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MEPs shun cancer advocacy group because of industry funding

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39566.553889.DB (Published 01 May 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:980
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. 1Hamburg

A group of members of the European parliament with a special interest in breast cancer has cut its ties with a breast cancer advocacy group, Europa Donna, because of the group’s acceptance of financial support from drug companies.

Karin Jöns, chairman of the European parliamentary group on breast cancer (EPGBC), issued a press release last week announcing the decision, saying that 86% of Europa Donna’s income of about €424 000 (£330 000; $660 000) in 2007 came from the industry.

“We at EPGBC reject further cooperation with Europa Donna because the board of the European umbrella group became more and more a lobby instrument for the market interests of the big pharmaceutical companies,” said Mrs Jöns, an MEP representing the Bremen region in Germany.

Europa Donna’s executive director, Susan Knox, rejected the press statement from Mrs Jöns, saying that it had “always denied a financial dependency from the pharmaceutical industry.”

“We have never denied accepting these donations,” said Mrs Knox, an American expatriate who is based in Milan and who has been treated for breast cancer. “But it in no way influences any of our decisions or anything we do.”

Her group receives no government support and therefore needs the donations from drug companies to function, she said.

Mrs Knox said, “Europa Donna will continue to work with members of the European parliament and national parliaments to keep breast cancer on the health agenda and to see that the European Union guidelines for quality assurance in breast cancer screening and diagnosis get implemented across Europe.”

Mrs Jöns said that about 40 MEPs belong to the informal breast cancer group, which was formed in 2001 in conjunction with Europa Donna. She declined to say how many MEPs were present at the 16 April meeting but said that all members present agreed to cut ties with Europa Donna.

Mrs Jöns, who led the German branch of Europa Donna for seven years, said that the German branch refused donations from the industry. Europa Donna International had previously maintained that only about a third of its budget came from drug firms and that it would not participate in the industry’s public relations campaigns, Mrs Jöns said. “This seemed to be acceptable to me,” she added.

However, Mrs Jöns contends that in the past couple of years Europa Donna has aided drug firms by making their pamphlets available at conferences and inviting speakers who are supportive of the industry. And when she learnt that 86% of Europa Donna’s 2007 income came from drug companies she decided that parliamentary cooperation with the organisation must be ended.

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