The Harm of Devaluing and Denying People

Which is ultimately more harmful and hurtful? A belief system that values prophets more than people (as is the case in Islamic extemism) or one that values profits more than people (as is the case in American capitalism)? Despite the more striking violence of the former, I honestly believe that it’s a toss-up. And the following news item does little to enhance the street cred of the latter.

From Axis of Logic (also follow the link to the New Scientist article):

The real cancer

A promising drug for fighting cancer is found. It has already been proven relatively safe. Laboratory and animal tests have shown it kills cancer cells and shrinks tumors.

You would think the drug companies would fall all over themselves to do the clinical trials necessary for the drug to be prescribed to cancer patients. Right?

Wrong.

This may be the biggest scandal to hit the medical world in years. Yet so far, all the commercial U.S. media have stayed away from reporting on it.

An article in the Jan. 20 issue of New Scientist, a highly reputable British magazine, gives the details. Researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada have discovered that the drug dichloroacetate (DCA) killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells cultured outside the body. “Tumors in rats deliberately infected with human cancer also shrank drastically when they were fed DCA-laced water for several weeks,� says the article.

DCA is not a new drug. It has been used for years to treat michondrial disease. It is cheap and has limited side effects. Scientists decided to try it on cancer cells because it affects the metabolism of cells, the way they use energy. This is a different approach than the chemotherapy drugs now in use, which are toxic and kill off both cancerous and normal cells.

What has scientists especially excited is that DCA has the potential of working against all types of cancers, including secondary cancers caused when cells break off and migrate to other parts of the body.

So what’s the hitch?

The article explains, “The next step is to run clinical trials of DCA in people with cancer. These may have to be funded by charities, universities and governments: pharmaceutical companies are unlikely to pay because they can’t make money on unpatented medicines.�

An editorial in the same issue of the magazine lays it out even further. Entitled “No patent? No thanks,� with the streamer, “There’s an anti-cancer drug with huge potential, but no backers,� it explains how the profit motive is slowing down what could be a fantastic medical breakthrough.

DCA is “cheap, does not appear to affect normal cells, we know its side effects, and it should work on all cancers,� says the edit. “But there’s a hitch: it’s an old drug and so cannot be patented. No pharmaceutical company is likely to fund costly clinical trials without some exclusive rights to make the drug.�

It points out that many other drugs that could treat diseases affecting poor people in developing countries are also left on the shelf without the proper testing, and for the same reason: there’s not enough profit in it.

The editorial even predicts that drug companies may try to manufacture and patent new drugs similar to DCA and get them on the market soon–but they will be “hugely expensive.â€? It concludes, “It would be a scandal if a cheap alternative with such astonishing potential were not given a chance simply because it won’t turn a big enough profit.â€? [full text]

(Thanks to my pal, Edger, at TalkLeft for bringing this issue to my attention.)

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