To the editor:

 I would like to reply to the article by Daniel Newman, "The Taxol Giveaway," in the May issue of Multinational Monitor. The article charges that the National Cancer Institute has given away a valuable government property, the anticancer drug taxol, to Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), which stands to make "billions" of dollars at the expense of cancer patients. I strongly disagree with both the alleged facts and the conclusions presented in this article.

 In 1991 the National Cancer Institute (NCI) selected BMS as its exclusive partner for a commercial license to develop taxol, after a full and open competition. Only four companies applied for this license, including three American firms. Of these, BMS was the only company with significant previous experience in cancer drug development. The lone foreign applicant, Rhone-Poulenc, owns rights to a closely related competitive product, taxotere, and, if awarded the taxol partnership, could have enjoyed a formidable advantage over any other company interested in this field. While this fact alone would not have affected this company's standing to compete for the license, it is relevant to the discussion. The reasons for the lack of interest on the part of other major American or foreign drug companies stemmed from the obviously significant development costs and difficulty in manufacturing the drug, which is derived from tree bark; its apparently modest antitumor activity, which at that time was confined to ovarian cancer; and the fact that the Government had not filed for a patent. BMS, in separate action, has applied for and received excluive marketing rights to taxol, but only for ovarian cancer treatment, under the Orphan Drug Act. If NCI had decided to offer a non-exclusive working partnership, I seriously doubt that any company would have been willing to apply for this license, given the high costs of evelopment and risk. Witness the meager response to the advertisement for an exclusive partner.

 The article raises the issue of a "potential" conflict of interest on the part of Dr. Robert Wittes, an NCI employee who left the government to join Bristol-Myers as a senior vice president for cancer research in 1988. Dr. Wittes left the NCI in 1988, before a decision was made to seek a corporate partner for taxol development and one year before we advertised for a taxol development partner. In 1989 BM merged with Squibb. In the corporate reorganization that followed, Dr. Wittes found fewer opportunities for clinical research, and we successfully recruited him to return to the NCI as chief of our intramural Medicine Branch. His return was hailed by the press and the academic community as evidence of a rejuvenation of clinical research at NCI. Dr. Wittes was actively recruited by a number of other cancer centers. He had no role in NCI's selection of BMS as the CRADA partner in February 1991.

 BMS has proven to be a thoroughly responsible partner in taxol development. It has greatly up-scaled the production of the drug for research purposes, and has invested an estimated $100 million in the initial phase of this effort. Because of improvements in drug supply, it has been possible for NCI to make taxol available nationwide to ovarian cancer patients who have relapsed after standard treatment, and this has been done at no cost to the patient. During the past year, BMS has given no evidence of being the "greedy" company described by the article. It recently introduced ddI for AIDS treatment at a price that is 20 percent of the price charged for AZT at the time of AZT's introduction five years ago. It has also established broad programs to provide drugs at no cost to indigent patients. We have every reason to believe that this responsible attitude will be reflected in the future pricing of taxol, when and if it is approved for marketing.

 Other forces, not acknowledged in the article, will control the price of taxol. As mentioned previously, taxotere, a closely related drug, has progressed into clinical trials and is showing a pattern of clinical activity very similar to that of taxol. NCI is co-developing this drug with Rhone-Poulenc, a fact ignored by the article. In addition, NCI intends to carefully examine BMS's pricing policy for taxol to assure that all patients will have access to this drug at reasonable cost. We have the right to revoke our agreement with BMS if this is not the case. During the past year, NCI-supported researchers have made considerable progress in synthesizing taxol and have identified alternative sources of taxol. It is very likely that these sources will reduce the production costs and increase the availability of the drug in the near future.

 Contrary to the article's implication, existing agreements signed by BMS, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the interior do not "give away" bark from trees on Federal lands for commercial purposes; this bark is being provided to BMS for manufacture of the drug for research purposes only. Personally, I can think of no better use of tree bark than to produce a life-saving drug, and I am sure both patients and doctors agree with this position.

 At the heart of this controversy is the question of whether and how to commercialize inventions made in Federal laboratories. It has been the wise position of Congress that federal scientists have an obligation to seek commercial partners for their inventions in order to bring the fruits of their labors to the public. This has been done for taxol in a free and open competition. If this process proceeds in a responsible manner, as it has done thus far, the interests of the public will be well served.

Bruce A. Chabner, M.D.
Director, Division of Cancer Treatment
Washington, D.C.


To the editor:

 I am a Guyanese and have just returned from a month's visit to that country and wish to add my voice to the growing number of persons both here and in Guyana who are concerned about the dangers of unfettered exploitation of the forest region.

The British government decision to pay half of the £1.7 million to establish a model system of commercial felling without destroying the rainforest (in Brazil) and the government of Guyana's Program for Sustainable Tropical Forestry are licenses to the mining and forestry interests to ravage and decimate the hinterland of both countries.

 In Guyana, the issue raises many questions, especially because the country has in the past been spared the consequences of wholesale deforestation.

  1. For many years, Amerindians have been seeking freehold rights to lands which are legitimately theirs, without any fulfillment of promises made.
  2. They have pointed out that with the Sustainable Forestry Program envisaged by the government, settlements of their people and their people's livelihoods will be jeopardized.
  3. The Amerindians have not been consulted as to their views, nor have the people of Guyana.
  4. The Georgetown urban-based government does not possess the necessary supervisory capacity to police the mining and forestry interests to make sure that the resources of the forest are exploited on a sustainable basis.
  5. Already the timber interests are planning to double their exports this year.
  6. The Government of Guyana, which has extended its life by nearly two years, is not considered to have a mandate for the kind of open door policy to exploitation of the hinterland which it is pursuing.

 Amerindians are demanding a stop be put to further initiatives, particularly with the Program of Sustainable rainforests, until a more detailed examination of its consequences is conducted.

Eric Huntley
London, England


Since I wrote my article "Comalco's Power Play" (Multinational Monitor, June 1991), there have been further developments with Comalco. A trade journal has revealed that the power generation unit set up inside head office of Comalco's parent, CRA, has been disbanded because of the failure to bring off several projects, including buying the Manapouri power station (or build a coal-fired power station in New Zealand's North Island). Comalco has diversified into Chile, where it is investigating a hydro scheme that would flood a national park for a smelter.

 Due to a combination of severe drought in the hydro catchment and Electricorp's profit-driven mismanagement, New Zealand has been plunging into a severe power crisis. This has occurred, with virtually no warning, in the midst of a particularly severe winter. Hot water is currently cut off for up to 17 hours per day; total blackouts are threatened. Comalco has closed one potline at its Tiwai Point smelter, for a limited period, claiming this is the first time it's done this anywhere in the world. Commentators point out that the world aluminum price is currently down USS66 per ton, so it is a useful time to stockpile. Electricorp is also paying Comalco up to NZ$10 million of taxpayers' money, as compensation.

 As you also reviewed Roger Moody's Plunder, we would also like it known that CAFCA (Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa) is co-publisher of this book.

 In relation to Robert Reid's article in the same issue ("Crushing Labor in New Zealand"), it is worth pointing out that Comalco was one of the very first major employers to take advantage of the Employment Contracts Act, and put its workers on deunionized contracts.

Reid's article had one major omission. The union movement was very slow to act against the New Right revolution enacted under the 1984-90 Labour government, because the NZ Labour Party arose out of the trade unions. There was always a close working relationship between the two; unions funded the party; affiliated unions had bloc voting rights at annual party conferences. The leadership of the NZ Council of Trade Unions maintained loyalty throughout the wholesale assault on workers - just months before Labour's 1990 electoral oblivion, it signed a deal with the government, agreeing to a 2 percent limit on wage rises.

 In 1984, one of Labour's campaign promises was to "Save Rail." My union (the national union of rail workers) campaigned for Labour and contributed tens of thousands of dollars. Long before Labour's two terms were up, we had disaffiliated from Labour, which presided over the "downsizing" of NZ Railways staff by 70 percent (including me).

 Murray Horton,
Secretary, CAFCA
Christchurch, New Zealand