Jerusalem Post article makes premature claim on “first complete cure for cancer”, overstates research significance

CLAIM
"We believe we will offer in a year’s time a complete cure for cancer."

SOURCE: , , 28 Jan. 2019  

DETAILS
Inadequate support: The authors did not provide verifiable evidence to support their claim.
Misleading: The claim has been understood by many on social media as a cure for all cancers becoming available within a few years. However, judging by the little experimental data, it is extremely unlikely this will happen before a decade, if at all.
KEY TAKE AWAY
Cancer is actually a group of diseases with great variation between and even within individuals, therefore it is extremely unlikely that there is a single cure for every cancer. Drug development cycles also take an extremely long time (up to decades) - and most drugs fail during clinical trials - so it is implausible that AEBi will have a cure within a few years, given the very early stage they are at. AEBi’s extraordinary claims lack the extraordinary evidence needed to support them.

FULL CLAIM: "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."

SUMMARY


An article by the Jerusalem Post claims that “the first complete cure for cancer” has been discovered by scientists from the company Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies Ltd (AEBi). This purported cure was developed using phage display technology, which is used to identify interactions between proteins of potential biological interest. The scientists claimed that their approach is far superior to existing treatments for several reasons, such as its exploitation of several targets on cancer cells simultaneously and fewer side effects than existing cancer treatments, among others. They also claimed that “clinical trials could be completed within a few years”. AEBi’s sensational claims, as it turned out, were founded on a few in vitro experiments and one in vivo experiment in 6 mice.

Many cancer researchers and physicians have expressed skepticism over these claims, which they have found to be highly premature. The experiments performed by AEBi are simply not sufficient to make such extraordinary claims. AEBi’s suggestion that their approach is a certain success fails to take into account the fact that many promising experimental therapies fail during clinical trials[1]. Therefore, their claims grossly overstate the significance of their research findings, and may ultimately offer only false hope to patients.

You can read an archived version of the article here.

SCIENTISTS’ FEEDBACK

Cancer isn’t a single disease

Scientists have elaborated on the misleading idea of cancer as a single disease, which AEBi seems to suggest in claiming that they have a cure-all for every cancer.

Dr. Benjamin Neel, director of the Perlmutter Cancer Center, said in the New York Post:

Cancer is multiple diseases, and it is highly unlikely that this company has found a ‘cure’ for cancer any more than there is a single cure for infections.

This was corroborated by Dr. Ajit Johnson, a cancer researcher at Harvard Medical School, who explained in a Forbes article, “Cancer is a very heterogeneous disease. There are several tens of subtypes within each cancer type and even those vary significantly between patients.”

Dr. Vince Luca, who leads a cancer research group at the Moffitt Cancer Center, also said in an ABC News article: “There are over 200 human cancers. Finding a cure for even one or two would be a major accomplishment. Claiming to cure them all is impossible.”

The claim is not supported by available data, nor has it been peer-reviewed

Russell Pachynski, Assistant Professor, Washington University School of Medicine:
The claimants provide no evidence to support their claims. Without having an ongoing late phase (ie Phase II/III) clinical trial there is no possible way they can predict to have a “complete cure for cancer” within a year in humans. This is highly inappropriate to state such conflated claims without even published preclinical (eg mouse model) data showing their therapies are effective at tumor reduction.

Dr. Victoria Forster, cancer researcher at the Hospital for Sick Children, commented on the lack of data supporting AEBi’s claims in a Forbes article. “Delving into what the company does supply, there are two graphs and some pictures taken down a microscope, much less than I provided from a 6-week undergraduate research project a decade ago,” she said.

In a separate Forbes article, Dr. Russell Pachynski, oncologist and assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine, pointed out issues with what little data AEBi had provided. “The only data they show on their website is presumably not peer reviewed and is difficult to interpret in that context. In fact, the ‘partial negative control’ actually looks like it has similar effects to their cancer targeted peptide. They may have a great idea for the ‘cure’ of cancer, but without convincing, peer-reviewed, published data showing evidence of this, their claims are difficult to take at face value. Even promising therapeutics that have been successful through Phase II human trials often have negative Phase III controlled trials#,” he said.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society commented on the Jerusalem Post article in his blog post. “This is a news report based on limited information provided by researchers and a company working on this technology. It apparently has not been published in the scientific literature where it would be subject to review, support and/or criticism from knowledgeable peers.”

Drug development is actually a long, uncertain and often unsuccessful process

Dr. Lichtenfeld also highlighted that “[the claims are] based on a mouse experiment which is described as “exploratory.” It appears at this point there is not a well-established program of experiments which could better define how this works—and may not work—as it moves from the laboratory bench to the clinic.”

We all have hope that a cure for cancer can be found and found quickly. It is certainly possible that this approach may work. However, as experience has taught us so many times, the gap from a successful mouse experiment to effective, beneficial application of exciting laboratory concepts to helping cancer patients at the bedside is in fact a long and treacherous journey, filled with unforeseen and unanticipated obstacles.

“It will likely take some time to prove the benefit of this new approach to the treatment of cancer. And unfortunately–based on other similar claims of breakthrough technologies for the treatment of cancer–the odds are that it won’t be successful,” he said.

Given how little pre-clinical work AEBi has done, let alone clinical trials (which in the case of oncology have a median length of approximately 13 years[1]), it is extremely unlikely that the cure would be available within a few years as AEBi has claimed. Furthermore, the certainty with which AEBi makes its claims is questionable, given the fact that the success rate of drug development in oncology has been estimated at 3.4%[1]. In summary, their claims are unsupported and misleading.

The approach is claimed to be new, but isn’t

The article described AEBi’s approach as “a disruption technology of the highest order” and “potentially game-changing”.

This is further underscored by one of the AEBi scientists’ comments: “The probability of having multiple mutations that would modify all targeted receptors simultaneously decreases dramatically with the number of targets used,” Morad continued. “Instead of attacking receptors one at a time, we attack receptors three at a time – not even cancer can mutate three receptors at the same time.”

Firstly, the idea of using multiple targets is actually not novel in cancer treatment, as their claim implies. Treatment regimens using any combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy – which go after more than one target – are already a part of existing treatment regimens[3,4,5].

Secondly, the statement that “not even cancer can mutate three receptors at the same time” is inaccurate. Cancer cells are often genomically unstable[6], which means that they easily undergo multiple mutations and can keep gaining more – this is also one of the main drivers of treatment resistance encountered in many cancer patients[7].

Furthermore, cancer cells within the same patient and even the same tumour can differ significantly from one another – this phenomenon is called intra-tumour heterogeneity[6,7], and is yet another reason why AEBi’s purported silver bullet for all cancers is unlikely to work.

REFERENCES & NOTES

# – Clinical trials in humans are divided into several phases, most commonly Phase I, II, III, and IV. Phase I tests for a drug’s safety. Phase II also tests for safety as well as whether the drug works. Phase III compares how well the new drug performs compared to another drug already used in clinics (standard-of-care). Phase IV occurs after the drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and is conducted on many more patients than the first 3 phases, which provides a better understanding of long-term effects. More details are provided by the FAQs at Cancer Research UK and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

Published on: 11 Feb 2019 | Editor:

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