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How it started

Intro text: 

More than 20 years ago, it was only an idea discussed by two oncologists desiring better chances to find a cure for breast cancer. Today, BIG is the largest global research network dedicated solely to breast cancer.

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, Dr. Martine Piccart and Dr. 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.

Today BIG has the ability to unite under its umbrella the opinion leaders from over 50 countries who share a common vision about the optimal conduct of breast cancer research.

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 a cure. Based on this vision, they created the Breast International Group (BIG) in 1996. The not-for-profit became a legal entity in 1999, with its headquarters in Brussels (Belgium). In over 15 years, 43 trials have been run under the BIG umbrella, including several landmark trials that have had a real impact on breast cancer treatments. So far, approximately 70.000 patients have taken part in BIG trials all over the world.

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

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: the Australian New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group (ANZ BCTG) and Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) have been involved from BIG’s very first days; GECO Peru from Latin America joined as early as 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.

Aron Goldhirsch MD, PhD (h.c.), Co-Founder

Dr Goldhirsch is currently 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 is Co-Chairman of the Scientific Committee of the International Breast Cancer Study Group (IBCSG, formerly Ludwig Group) and Professor (by title) for Medical Oncology at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

Dr Goldhirsch’s areas of research include new treatments for breast cancer, definition of biological features that predict responsiveness or resistance to anti-cancer treatments, and quality-of-life-oriented approaches. He has received several international prizes and recognitions among which a PhD Honoris Causa (University of Gothenburg), and, more recently, the Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award (San Francisco). He is author of nearly 700 peer-reviewed articles in reference books and editor or co-editor of 10 books and is on the editorial board of several oncology and breast cancer research journals.

Martine Piccart, M.D., Ph.D.

Martine J. Piccart is a professor of oncology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and scientific director at the Jules Bordet Institute (Brussels/Belgium). Earning her medical degrees at ULB and oncology qualifications in New York and London, she is also a member of the Belgian Royal Academy of Medicine. Prof. Piccart is a past president of the European CanCer Organisation (ECCO, 2014-2015). She has also held presidencies of the European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) and the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), and has served on the American Society of Clinical Oncology Board (ASCO).

A strong advocate for and leader of international research collaborations, Prof. Martine Piccart, together with Prof. Aron Goldhirsch, co-founded in 1996 the Breast International Group (BIG) to foster collaboration and accelerate the development of better breast cancer treatments.