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World’s First Proven Cancer Preventive?

World’s First Proven Cancer Preventive? 3

What May Become the World’s First Proven Cancer Preventive (and Something Bigger) Ignored by Big Pharma

It is not surprising to learn that Big Pharma has shown no interest in what may become the world’s first proven cancer prevention pill. If big profits aren’t promised, pharmaceutical companies predictably pass on such a development.

The pill is a relatively safe FDA-approved generic drug, prescribed millions of times to help control diabetes, and it costs maybe 10-cents a day. But what is surprising is that public health authorities appear to be remiss in announcing this breakthrough. They are the agency in society commissioned to address important public health issues such as this.

Data has been accumulating for 5 years now showing metformin (Glucophage), an anti-diabetic drug, dramatically reduces the risk for cancer and prolongs life among patients who are battling cancer.

World’s First Proven Cancer Preventive? 4 Graphic: courtesy Oncotarget

The data does not solely involve experiments with laboratory mice that often don’t translate to humans. The data involves human studies.

Remember the big to-do that the New York Times created in 1998 over a cancer drug that a Nobel Prize winner said would “cure cancer in two years?” (That quotation was later denied.) On the day that news story was released the stock price soared for the company making the developmental drug then said to cure cancer. But for metformin, a drug first approved by the FDA in 1958, there is little fanfare. Its patent expired years ago and it is a generic drug with low profitability. A quick check on Google shows just six news outlets online are distributing the story. Of the 7 billion people on the planet, how many will learn of this?

If this were some potential new blockbuster drug, the National Institutes of Health would be grandstanding it in a press release and even a press conference. Instead it is a news agency – in this instance Bloomberg News – who is independently breaking the story (let’s hear it for a free press). Bloomberg reporters quote a researcher who says drug companies passed up sponsorship of studies involving metformin and cancer when they realized their patents would expire before the research study was completed.

Slow progress

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Frustratingly, science is moving too slowly towards adoption of such a pill. It wants to conduct another decade of research before drawing any conclusions. A number of large long-term studies are underway but not scheduled to report any data till 2016-2017.

Cancer patients haven’t ten years to wait. Whether oncologists begin to prescribe it is another question. It isn’t being heralded in oncology journals. The American Cancer Society website is ignoring this breakthrough as well.

How convincing is the evidence? Very.

Just how convincing is the currently available evidence? First, diabetics have a much higher incidence of cancer. So it should not be surprising that an anti-diabetic drug quells cancer.

Second, the risk of subsequent cancer diagnosis was significantly reduced among patients with adult-onset diabetes who took metformin. The most compliant patients were more protected against cancer than those who failed to follow their pill regimen. Another study shows an impressive 56% relative reduction in the risk for breast cancer among diabetics taking metformin compared to other anti-diabetic drugs.

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