Cristin Kearns, assistant professor at the UCSF School of Dentistry, stumbled across a decades-old research paper that shows a link between high-sugar diets and both high triglyceride levels and cancer in rats. But she had to stumble across the study because it was never published in a scientific journal. Oh, I almost forgot…the study was sponsored by the sugar industry. The implication, of course, is that the organization, now called The Sugar Association, buried the findings to avoid likely negative commercial implications. In response, The Sugar Association has stated that the study was never published, in part, because it was significantly delayed and over budget. In other words, they probably wouldn’t have published the study even if a high-sugar diet showed health benefits. As King George once said, “If you buy that I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free.”
We hate to be the news source to break it to you, but you can’t use “it’s curing my cancer” as the reason for your marijuana consumption. With the loosening of US laws that prosecute marijuana sales and consumption has come the upstart of many businesses and products, some of which, the FDA finds, are making claims that would classify them as “new drugs.” And of course, if it’s a new drug, the FDA will have something to say about it. According to NBC News, the regulators are putting the kibosh on 4 companies in particular that market products with pot or hemp claiming to treat cancer. Culprits include: CW Botanicals; Natural Alchemist; Greenroads Health; and That’s Natural Marketing and Consulting. They responded—probably—with a collective, “Stop bringing me down, bro.”
And soon it starts to add up. This week the NIH announced a pretty cool partnership with the private pharma industry. The Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT) is a five-year public-private research collaboration totaling $215 million as part of the Cancer Moonshot project. 11 pharma companies (AbbVie, Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Genentech, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer) will contribute $1M each for five years. The NIH will contribute $160 million. The goal: “to identify, develop and validate robust biomarkers — standardized biological markers of disease and treatment response — to advance new immunotherapy treatments.” Sweet. If you want to read what pharma PR folks have been up to you can read their responses here. For the top 10 private-public immuno-oncology collaborations, look here.
Here’s something that’ll make cancer patients want to whip their hair: there may be hope for those fearing hair loss as a side effect of chemotherapy. In a study performed with mice, researchers were able to use a hair-promoting protein to prevent fur loss after mice were dosed with a common chemotherapy agent. There are actually already treatments that address this side effect—like cooling caps which prevent chemo drugs from getting to the scalp—but they come with varying effectiveness rates so another option would be welcome. Again, the study was in mice, so human trials probably aren’t in the immediate future, but let’s not split hairs—this is cool.
Pfizer and Cipla are teaming up with the American Cancer Society and the Clinton Health Access Initiative to provide cheap chemotherapy drugs to six nations in Africa that have been hit the hardest by treatable cancers. They’re taking inspiration from Pepfar, which is the (US) President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and not a program designed to export pep rallies far across the globe. Pepfar is responsible for many of the 14 million Africans who now have access to HIV medications, and the above collaboration is keen to replicate that kind of success. The drug companies will sell 16 generic chemotherapies at a fraction of what they cost in more well-off countries—minimizing profits, but maximizing positive PR. Needless to say: well done, all involved.
There’s some debate as to whether cancer patients should have drugs that are proven to work, or whether instead they should have access to as many drugs as possible that might work. At least that’s what we’ve gathered from a recent study identifying that more than half of cancer drugs approved by the EMA between 2009 and 2013 showed no benefits for either survival or quality of life. While that’s not extremely terrible considering, 1) the EMA focuses on timely patient access to new drugs and, 2) trials focusing on survival outcomes are expensive and (more importantly) time-consuming, one has to wonder if we can’t do better than half. Otherwise we’re just provoking cancer patients to the point of rampage.
You know all those dang bacteria in your body, living there without permission, without even one of the 3.9 x 1013 of them offering to contribute to rent? Turns out about 1 in 9 of those freeloaders can neutralize gemcitabine, a pancreatic cancer drug, before it gets to work on cancer cells. While that means killing those bacteria results in a non-inhibited drug delivery, it’s not a great solution. Not only do some cancer drugs depend on the presence of other, benign microbes in your body, but using antibiotics could lead to resistance in those bacteria. And the only thing worse than bacteria-filled tumors are antibiotic-resistant bacteria-filled tumors. Hey, at least now we know what the problem is.