Drug giant incites war of the sexes

IAN STEWART AND SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 05:00 24/08/2014
Breast cancer, prostate cancer

PERSPECTIVES: Breast cancer survivor Ally Armstrong says every cancer patient deserves treatment. Prostate cancer sufferer Phil Hunt says men need to stand up for themselves.

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A PR representative for a billion-dollar drug company has set up a health funding battle between men and women by claiming breast cancer sufferers get "gold standard" treatment but men with prostate cancer are "sent home to die".

The Prostate Cancer Foundation yesterday held an education seminar aimed at "levelling the playing field" between men's and women's cancer care. The Auckland seminar was supported by Janssen Pharmaceutical which produces Zytiga, a $60,000-a-year prostate cancer drug that has been rejected for public funding.

An emailed press release from the Foundation said:"New Zealand prides itself on equality, but NOT all things are equal, especially in men's health."

The email was written by Catalyst Communications director Andrea Brady, who told the Star-Times she also worked for Janssen but "with a different hat".

The comparisons to breast cancer were made by everyone in the sector as breast cancer was seen as the "gold standard", she said.

Senior researchers have called the approach a "beat-up", questioning the blurred lines between the Foundation, which proclaims its independence, and a drug company with a vested interest in extracting up to $60 million public money from Pharmac.

Zytiga was initially refused public funding in England, Scotland, Canada and Australia - but Janssen embarked on emotive marketing campaigns fronted by men dying of prostate cancer. It is now doing the same here.

But cancer researcher Professor David Lamb said setting up a contest between prostate cancer and breast cancer funding was "a beat-up", promoted by people with "a clear conflict of interest".

Breast cancer drug Herceptin had been shown to have a "survival advantage" when Janssen's drug could only "buy people a bit of extra time", he said.

Breast Cancer Foundation chief executive Van Henderson said: "It's creating a rivalry and if they have a real issue with the way men are treated then they need to take it through the right channels. We shouldn't inflame the debate. Both are deserving."

Last night, Prostate Cancer Foundation chief executive Graeme Woodside distanced himself from his PR firm, saying the combative language - attributed to him in one press release - went too far and was not the message the foundation wanted to get across.

Breast cancer survivor Ally Armstrong said she thought it was "appalling" to frame the debate as men versus women.

"They cannot separate it, driven by gender," said the Hamilton mother-of-six. "Anyone who gets cancer should be treated."

But prostate cancer sufferer Phil Hunt, of Rotorua, said: "We should be equal. Females got their drugs for breast cancer. Why don't men stand up for themselves as well?"

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- Sunday Star Times

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