The battle to eliminate disease has to be one of the most impressive ongoing human endeavours, especially regarding to advances in pharmaceutical treatments and immunizations.
Thanks to painstaking research and trials, followed by methodical and widespread distribution of treatment, the world has seen either complete or regional eradication of diseases varying from smallpox to polio to malaria.
Could cancer someday join that list?
In 2006, scientists made a potentially essential discovery of a natural anti-cancer agent. It comes from the berry of the blushwood tree that grows only in the rain forests of northern Australia.
The first indication that the berries had anti-cancer properties came when forest ecologists, Paul Reddell and Victoria Gordon, observed that marsupials curiously spat them out after eating them. On a hunch, they sent the berries off to a commercial lab for testing and from there, they were passed on to the world-renowned QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane.
At QIMR, a substance developed from the berries was tested on a tumor cell line with amazing results. Together with Reddell and Gordon’s company EcoBiotics (especially, its subsidiary QBiotics), QIMR began development of a drug that was given the working name EBC-46.
EBC-46 is being developed for the global veterinary and human markets to target a range of solid tumors such as mast cell tumors and soft tissue sarcomas. Clinical trials are further along for animals than for humans, with EBC-46 heading for registration as a veterinary pharmaceutical in the United States, Europe and Australia.
This is good news for animal lovers; currently, 50% of older dogs and cats die from cancer.
The dog below was one of the lucky test subjects to have been treated with EBC-46 as part of trials on the drug’s safety and efficiency. In just 15 days of treatment, there was nothing left of his tumour. The most encouraging aspect of this discovery is the speed at which the drug kills off cancerous cells. It starts working as quickly as five minutes after being directly injected into the tumor.
In the clinical case study treating mast cell tumors in dogs, EBC-46 was revealed to destroy the tumors within four to seven days. There was no growth regrowth in the following year in 80% of cases. These results were consistent in 400 case studies involving other solid tumor types in dogs, cats and horses. Because of a secondary action of the drug leading to fast recovery of the tumor site, in most cases, the wounds were fully healed within 4 weeks without antibiotics or antimicrobial creams.
In addition to the drug’s apparent effectiveness, it also represents a much less complicated technique of treating certain cancers since it is administered by a single injection into the tumor and needs no local or general anaesthetic.
“It kills the tumor cells directly and cuts off the blood supply and it also causes the body’s own immune system to clean up the mess that’s left,” Dr. Glen Boyle of QIMR Berghofer explained. He noted that the drug is not expected to be used in treatment of cancers that have spread.
A clinical Phase I trial on humans started in March 2015. The first results released last year showed that it could effectively treat four types of tumor– melanoma, squamous cell cancer, basal cell carcinoma and breast adenocarcinoma. The complete process for developing a new drug usually takes 12-18 years and can cost over $1 billion. So, while this possibly transformative new cancer treatment is still a while away, mankind may just be that one step closer to making real headway against one of the most fatal diseases of our time.