Remember Last January’s Promise Of A Cure For Cancer In A Year? Heard Anything Lately?

Remember this from a year ago in the Jerusalem Post?

“We believe we will offer in a year’s time a complete cure for cancer…Our cancer cure will be effective from day one, will last a duration of a few weeks and will have no or minimal side-effects at a much lower cost than most other treatments on the market…Our solution will be both generic and personal.”

Well it’s been a year. Haven’t heard anything? Well, you are not alone. Maybe it will come tomorrow (everything is possible, however not likely). Unfortunately–especially for cancer patients, their loved ones, and in fact all of us who cling to the hope every day that such a cure would be discovered–there isn’t anything I could find to suggest the investigators were able to deliver.

As I wrote last year when the article appeared (and captured the attention of the world—literally), we all hope such predictions are true. It would be wonderful to have such a cure. However, time has taught us that skepticism of such claims is warranted until more information is made public, usually through scientific presentations at legitimate conferences and publications where peers who understand the science have an opportunity to review the data and offer insights into its validity and reproducibility.

I can’t find any evidence that such information has been presented aside from articles in trade publications and invitational meetings. I could have missed it, but it certainly isn’t available in the resources I checked, including the company’s website. What I did find was an article  (pages 16-19)describing the approach (called “MuTaTo” for “Multi Target Toxin”) that appeared in Pharmafile online. (In fact, it appears the same article making the same claims appeared twice in the Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019 issues.)

And the claims were the same we all heard a year ago:

“In one treatment, we would be able to kill the primary cancer cells together with the cancer stem cells and metastasis, and all other cancer cells that are similar to them.”

However there is a caveat in the article, as they attempt to develop “100 targeting peptides to different cancer receptors using our screening platform”:

“In order to give the MuTaTo treatment to as many cancer patients as possible, and as fast as possible, we would have to persuade the FDA, and other health authorities to speed-up the regulation in such a way that we won’t have to go along the whole process with every new MuTaTo.”

A search of the FDA website had no “hits” for MuTaTo or the company. That doesn’t mean the company hasn’t had discussions with the FDA. Just that there is nothing publicly available.

So where does all of this leave us, one year after the grand claims? It leaves us right where we were before, but –one can hope—wiser for the experience.

It’s important to understand in this discussion that there may in fact be proprietary information that is not generally or easily found in pubic resources. This is, after all, a private company.

However, that does not release them from the responsibility they have as a result of making great promises to the public that they could have a cure for cancer available today, as I write this, one that would have no side effects, would be less expensive, and readily available, as they predicted.

Maybe there will be a report next week or next month or whenever that will put a lie to my comments today and last year. We all pray that such success would be the result of their work or the research of the many thousands of scientists worldwide seeking a cure for cancer. However, it isn’t likely that the promises made last year are going to come true a year later.

And perhaps there is a larger lesson here: this is not the only company that has made big promises that generate unsubstantiated hope. Sometimes the promises do come true. Frequently they do not. And it is not just companies—both private and public—that share the blame. Academic institutions, researchers and even non-profits certainly make bold claims that are either premature or unwarranted. Creating hope based on mouse or “petri dish” experiments are classic examples where outrageous claims of impact on the human condition are glorified beyond their true measure.

The bottom line is that we could all do better to step back at times and ask whether our pronouncements are appropriate, balanced and truthful. We need to consider our audiences—most importantly people with cancer or those at risk, which is many of us—and ask whether we are contributing value or dashed hopes with what we say and what we write.

False promises of cancer cures have been around a long time. They have beguiled the public, given false hope to patients and their loved ones, and led patients to ineffective therapies. Right now, we cannot say for certain whether that’s the case here. What is certain is that the scientists who said they would have a cure for cancer in one year didn’t meet their goal. And that is not only a shame; it is chutzpah of the highest order.

 


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J. Leonard Lichtenfeld's Biography

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP: Dr. Lichtenfeld currently serves as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society in the Society's Office of the Chief Medical Officer located at the Society's Corporate Center in Atlanta. Dr. Lichtenfeld joined the Society in 2001 as a medical editor, and in 2002 assumed responsibility for managing the Society's then newly created Cancer Control Science Department which included the prevention and early detection of cancer, emerging cancer science and trends, health equity, quality of life for cancer patients, the science of cancer communications and the role of nutrition and physical activity in cancer prevention and cancer care.  In 2014, Dr. Lichtenfeld assumed his current role in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer where he provides extensive support to a number of Society colleagues and activities. As a result of his over four decades of experience in cancer care, Dr. Lichtenfeld is frequently quoted in the print and electronic media regarding the Society's positions on a number of important issues related to cancer. He has testified regularly in legislative and regulatory hearings, and participated on numerous panels regarding cancer care, research, advocacy and related topics. He has served on a number of advisory committees and boards for organizations that collaborate with the Society to reduce the burden of cancer nationally and worldwide. He is well known for his blog (www.cancer.org/drlen) which first appeared in 2005 and which continues to address many topics related to cancer research and treatment. A board certified medical oncologist and internist who was a practicing physician for over 19 years, Dr. Lichtenfeld has long been engaged in health care policy on a local, state, and national level.  He is active in several state and national medical organizations and has a long-standing interest in professional legislative and regulatory issues related to health care including physician payment, medical care delivery systems, and health information technology. Dr. Lichtenfeld is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University College of Medicine) in Philadelphia.  His postgraduate training was at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute in Baltimore. He is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the national honor medical society.  Dr. Lichtenfeld has received several awards in recognition of his efforts on behalf of his colleagues and his professional activities.  He has been designated a Master of the American College of Physicians in acknowledgement of his contributions to internal medicine.  Dr. Lichtenfeld is married, and resides in Atlanta and Thomasville, Georgia.

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