Playing With Fire

According to Dr. John Timmerman, an oncologist and immunotherapy researcher at the University of California, the use of immunotherapies is a dangerous game. “We’re playing with fire,” he told the NYT, shortly after losing a female patient to the treatment’s after-effects.

Weeks after the drug sent her cancer into remission, she suddenly developed cold and flu-like symptoms that quickly killed her. The real cause of death? A massive, out-of-control inflammatory response mounted by her altered immune system. As reported in the featured article: “With lives to be saved and billions of dollars to be made — $250,000 or more is the list price for a year of some regimens — not enough research has been done into the risks of the new therapies, said William Murphy, [Ph.D.,] a professor of dermatology at the University of California, Davis, who reviews immunotherapy-related grants for the government.

It is ‘a massively understudied area,’ Murphy said, adding: ‘The No. 1 priority is anti-tumor effects. Everything else, however severe, is considered the price worth paying.'”

Indeed, according to Murphy, only three of the 500 research proposals he reviewed were focused on toxicity. We see the same problem in other drug and vaccine research as well. Drug developers are primarily interested in finding out if the drug works. Is it effective? However, if a drug is effective in treating the ailment at hand, yet kills the patient, what has been gained?

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