Desperate Cancer Patients Scramble for Untested Drug

People dying of cancer are turning to the internet in a frantic attempt to buy under-the-counter versions of an untested, unlicensed tumor-shrinking chemical, science journals reported.

Researchers are worried, fearing that patients who take the substance could suffer damaging side effects, while the patients themselves say they have nothing to lose as they cannot wait for the outcome of clinical trials.

The chemical is called DCA, or dichloracetic acid. It is a cheap, simple and unpatented chemical that is used in humans for treatment of rare metabolic disorders.

In January, researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada published tests of DCA on lab-dish cancer cells and on rats with human tumors.

The cancers shrank dramatically, apparently by reviving a previously ignored metabolic pathway that prompts a flawed cell to commit suicide.

Within weeks of the publication of this research, a substantial online community developed, where users swap tips on how to get hold of DCA, how to prepare the chemical for human consumption and what supplements they should take to minimize side effects. DCA is corrosive, which means its acidity has to be “buffered” for human use.

One US website sells “homemade DCA” that is labeled for veterinary use, as drugs sold for human use in the United States must have approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the British journal Nature said.

The website’s owner believes he has sold DCA to “a couple of hundred” people around the world, it reported.

Meanwhile, New Scientist said the Canadian researchers had received around 15,000 emails inquiring about DCA, and pharmacies and chemical supply companies are being pressured to sell the drug to members of the public.

Doctors are also being urged by patients to request special authorization from national regulatory agencies so that they can prescribe the drug.

“At first, (people enquiring) were quite honest,” researcher Evangelos Michelakis told the British science weekly. “But now we’re getting emails from people asking for dosage information for, say, a 150-pound golden retriever.”

Michelakis and other researchers are deeply concerned by the scramble, as DCA has not been tested for safety and effectiveness for cancer.

In clinical trials for other uses, DCA has been known to boost the risk of nerve damage. In addition, it may inflict kidney damage and interact with existing anti-cancer drugs in unexpected ways.

Investigators, while sympathetic to the patients’ plight, are also concerned that any backlash over DCA could wreck interest in the chemical, choking off funding to push it through clinical trials, a lengthy and costly process.

Because DCA has been around for years, its structure cannot be patented and pharmaceutical companies are not interested in developing the drug. Michelakis is raising money with the hope of starting his own small-scale clinical trial “within the next few months,” Nature said.

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