American Cancer Society CMO resigns over society's 'questionable' fundraising ties

The American Cancer Society CMO Otis Brawley, MD, resigned from his post after spending 11 years with the organization, in part because he was concerned with the society's reliance on "questionable" fundraising partnerships, according to The New York Times.

Although Dr. Brawley didn't comment publicly about his resignation, people familiar with his decision said his departure was largely attributed to some of the society's recent commercial partnerships.

Dr. Brawley was growing more uncomfortable with the society's reliance on donations from businesses with questionable health credentials. One of the partnerships he questioned was with Herbalife International, a controversial supplements company.

Herbalife International donated $250,000 directly to the cancer society and began selling pink water bottles in October that are co-branded with the ACS. All proceeds go to the society.

"These water bottles are really a good way for people to show their support," Sharon Byers, the ACS' chief marketing officer, told the NYT.  "Our intent with all of our partnerships is to generate as much revenue as we can to achieve our mission."

Ms. Byers added that the society does not form alliances with tobacco companies, but otherwise assesses each company individually.

Others say the partnership with Herbalife is too controversial. In 2014, the FDA ordered Herbalife to remove a YouTube video that featured a former agency official implying that the FDA approved weight loss shakes and other supplements sold by Herbalife.  In another instance, Herbalife agreed to pay $200 million and was forced to restructure its business in 2016.

"The company is too controversial historically," Arthur Caplan, PhD, director of medical ethics at the New York City-based New York University School of Medicine, told the NYT.  "It has a very non-illustrious history with regulatory bodies, association with a product of controversial and most likely dubious merit and is not where the cancer society wants or ought to be."

The society has turned to the donations from these businesses because the organization's fundraising has declined significantly since its peak in 2007. In 2007, the ACS raised more than $1 billion and in 2017, those donations are down to just $736 million.

Read the full report here.


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