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The Culprit is Cancer

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Fall 1998
The Culprit is Cancer
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And closing in fast is Dr. Dennis Slamon and his team of UCLA researchers, powered by unprecedented support from philanthropists Lilly Tartikoff and Revlon CEP Ronald O. Perelman

By Mona Gable

On the morning of May 17, early, the streets of downtown Los Angeles were deserted. Bright sunlight spilled over the gray buildings and empty parking lots around Figueroa and 9th. But inside the sprawling Los Angeles Convention Center, the scene was anything but quiet. Men and women wearing suits and name tags rushed about looking for meeting rooms. Media from Germany and France, as well as from People magazine and CNN, roamed the hallways, looking for a sexy story. All told, some 19,000 physicians and scientists and hundreds of members of the press had converged on the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

On this day of presentations by the nation's most esteemed cancer researchers, there was one scientist in particular many were eager to hear. Dr. Slamon had attended countless conferences in his 20 years as a scientist and faced many audiences. As director of the Revlon/UCLA Women's Cancer Research Program, the 49-year-old researcher had even become something of a celebrity, mingling with Hollywood stars at gala fund-raisers and Bel-Air dinner parties. But in all of Slamon's career, no conference was more critical than this one. Today, at a 9 a.m. press conference, he would announce the final trial results of a new breast cancer drug called Herceptin. This would be the culmination, in essence, of his life's work.

In a room of the convention center down the hall from where Slamon would meet the press, a small, cheerful woman with blonde curls was waiting to tell her story. Ginger Empey had driven 110 miles from her home in Bakersfield to attend the prestigious scientific gathering, paying the $250 fee out of her own pocket. "I'm carrying this message to a lot of other women," she explained. "Everybody needs a success story."

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