This article from the Telegraph is somewhat heartbreaking. Sitting in a freezer in the middle of Sweden is a virus that has been proven to target and kill cancer cells – and cancer cells only. The only side-effects are mild flu-like symptoms.
It is a fact of human biology that healthy cells are programmed to die when they become infected by a virus, because this prevents the virus spreading to other parts of the body. But a cancerous cell is immortal; through its mutations it has somehow managed to turn off the bits of its genetic programme that enforce cell suicide. This means that, if a suitable virus infects a cancer cell, it could continue to replicate inside it uncontrollably, and causes the cell to ‘lyse’ – or, in non-technical language, tear apart. The progeny viruses then spread to cancer cells nearby and repeat the process. A virus becomes, in effect, a cancer of cancer. In Prof Essand’s laboratory studies his virus surges through the bloodstreams of test animals, rupturing cancerous cells with Viking rapacity.
Unfortunately, the man behind this discovery needs – and doesn’t have – about $1.6 million to handle the health and safety regulatory paperwork needed to start human clinical trials.
Swedishly uninterested in profiteering, devoted only to the purity of science, Magnus and his co-workers on this virus have already published the details of their experiments in leading journals around the world, which means that the modified virus as it stands can no longer be patented. And without a patent to make the virus commercial, no one will invest. Even if I could raise the £2 million (I want only the best version) to get the therapy to the end of phase II trials, no organisation is going to step forward to run the phase III trial that is necessary to make the therapy public.
‘Is that because pharmaceuticals companies are run by ruthless plutocrats who tuck into roast baby with cranberry sauce for lunch and laugh at the sick?’ I ask sneerily.
‘It is because,’ Kjell corrects me, ‘only if there’s a big profit can such companies ensure that everyone involved earns enough to pay their mortgage.’
If you donate $1.6 million, you can have the potentially historic cancer-killing virus named after you. If you want to donate against that sum, donations are being accepted at The Oncolytic Virus Fund, Box 256, SE-751 05 Uppsala, Sweden.
Finally, given the tenor and content of the health insurance debate in this country, this should not go unnoticed:
…Uppsala University Hospital, a European Centre of Excellence in Neuroendocrine Tumours. Patients fly in from all over the world to be seen here, especially from America, where treatment for certain types of cancer lags five years behind Europe.
Sweden has a redistributive socialist universal health care system – among the best in the world. It is a point of pride for the country that equal access to health care ensures a healthy population. The United States can’t even agree on that goal yet, much less the means with which to attain it.