Tag Archives: replicability as a scientific criterion

Cancer experts doubt Israeli claim of cancer cure

It was too good to be true.

Three days ago, I posted the news from Jerusalem Post that a team of Israeli scientists said they “might have found the first complete cure for cancer”.

Dan Aridor, the chairman of the bio-company that developed the cure, Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies Ltd. (AEBi), trumpets that their cure will be offered in a year, and that the cure “will be effective from day one,” “will have no or minimal side-effects,” and “at a much lower cost” than most other cancer treatments on the market.

See “Israeli scientists claim to have a cure for cancer“.

AEBi’s claim was widely broadcast and celebrated.

The usually-sensible Daily Wire even politicized the alleged cancer cure with this anti-antiSemitic headline: “Still Want To Boycott Israel? Israeli Scientists Find Cure For Cancer, Report Says“.

I was somewhat skeptical of AEBi’s claim because no human trials have been conducted, the discovery has not been vetted and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, nor has it be replicated. Replicability is one of the defining criteria of science. AEBi had conducted only in-vitro (test-tube) trials and one rat experiment.

The skepticism is shared by cancer experts.

From Newsweek, Jan. 30, 2019:

As news stories hailing the discovery spread online, other cancer experts urged the public to approach the report with caution.

Dr. Darren Saunders, a cancer biologist at the University of New South Wales, Australia, tweeted the researchers were “selling unicorns.”

Professor Lawrence Young, director of the Warwick Cancer Research Centre at the University of Warwick, U.K., told Newsweek he was concerned the team had not appeared to publish their data in a peer-reviewed journal, and that no clinical trials had been performed. Such trials are the first step outside of the laboratory in drug development.

Julia Frater, senior cancer information nurse at the charity Cancer Research UK, told Newsweek: “Unsubstantiated claims that there will be a cure for all cancers in a year are irresponsible and can be misleading for patients. This oversimplifies the fact that cancer is more than 200 different diseases, which behave differently and pose different treatment challenges. This is why finding a single cure for all cancers is unlikely.”

Meanwhile, Professor Chris Bunce, who specializes in translational cancer biology at the University of Birmingham, U.K., told Newsweek that widely used treatments such as chemotherapy were previously regarded as “radical” and said the “technology being talked about here may be another step in that journey. But based on the information available the claim that it will provide a ‘complete cure for cancer’ is unfounded.”

Professor Justin Stebbing, an expert in cancer medicine and oncology at Imperial College London, U.K., told Newsweek that research at the Weizmann “is some of the best in the world.” But he said he is yet to see any success with peptides treating any cancers. “It isn’t helpful to build up false hope, or talk of universal cancer cures when advances in knowledge are often made in small steps not giant leaps,” he said.

Bunce explained why creating cancer drugs is so difficult. “On one hand cancer cells are not the big scary monsters that the general public believes them to be. More than 99.9 percent of the molecular processes within them are the same as the normal cells they originate from. So finding drugs that only target cancer cells is like finding needles in haystacks. The second problem is that within a given cancer there is complex variation and structure. There are cancer stem cells, and there are cancer subclones with different arrays of mutations and different levels of resistance to any given therapy. Painful lessons have been learned trying to exploit drugs that do not target founding mutations.”

Even many hopeful laboratory findings cannot be translated into actual therapies that are successful, he said.

Bunce argued it is “unethical” to make overly optimistic claims that raise people’s hopes and “discredit those of us who are working really hard to find better treatments.”

Let’s hope this new cancer cure won’t turn out to be another cold fusion pipedream.

~Eowyn

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