We may be about a year away from a complete cure for cancer. At least that’s what scientists in Israel, who have been working to create a wholly new way to treat cancer cells, are claiming. Though the way they’re doing so — with no studies, trials, or data to back themselves up — seems shady and probably unethical.
On January 28th, a group of scientists working at Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies Ltd., or AEBi, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, announced that they believe they’ve unlocked the cure for cancer by taking last year’s Nobel-winning chemistry to the next level. This is a very technical and jargon-heavy report, so bear with us here. Last October, Frances H. Arnold (CalTech), George P. Smith (University of Missouri), and Sir Gregory P. Winter (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge) jointly won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in “the directed evolution of enzymes” and “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies.”
In the simplest terms, these great minds found a way to harness evolution “to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems,” or cure ailments from autoimmune diseases to metastatic cancer. It was a pretty huge step for humanity.
Then, two days ago, Dr. Ilan Morad and Dan Aridor — the CEO and chairman of AEBi respectively — stated they’ve taken it a step further. “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,” AEBi’s chairman claimed.
Lots of red flags here. The idea of a single magic bullet has struck cancer researchers as particularly absurd. The tweet below comes from an ABC Australia correspondent and cancer biologist Darren Saunders and reflects the widespread feeling among cancer scientists.
So, what is this theoretical cancer cure-all? Using the similar science to last year’s chemistry win at Nobel, AEBi has been able to create a multi-target toxin — which they’re calling MuTaTo — that’ll be a completely customizable anti-cancer drug. They’re able to do this using the discoveries around phage display technologies. Basically, once they figured out through looking at phage displays how proteins interacted with cells, they claim they were able to create peptides to do their bidding — in this case, kill cancer cells. Again, there is no available data to support this.
The difference between MuTaTo and traditional cancer treatments currently in play is (theoretically) pretty drastic. MuTaTo peptides would attack and kill specific cancer cells without attacking an entire area of the body, thereby almost completely eliminating any side effects. Moreover, since the peptides would be killing all the cancerous cells, there’s little to no chance of cancer coming back once the peptide has done its job.
Morad and Aridor say the new form of treating cancer will be personal to not only each person but to the specific cancer cells within the patient’s body. In short, once a biopsy is performed on the cancerous cells or tumor, they’ll be able to create a version of MuTaTo to kill all and only those cells. Morad and Aridor liken this treatment to the advancements made in fighting HIV via a personalized cocktail of drugs that manages the ailment and removes the death sentence aspect. With that said, their “Proof of Concept” page on their site is woefully lean.
So, how far has the company really come and how far away is this from the open market? Hard to say exactly. But the short answers are: Not very far and VERY far. They’ve been conducting trials on mice with human cells. According to Morad, the trials “have inhibited human cancer cell growth and had no effect at all on healthy mice cells.” According to The Jerusalem Post, AEBi is about to start their first round of clinical trials. So, in reality, this becoming widely available may be closer to a couple years away than by the end of the year, and that’s if the trails even succeed. It’s a bold claim and, as many others have pointed out, many drugs never make it past the human trials stage.
(via The Jerusalem Post)