Although breast cancer awareness is high, challenges still exist in raising funds for research.
Myra Biblowitz: You know, I think it’s been easy in the sense that everyone understands what it is and there’s no one who hasn’t been touched in some way, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. We’re not starting with “Let me tell you what breast cancer is” everyone knows about it, it’s come out of the closet, there’s no stigma, it’s very different from what it was when Evelyn started and I think everyone wants to be supportive either because they’ve had a personal experience or almost for an insurance policy, if I do support it, then maybe I won’t have that personal experience. So it’s an easy subject to broach with people and people are incredibly responsive.
Question: What has been the scope of your international efforts?
Myra Biblowitz You know, most of the money that we have raised, we have raised in the United States, though we have dispersed it internationally. So we have added on grantees now in Canada, France, Belgium, Spain, the UK, Italy, the Middle East and Latin America. For the most part we’re still deriving the bulk of our money in the United States though we’ve had some wonderful help from companies and Estee Lauder up in Canada and some programs in the UK. For the most part the money has been derived here because the tax incentives for philanthropy that exist in the US, don’t exist elsewhere.
Question: Is the government giving enough money to breast cancer research?
Myra Biblowitz: No, you know, the amount of money has at the very best stayed flat and if you factor in inflation it’s decreased. The whole NCI budget for cancer is five billion which may sound like a lot but when you look at what the tobacco industry spends about 15 billion advertising cigarettes to teenagers or the pet food industry spends about 14 billion advertising pet food
it’s a small drop in the bucket. In all about 11 billion is spent on cancer research across the NCI, the National Cancer Institute, pharmaceuticals and private organizations like the breast cancer research foundation. So it’s not a lot of money and the federal budget has certainly diminished if anything and the pity is that there has never been a moment in time when knowledge, scientific knowledge is advancing at such a rapid clip, it’s a hungry animal. So that if you could feed it, the answers will come more quickly. Dr. Larry Norton at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center who is our scientific advisor and has been since the inception of the foundation says truly the only thing that stands between today and cure is money.
Question: What could inspire the government to spend more money on research?
Myra Biblowitz: You know, it’s a tough question, what inspires the government, if I knew the answer, I’d be very smart. I don’t know what inspires the government but obviously there have been other calls on the federal dollar as you know, the war and other things and one can only hope that under new leadership there might be an enrichment of the federal coffers. Because right now if you are a researcher, you spend half the year writing a federal grant and you have only a slim percentage of chance that that will get funded. Only 8% of approved grants actually get funded and the pity is then there’s a brain drain, people are actually leaving the field in droves, they get this tremendous education, they have the vision, they have the drive but if they can’t get the dollars to move their research forward, they can’t pursue what they’ve been trained to do. We try to put dollars, private dollars in the hands of researchers who have new ideas, often to help them get the base data that will make them competitor for the limited federal dollars. It’s like a chicken and egg, you can’t compete for the dollars until you have the data. You almost have to have finished your research or know the answer
before you can start. So an organization like ours plays a critical function, often teeing people up to compete for the limited dollars and often moving research forward that might otherwise languish for decades and at the end of the day it’s people’s lives.