If you want to stand in a scientific spotlight, you have to have a great act. What act could be grander than curing cancer? Not just any cancer, but all cancer. Not at some vague future date, but next year!
This is exactly what an Israeli development-stage biopharmaceutical company did. On January 28, 2019 the Jerusalem Post announced that Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies Ltd. (AEBi) had claimed a cancer cure by next year. They base the claim on having developed a multitarget toxin, or MuTaTo, that could foil any type of cancer cell by using a three-prong attack.[i] Their weapon of choice is peptides.
What are peptides?
Peptides are chains of two or more amino acids linked together by forming a bond. Most chains are short, but it is generally agreed that up to 50 amino acids can form a long chain called a polypeptide (poly = many). Peptides are smaller than proteins. In fact, proteins are long molecules made up of multiple peptide “pieces.” Thus, proteins can be broken up into peptides which serve various biological functions.
Some peptides are available to be taken up by cells that have receptors for them. These peptides are able to penetrate the outer membrane (plasma) that contains the cell’s inner environment and genetic matter. Scientists have been researching ways to “load” such peptides with a “cargo” that would then influence the behavior, even the death, of the cell.
How can peptides conquer cancer?
The CEO of AEBi, Dr. Ilan Morad, explains the use of three peptides against each individual cancer cell:
MuTaTo is using a combination of several cancer-targeting peptides for each cancer cell at the same time, combined with a strong peptide toxin that would kill cancer cells specifically. By using at least three targeting peptides on the same structure with a strong toxin, Morad said, ‘we made sure that the treatment will not be affected by mutations; cancer cells can mutate in such a way that targeted receptors are dropped by the cancer. … 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.’[ii]
U.S. experts are skeptical
Well, that seems like a really great theory! What’s the catch? When the story broke at the end of January, cancer patients who learned about it became very excited. However, experts in the field gave it a cooler reception. The academics who have been questioned about this news have made three points:
- The treatment has only been tested in laboratory mice up to this point.
- Dr. Morad himself said that when the first mouse experiment had been completed, it demonstrated that cancer cell growth had been “inhibited.”[iii]
- It is unclear when the first human clinical trials will begin, and these generally take years. Resources are needed in terms of gathering funding, rounding up enough centers with the proper facilities, recruiting large numbers of patients, and following them for short-, medium- and long-term safety and efficacy.
Less enthusiasm, more patience
No one would argue that the world will be a better place when cancer can be cured—or, even better, prevented altogether. An attention-getting headline can unfairly raise hopes and muster enthusiasm. The reality, however, is that time must take its own course, and when it comes to developing, testing, and finally introducing a promising treatment or drug, much patience is required.
Of course, all of us at the Sperling Prostate Center will be
eagerly watching for ongoing reports about the research at AEBi, just as we
stay alert for any promising research and development in cancer prevention and
treatment. We look forward to a bright future in which all humans (and animals,
too) can live cancer-free.
[i] Jaffe-Hoffman, Maayan. “A Cure for Cancer? Israeli Scientists may have Found One.” Jerusalem Post, Jan. 28, 2019. https://www.jpost.com/HEALTH-SCIENCE/A-cure-for-cancer-Israeli-scientists-say-they-think-they-found-one-578939
[iii] LaVito, Angelica. “Israeli company that claims cure for cancer would face years of testing ahead for US market — even if it works.” CNBC News, Jan. 29, 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/29/israeli-company-that-claims-cancer-cure-faces-skeptical-us-market.html