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The Culprit is Cancer

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Fall 1998
The Culprit is Cancer
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Slamon needed support in 1989 and Tartikoff had a plan. She had worked as a consultant to the cosmetics and beauty industry and thought,'Why not approach a big-name company like Revlon, that prides itself on appealing to ordinary American women, to help battle a disease that affects thousands of women each year?'

Tartikoff didn't know Ronald O. Perelman, the New York financier and Revlon's CEO. But she wrote him, introducing herself and lobbying on Slamon's behalf. Her initial efforts went nowhere. Then she happened to bump into Perelman at Spago. The determined Tartikoff spoke of Slamon's important work, and Perelman agreed to dispatch someone from Revlon to UCLA.

That summer, Jim Conroy, Revlon's special counsel, met with Slamon and Dr. John Glaspy M.P.H., M.D. '79, a Jonsson Cancer Center scientist engaged in bone marrow transplantation research and nutrition studies pertaining to breast cancer. Slamon told Conroy about his HER-2 findings. The genetic alteration probably played a significant role in breast cancer, Slamon said, but he needed further research to prove it. And, suspecting the gene and its protein of playing roles, he wanted to start testing antibodies directed against HER-2.

Bottom line, the scientist said, this is how it stands: If they relied solely on federal grants, their progress could be delayed by perhaps three years. In that brief period of time, 120,000 more women might succumb to the disease.

Glaspy put it to the Revlon executive more bluntly: "We'll have a Rose Bowl full of dead women."

Perelman not only came through for Slamon, but he made an astonishing offer: $800,000 a year for three years, a total of $2.4 million. As support from an American corporation to a single scientific group, the gift was virtually unprecedented. Just as amazing, the research funding was unrestricted. Slamon could use the money however he saw fit.

"It would have taken four concurrent National Cancer Institute grants to build the equivalent of the program Revlon funded with just the stroke of a pen," Slamon says intently. "And there was no writing a grant, submitting it, waiting eight to 12 months to hear. This gift allowed us to follow our leads almost instantaneously, and made a huge difference in this whole story."

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