Pharmaceutical giants ignore promising cancer treatment


By Anne Gamboni
MAY 30, 2011

Capitalists care more for bottom line

DCA holds great promise as a cancer treatment but drug companies cannot make a profit from it.

Research conducted at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, indicates that Dichloroacetate (DCA) holds great promise as a potential treatment for cancer—but it is not generating nearly as much excitement among pharmaceuticals as one would expect.

DCA is a generic drug originally developed to treat metabolic disorders. In 2007, the U of A researchers discovered that DCA reversed cancer growth in rats and in test tubes. Scientists proved that DCA achieved these anti-tumor effects by altering the metabolism of cancer. Since then, several independent groups across the globe have confirmed the Alberta team’s findings.

Researchers then set out to test their findings on real patients who were suffering from a deadly form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma. During the trials, scientists found that DCA either shrank the tumors or arrested their growth in a number of patients during the 18-month study. In addition to destroying brain tumors, DCA also killed lung and breast cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone, unlike conventional chemotherapy drugs. The report on these finding was published on the Science Translational Medicine website, an online journal of the American Association of the Advancement of Science.

DCA is widely available, easy to use and is much cheaper than the costly cancer drugs made by major pharmaceutical companies. Whether DCA can live up to expectations and truly transform the way cancer is treated is still an open question. There are known side effects that must be carefully monitored, and much research and medical trials remain to be done.

However, under capitalism, the necessary steps to answer that question may not be taken at all.

Profits over people

U.S. pharmaceuticals are not investing in this research because strong patent protections for the DCA compound, which is in the public domain, cannot be obtained. DCA’s use specifically for cancer treatment can be patented, but it is considered a much weaker patent protection—and therefore a much weaker guarantee of super-profits. Drugs with strong patent protections are the real money maker for drug companies, which care more about their bottom line than the health and well-being of cancer patients.

Without corporate funding, the clinical trials needed for FDA approval are unlikely to happen. The government does not fund trials of drugs such as DCA, leaving its fate at the mercy of the profit motive.

The pharmaceutical industry is a major player in the criminal system of private health care in the United States. Drug companies benefit greatly from taxpayer-funded research and government-granted monopoly rights in the form of patents. The claim that they need their vast profits to research cures for cancer and other diseases is false. U.S. drug makers spend more on marketing and administration than they do on research—2.5 times more.

Cancer drugs are huge money-makers for these pharmaceutical giants. And ironically, the pollution resulting from the manufacture of cancer drugs is suspected of causing cancer itself.

Cuba shows another way

In contrast, Cuba’s pharmaceutical industry is not controlled by corporate monopolies driven by profit maximization. Rather, centralized planning and social ownership of the means of production have allowed Cuba to prioritize health care.

Today, socialist Cuba is a leader in the production of cheap generics, providing medicines as well as production assistance to countries that might have otherwise been deprived of much-needed drugs.

Not only that, Cuba is also a leader in pharmaceutical innovation. In 2008, Cuba registered a therapeutic vaccine for the treatment of advanced lung cancer—the first ever in the world of medical research. The development further highlights that sharing rather than competing has greater potential for life-saving results.

If the U.S.-based pharmaceutical industry was subject to the same planning and socialized ownership, DCA and other promising medical treatments would receive proper funding for research and trials based on whether they could potentially save lives, and not whether they stand to yield super-profits. Those that proved to be viable treatments would be made widely available.

The full potential of medical and scientific research cannot be realized as long as it is held hostage by private corporations. Keep profits out of health care!



About B.J. Murphy

I'm a young socialist and Transhumanist activist within the East Coast region, who writes for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), India Future Society, and Serious Wonder. I'm also the Social Media Manager for Serious Wonder, an Advisory Board Member for the Lifeboat Foundation, and a Co-Editor for Fight Back! News.

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