The VigilanceVoice

Wednesday-- June 5, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 266
Taxol Terrorism--
Profiting From Cancer's Vigilance

Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, June 5--Fear and Terrorism take many forms.  One of the most frightening of all is cancer.  The knowledge you are being killed from the inside out, that your body has turned on you, that your cells are being bombed and blasted and corrupted by cancer, sends a mortal chill through your soul, rendering you as helpless as the people who looked out the windows of the Twin Towers on September 11 and saw a jetliner heading directly toward them.
       At least that's how I felt a few years ago when I was diagnosed with colon cancer.  I sat dumbfounded, shaking my head, saying:  "This can't be happening to me!  Why me?  Why me?"
       Following my bout with cancer, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.   She too underwent the same mortal shock of her body turning against her--of having Terrorists within her cells, ravaging her, eating her alive.
       Both of us had radical surgery.   In my case, the surgeon cut a chunk of my colon off, hoping to carve out the cancerous cells.  In hers, the doctor removed a breast.   Then came the big decision.   Did we want to insure the death of the Terrorists?   Did we want to inject Vigilance in our bodies to destroy any lingering cancer cells that might have escaped surgery, that might be lurking in our bodies, hiding here or there waiting to explode again, waiting to rise up in another part of the body?
      How could you say no to such a question?
      I underwent a year of chemotherapy following surgery.  Each week I went to the oncologists' office and the nurse stuck a needle in my arm and a toxic poison designed to kill cancer cells dripped into my arm--slowly--raining destruction on my body's cells in search of any Terroristic cancer that may be lingering, hiding, regrouping.   Unfortunately, it also attacked healthy cells--collateral damage it is called--causing sickness and spots before my eyes and turning my body a yellowish hue.
      Then my wife faced a more radical treatment for her breast caner.   It was suggested she take Taxol, a powerful drug known to aggressively hunt and kill cancer cells, but also leaving in its wake severe collateral damage such as numbing body parts forever (peripheral neuropathy), sickness, hair loss, aching joints, muscle cramps.
     She had little choice.   She underwent the therapy.   In solidarity, when she lost her hair I shaved mine.   We walked around bald together, a couple of cancer signposts.  We tried to make the most of the worst possible situation.
       Taxol, the wonder cancer drug, may have saved her life.  No one is sure how well chemotherapy works who undergo it.   It isn't pleasant.  If a drop of Taxol gets on the skin, which occasionally it does, it is like acid.  It just makes sense that anything that potent would kill any cancer cell.   Alternative medicines, while for some miraculous, run the risk of not working in everyone.   Chemotherapy works through destruction.   It becomes the prominent choice.
       Taxol treatment--and for that matter, any chemotherapy--is wildly expensive.   In my case, each treatment cost nearly $1,000.  I had 52 of them.   My wife's were more expensive because Taxol comes from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, an environmentally protected species.  It is also one of the slowest growing trees in the world. (The wood, known not to rot easily, is also the best for making canoes and bows and arrows.)  It takes six 100-year-old tees to provide enough Taxol to treat just one patient.
       Luckily, there is another source.   Taxol was also found in the leaves of a European species of ornamental shrub, Taxus baccata.  This required much more work to extract it, but the source was renewable.  My wife and I were lucky.  We had good insurance that covered the majority of the costs.
       What we didn't know at the time was that the drug's manufacturer, Bristol Meyers, was manipulating patent laws to keep competitors from producing a generic version of the drug, thus lowering its price and increasing its use among those who couldn't afford the high cost of its administration.
       Recently, one of the network investigative programs dug deep into the drug companies' history of holding exclusive patents on certain drugs, warding off generic versions so they could recover their capital investment in research.   Tuft University had published a study showing it cost $800 million dollars to develop a new drug.  The study was used by the drug companies to defend their right to exclusive patents, allowing them to recover their research and development dollars and to profit before the drug went into a generic mode.
       Money generates greed for money.   It's a natural law.  So drug companies began to find loopholes in the patent laws to extend their exclusive marketing privileges by filing documents about "new improvements" of the old drug, or setting up other companies to file for new patents that would be controlled by the original company--again, staving off the competitors from putting a lower-priced drug on the market everyone could afford.
      Taxol is one of those examples.  
      Yesterday, attorneys general from 29 states accused Bristol-Myers Squibb of illegally profiting through several fraudulent schemes to keep lower-priced generic versions of Taxol..
       In a lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in the District of Columbia, lawyers for the states said one scheme involved collusion between Bristol-Myers and a small California drug company, American Bioscience, to extend Bristol-Myers's exclusive right to sell Taxol in the United States.
       The reason why Bristol-Myers is fighting for Taxol exclusive marketing rights is that it generates the company nearly $1 billion-a-year in sales--its leading revenue generator.  Allowing competitors into the market dramatically reduces that windfall.
       Of more concern is the fact that Bristol-Myers didn't spend $800 million developing the drug.  Taxol, which is known generically as paclitaxel, was discovered by government scientists at the National Cancer Institute. The government spent more than $32 million to develop it, according to the states' lawsuit. Later, the government granted Bristol-Myers the exclusive right to sell Taxol in the United States for five years, starting when the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in December 1992.
      The company has found ways to extend that patent, and the government is claiming it fraudulently did so to keep competitors out of the market and earned unfair profits at the state's expense, which underwrote much of the treatment for patients who couldn't afford it.
       There is also the concern for those who were barred from its use because they didn't qualify for state aid and didn't have sufficient private funds to afford the treatment.   Economically, they were Terrorized by Taxol's price.  
       Looking at the situation coldly, one could view the drug companies as "Health Terrorists."   They manipulate their patents to suck in as much money as possible, often at the expense of the marginalized and underprivileged.   In the states case against Bristol-Meyers, the taxpayers ended up footing the bill by paying excessively for the exclusively marketed drug.
       But Terrorism of this type is not just the privy of drug companies.  Recently, Walt Disney slipped a renewal of its copyright extension for Mickey Mouse and its characters through Congress.  The law for copyrights allows an owner to enjoy privilege for a number of years, and then the law says that the property should become public and accessible to all who wish it at competitive market prices.   Disney didn't want just anyone making copies of their characters, and found a loophole to keep control over the characters and works it has jealously guarded with licensing agreements for years.   Critics of the "underhanded" copyright extensions were angry that big companies had the power to protect their intellectual products while less powerful entities lost such rights.  And, some claim, the world suffers by having limited access to the information.
       It seems to me that Bristol-Meyers is taking extreme advantage of its power in the case of Taxol.   I arrive at this opinion based on the fact the U.S. Government found the product and only granted a license not a right to the drug.
      There is no question the cost of marketing a drug is expensive.   But when you start out with an $800 million dollar advantage, and a $1 billion dollar revenue stream, it hardly justifies acting as though you were the creator of the formula, milking every last nickel and dime from your investment.   Taxol was a gift to Bristol-Meyers.
      As cancer survivors, my wife and I view the excessive profiting from the Taxol event not unlike those who try to sell artifacts from the disaster of the World Trade Center.
      Recently, the City of New York clamped down on the use of materials from the site.  Many cities and enterprises wanted to purchase the 1.6 million tons of steel excavated from the site.   It made sense to sell it to recoup the costs.   However, some of the buyers turned the materials into profit centers by riding the coattails of the disaster.  One company made commemorative coins from the metal and offered them for sale.
       Recently, the city demands the buyers sign a release saying they will not use the materials to profit from the disaster. 
       Somewhere in the ethics of business is a red line.  This line is where Humanity stops and Terrorism begins.   Every company decides where that line is.   Some move it as though it were the wind, pushing the envelope to the extreme.  These companies never cross the red line because of its constant self-imposed flux.
       That's what courtrooms are for.   Their job is to establish the red line from a "generic" point of view, allowing the public to decide whether the accused crossed that line or not.
        Some might feel that the President of the United States, the FBI, and the CIA were in a conspiracy to keep Terrorism an exclusive property of the government, and consider them not unlike Bristol-Meyers, manipulating the right of the public to have access to "generic information" that would have cut the cancerous Terrorism cells of Osama bin Laden from America's vulnerable body.
       I find it easy to indict any large organization on the grounds that "power corrupts," and the "people are the victims" of their selfish greed to control and manage the "little people."
      Reading the headlines about Taxol and the story of Bristol-Meyers makes one think of a bunch of gravediggers sitting around a boardroom figuring out how much money they can make on some at the expense of many.   It is the same vision some have of the President walking around with the knowledge of a time bomb in his pocket, keeping it a secret until the last minute so he could wage war and not worry about domestic issues.
       I have to restrain myself on these issues.  It seems so easy to flow with the "collective conscious" and issue out my indictments along with everyone else without a thorough and deep investigation of all issues.
       Terrorism does that.  It has the habit of making us think the worst about anyone who "might have an agenda" different than what we think is "right."   How much did it cost Bristol-Meyers to get Taxol to market?   How much liability was there with marketing the product?  How many other products did they lose money on in their own search for something like Taxol?   Was their attempt to retain patents motivated by sheer greed, or was it a legitimate effort to retain control within the limits of the law?  Did the men and women who made decisions totally exclude the morality and humanity of the drug's impact on those who couldn't afford it, or did they just laugh and look at the bottom line for all their decisions?
       Similarly, I must ask the same about our government.   It's hard to imagine a plot among government officials to quash information about the destruction of American lives or to imply they have some sinister, evil intent to expose Americans to Terrorism.   But the approach the news media takes is to assume the worst.   It ends up that Terrorism grows with each indictment, and the faith and confidence in our health and government institutions weaken a brick here, a brick there, until the entire foundation wobbles.
      As a man who dedicates himself to fighting Terrorism, I need to caution myself from slashing wildly at any sign of its presence.   The Taxol issue with Bristol-Meyers is an easy one to go wild on.   I could tongue-lash the company, call them the Osama bin Laden's of cancer.  I could attack our government, making them look like bumbling idiots who jealously hold information to their chests at the expense of innocent Americans.
      But, I believe, that's what Osama bin Laden wants.
      He and other Terrorists love it when we begin to eat at ourselves, to snarl and rip at one another as though the enemy of our state was the state itself.  
      Terrorism after all, is simply an attitude.   It is a result of an opinion.  If the opinion is that we are "victims" then the fallout of that thought is Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.   To overcome Fear we either run or fight.   We either escape the moment or lash out at it.
      Right now Bristol-Meyers is in the ring.  We're beating the hell out of it on the grounds it set about to Terrorize us by holding up access to generic Taxol.
      As the Congressional Hearings approach, we will soon parade the President, CIA and FBI before our internal Inquisition masters who will carefully chose questions that suggest, imply or infer some nefarious, clandestine attempt or bungle on government's side to allow the death of thousands of innocent people.
      All the time we are cannibalizing ourselves, the Terrorists will be busy setting into motion their next attacks.   Each one, they figure, will weaken us internally even more by making us search for a scapegoat within our ranks.  If we can hang someone within, we don't have to worry about bin Laden's head.   The public will be satisfied it saw blood--that it indicted someone for anything.
      Don't misunderstand.  I am not a government or big business supporter in the sense I accept their actions as being in the best interests of the public.  In both cases, the actions of government and business are driven primarily by each unit's stockholders--in the case of government those stockholders are the voters, and in business, Wall Street and the investment public. 
     My disdain is not directed at them as much as it is the News Media, who, in an effort to sell papers or max ratings, sensationalizes issues without giving both sides of the coin a fair shake.
      While the public has a right to know, it also has a "right of responsibility."   As long as the public is disunified, disjointed, disenfranchised as a whole, it can only rely on the News Media for its opinions on issues.   And, that media feeds it only the non-nutritious dirt of issues.   Looking at our headlines alone, one would think America a collection of greedy individualists who, at the top of government and business, ignore the people and only make decision for votes or profits.
      This attitude of "we versus them" will continue until Americans unite under one collective, ground-level banner.
      The Parents of Vigilance is one such way to unite differences, and to form a political, social and economic block that has power equal to that of politicians and business.
      As membership grows among the 100 million households, a common goal will become the mainstay of the average person--and that is to quell Terrorism from "within and without."
      Government will recognize a body as having the power of the vote, and be less inclined to act in ways that ignore the whole.   So will business.
      By becoming a member of the Parents of Vigilance, or a Citizen of Vigilance, or a Loved One of Vigilance, you issue to those businesses and politicians a statement of power.  You tell them that Terrorism of any kind will not be tolerated, and the two tools you have to fight with include your vote and your dollars.
     But such power will lie unused, like pebbles on a beach, until one by one, each person chooses to become a Parents of Vigilance or not.   If only one out of ten elect that option, that's 10 million members.   That's powerful.
      So urge you to take the energy you might want to spend on indicting Bristol-Meyers or the government, and use it to enlist in the Parents of Vigilance Corps.  
      Become a member today.
     Let's build a Voice of power that reminds the Bristol-Meyers and U.S. Governments that "we, the People," represent a solid front with one goal--to face off Terrorism, to fight its belief in our vulnerability.
     The more Vigilant we are as a whole, the more chemotherapy we apply to the cancer of Terrorism.