors, even though they were not involved in the day to day running of the place, the ultimate decisions always went to the board. The structure of the board was really amazing when you looked at it closely using power structure research. Two things stood out very clearly. First of all the board was just packed with people who had a vested interest in the most environmentally polluting industries in North America. Let me give you some examples of the present day board of trustees: the director of Olin Chemical, the president of Exxon, the chairman of the board of RJR Nabisco, makers of RGR Reynold's tobacco, the director of Philip Morris, the chairman of the board of Texaco, the director of Algoma Steel, the chairman of the board of General Motors, the director of Bethlehem Steel. Laurance Rockefeller, who is chairman of the board of Sloan-Kettering, is a director of Philip Morris and owns big chunks of Exxon, Mobil, Standard Oil of Indiana, Standard Oil of California and so forth. These substances that they are manufacturing all revolve around the automobile and its exhausts, petroleum and its byproducts. There is and there has been for some time ample evidence that the products of combustion and of petrochemicals are known carcinogens. They cause cancer. Why would these people want to be on the board of a cancer center? It seemed obvious to me. There is no research at Sloan-Kettering into environmental causes of cancer. You can read through the 1987/88 annual report and you won't find one research project into any environmental cause. No research into diet, no research into chemical causes, nothing-except the pharmaceutical approach to cancer.
They are looking for a cure for cancer, but they're not looking for anything that's going to upset the apple cart, that's not going to make money for somebody, big money for somebody. The second discovery I made was the strong ties of Sloan-Kettering to the drug industry. The largest producer of cancer chemotherapy, toxic anti-cancer drugs, is Bristol-Myers-Squibb. They have about 40 to 50% of the entire market. The chairman of the board of Bristol-Myers-Squibb is the vice-chairman of Sloan-Kettering Institute. The president of Bristol-Myers-Squibb is on the board of Sloan-Kettering Institute. A director of Bristol-Myers-Squibb is the other vice-chairman of Sloan-Kettering Institute. The chancellor of Memorial Sloan-Kettering is a former director of Squibb. The center itself owns millions of dollars of stock in Bristol-Myers-Squibb as it does in many of the other companies that produce the drugs used for cancer. They receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from the drug industry. There is no way you can look at this thing without seeing the unity of interests of the manufacturers of these drugs with the so-called objective, academic research into cancer and the direction of the war on cancer in general. Well, there may be nothing wrong with that if they were indeed finding cures for cancer. The problem is that with that power and with the agendas of the drug companies comes a very great narrowing of the research that is done, as it does also with many other diseases.