BIG history

The dream of two oncologists

An inspiring history of collaboration and growth

More than 25 years ago, it was only an idea discussed by two oncologists desiring to better the chances of finding cures for breast cancer. Today, BIG is the largest global research network dedicated solely to breast cancer.

BIG's two founders having dinner at an event : Aron Goldhirsch and Martine Piccart

Early 1990s

A different vision for the future

In the early 1990s, breast cancer research in Europe was highly fragmented, with academic groups running many similar trials, but not yet interacting in a way to facilitate collaboration. Together, Prof. Martine Piccart and Prof. Aron Goldhirsch shared a different vision for the future: groups debating the latest research findings, sharing ideas for new clinical trials and working in harmony to conduct these trials together.


Global collaboration is crucial to make significant advances in breast cancer research

It reduces unnecessary duplication of efforts and costs, accelerates our understanding of breast cancer, contributes to the faster development of better treatments and increases the likelihood of finding cures. Based on this vision, the idea for the breast international group (BIG) was born in 1996 and efforts started to bring European groups together. When BIG was still very small, it was Prof. Goldhirsch who chose the name BIG. Not a coincidence but a well-thought-out choice according to Prof. Piccart:

Aron Goldhirsch smiling

“Aron firmly believed in collaboration, cooperation, loyalty and friendship, and he was confident that BIG would grow into its name and become successful.”
- Martine Piccart


“Contributing to major changes in breast cancer care”

The not-for-profit became a legal entity in 1999, with its headquarters in Brussels (Belgium). Over 20 years later, more than 60 studies have been run under the BIG umbrella, including several landmark trials that have had a real impact on patients’ lives and breast cancer treatments. So far, over 100.000 patients have participated in BIG studies all over the world, thus helping to develop better breast cancer treatments.

Research saves lives.
Together, we can cure breast cancer.

Early 2000s

“A growing network of world class experts”

While initially expected to address a critical need in Europe, the idea of BIG quickly attracted academic breast cancer collaborative groups working in other parts of the world: breast cancer trials - Australia/New Zealand (formerly ANZ BCTG) and vanadian cancer trials group (CCTG) have been involved from BIG’s very first days; GECO Peru as the first group from latin america joined in 2002; the japanese breast cancer research group (JBCRG) became a member in 2004; and in 2017 the network welcomed new research groups from China, Thailand and Georgia. In recent years, BIG has also attracted the attention of groups based in India, Pakistan, the Middle East and other parts of Asia.

More than two decades after its beginnings, BIG represents over 50 like-minded research groups from around the world and reaches across more than 70 countries on 6 continents.

Aron Goldhirsch MD, PhD (H.C.), Co-Founder (1946 - 2020)

Portrait of Aron Goldhirsch, one of BIG's founder

Prof Goldhirsch, the “father” of BIG, passed away at the age of 73 on 26 February 2020. His greatest legacy is his vision: provide the best care for each individual patient through collaboration, academically independent research and education. Prof. Goldhirsch was director of the Breast Health Program at the European Institute of Oncology (IEO), Milan, Italy, and consultant for senology at the regional hospital of Lugano, Switzerland. He was co-chairman of the scientific committee of the International Breast Cancer Study Group (IBCSG), of which he was a founder, and professor (by title) of medical oncology at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

Prof. Goldhirsch’s areas of research included new treatments for breast cancer, definition of biological features that predict responsiveness or resistance to anti-cancer treatments, and quality-of-life-oriented approaches.

Throughout his career, he made significant contributions to breast cancer medicine and education, and he worked tirelessly to foster international collaboration and preserve academic independence in cancer research.

Martine Piccart, MD, PhD, Co-Founder President of BIG against breast cancer

Martine Piccart, BIG founder

Martine J. Piccart is currently Senior Advisor to BIG, and President of BIG against breast cancer, the unit within BIG dedicated entirely to raising funds to support BIG’s research.

In addition to her roles in BIG, she is a professor of oncology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and scientific director at the Jules Bordet Institute (Brussels/ Belgium).

In the past, she held the presidencies of the European Cancer Organisation (ECCO), the European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), and the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), as well as serving on the American Society of Clinical Oncology board (ASCO).

A strong advocate for and leader of international research collaborations, Prof. Piccart is unfailingly committed and motivated to move breast cancer research forward. With the ultimate goal to offer more personalised treatments, and hopefully a cure, for each patient.