So it happened again. An underreported story about a half-baked advance in cancer medicine caught fire and scorched its way through social media, onto network TV, and into the minds of millions of people.

To start, no. There won’t be “a complete cure for cancer” in a year’s time, as the chairman of a small Israeli biotechnology firm predicted to the Jerusalem Post. The claim, absurd on its face, was particularly frustrating to those who work in medicine and drug development because it seemed so obvious there was not enough evidence to make it.

It doesn’t take a lot of complicated biology to understand why. You simply need the information contained in the Jerusalem Post’s article: that the data available so far are from a single study in mice and that they have not been published in a scientific journal.

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Saying that most experiments in mice don’t translate to human beings doesn’t quite get the point across. It’s more correct to say that almost none of them do.

According to the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the odds of a medicine being tested in human beings proving safe and effective enough for widespread use are just 1 in 10. Another analysis by MIT economists gives slightly better odds, of 1 in 7. But both groups agree that the chances of success for cancer drugs are far worse than the norm: 1 in 20, according to BIO, and 1 in 30 according to the otherwise more optimistic MIT group.

Stated another way, up to 97 percent of cancer drugs fail. What’s more, the Israeli company, Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies Ltd. (AEBi), is at an earlier stage in the development of its drug, a point at which its odds are still lower. The Jerusalem Post article says that the company has finished its first experiment in mice, but that it hopes to begin clinical trials that could be completed in a few years.

Another useful number on experience and speed: Loxo Oncology, which is being purchased by Eli Lilly for $8 billion, got its first medicine from mouse studies to approval quickly. Quickly, in this case, is five years.

If you have this background, the original quotes in the Jerusalem Post article sound like an entrepreneur trying to get attention for a technology he believes in. The Jerusalem Post quotes Dan Aridor, the chairman of AEBi, as saying: “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.” Plenty of entrepreneurs hope that. But reality is very, very hard. In another interview with The Times of Israel, the company’s chief executive gave somewhat less enthusiastic quotes.

That shouldn’t mask the fantastic progress being made with cancer drugs. A simple example: Jimmy Carter, the humanitarian and former U.S. president, is alive thanks in large part to a drug called Keytruda, made by Merck, that primes the immune system to attack tumors.  

But part of the problem is that even in cases like Carter’s, this amazing progress comes with complications. Not everyone has such an amazing response to these cutting-edge treatments. In first-line melanoma, a quarter of patients who get the drug will still die within a year. But in such a hard-to-treat disease, that’s a great result.

Life is complicated, and so are cancer treatments. Cancer is older than human beings. Scientists have found dinosaurs with metastatic tumors. It’s simply not likely we’re going to outsmart all cancers with a single treatment, without drawbacks.

That’s the seductive message that sold here, though. It’s what Glenn Beck tweeted: “A TOTAL cure for cancer. Cheap, quick, no side effects.” It’s what led the Drudge Report to link to the story, saying: “Israeli Scientists Think They Found Cancer Cure…” It’s what led to coverage on myriad other news sources, including local news.

Jonathan Swift noted that a lie can traverse the world while the truth limps behind it 300 years ago. In the age of social media, the problem seems as though it has gotten worse: think the rise of Theranos, or believing that Jack Andraka’s high school science fair project was a breakthrough. In medicine, this kind of virality means false hopes, dashed dreams, and a whole lot of hype. We are desperate for a solution.

  • The US used to have laws regarding the selling of health products. So many of these lies, false claims, and alternate facts are used to peddle a product, hype and invesment or deliberalty mislead people. These kinds of headlines get attention and build engagment on social media. The misinformation is killing people, and ruining lives. As long as there is so much profit in this kind of misnformation, and no common sense regualtions, we will just see more of this.

  • How can we trust any studies?

    Chief Medical Officer of Major Cancer Center Resigns After Receiving Millions From Big Pharma

    “Dr. José Baselga, chief medical officer for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, failed to disclose millions of dollars in payments from health-care companies he received in exchange for dozens of ‘research’ articles favorable to the industry.”

    https://www.collective-evolution.com/2018/11/07/chief-medical-officer-of-major-cancer-center-resigns-after-receiving-millions-from-big-pharma/

  • New Test not only Finds Breast Cancer Sooner but can Determine if your Treatment is Working! Utilizing qualitative imaging to determine treatment success has been problematic since day one. If you want to know true treatment outcomes, they must be measured; quantitatively measured.

    https://breast-cancer-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13058-019-1103-6
    Adv Hema Onco Res 2019;2(1). Theranostic information provided by FMTVDM/BEST Imaging.
    Biomed J Sci & Tech Res 2018;11(3). FMTVDM;BEST Imaging Theranostically used to guide treatment response in a woman with recalcitrant breast cancer.

  • Thank you. I heard a local radio station interviewing a doctor about this report. The doctor was skeptical, and the information on the treatment so vague, that it sounded like a scam. Thank you for better coverage of this news.

  • Phew! Thank goodness I won’t be racing out for this new cancer treatment, thanks to this informative article. Not that I would anyway, because there’s no cure for cancer in a lab. Cancer is endemic in every species, and relies on an acidic environment to grow. Create an alkaline environment and the cancer self-destructs. Not 2 % of the time like chemotherapy and radiation, but every time. But eating plant-based and practicing yoga and meditation and consuming herbs won’t make billions for the pharmaceutical companies, so they actively suppress this information. Folks, Israel doesn’t have the cure and America certainly doesn’t. Turn to nature for your help or die an expensive death at the hands of these “experts”.

  • What is the point of this article?
    Do you know how hard it is for a cancer patient to stay hopeful and positive day after day, month after month and year after year? After multiple relapses and numerous treatments and medications… a little hope that something might be around the corner to help them is huge to their mental state. Hope is everything.
    Taking that hope away accomplishes nothing.
    So you got to prove someone wrong… and in doing so took away something huge for so many others. Shame on you.

    • Utter nonsense, Angie.
      And how DARE YOU presume to speak for all cancer patients?!?!
      My wife died from cancer and had zero use for liars, charlatans, frauds, and other fakes promoting their nonsense in an effort to advance their own interests.

    • The point of the article is to prevent patients and families from FALSE hopes that steal their money, break their hearts, and sometimes hasten their deaths. Hope is not everything, truth is.

    • No one is taking hope away from cancer patients. Do you realize how cruel it is to give people false hope? What if someone were newly diagnosed and facing the prospect of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy and they decided to roll the dice and wait for this supposed cure?

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