In its recent Outlook on Cancer Immunotherapy, the respectable journal Nature features an article that talks about MBVax, a Vancouver-based company that “produces cancer vaccine for compassionate use to countries where government regulators allowed its importation and use”.
MBVax does not have the permission to give their cancer vaccines to patients in US, EU and other regulated countries, but when sneaked to patients in other parts of the world it works [the company says].
The cure has all it needs to be a perfect story. It was initially formulated by the Harvard MD William Coley at the end of 1800s, in desperate need to rescue his parents from sarcomas. The “Coley fluid” is a mixture of live and dead bacteria that should wake up the patient immune system to stimulates the clearance of their tumors.
But research on this vaccine was not pursued because new, aggressive therapies like irradiation and chemo pushed Coley’s vaccine out of favor.
Bad chemo. Bad!
It turns out that this Nature article is a well presented copy-and-paste version of the MBVax website.
Thought there are no publications about the efficacy of the preparation, the journalist interviews Donald H. MacAdam, the company CEO (and, of course, book author), who ensures that the therapy works.
70% of patients receiving the MBVax vaccine had their tumors shrank, and 20% entered a complete remission phase.
There are no peer-reviews article of clinical trial that support what MacAdam says. On the other hand, logically, on the website of the MBVax we find a long bibliography that should justify the company interest in this therapy. Where did I see that before…?
Nature knows it’s reporting on not-exactly-rocket-science, so it does write that these are unpublished data. In the middle of the 23rd paragraph.
But the best has yet to come: while chemo and radiotherapy are easy and standardized – the article says -, MacAdam vaccines require “careful calibration on each patient”. This is a frequent argument made by people in need to justify their no-sense medical intervention: “It has to be tailored on you”.
Within legal obligation, MBVax writes what it wants. But the fact that Nature gives visibility to a bench of untested medical evidence is honestly disturbing. The article did not contain a single reference that supports vaccine efficacy, rather it cite only the successful cases, a typically commercial method.
I know Nature makes little effort to communicate this, but Outlook are sponsored inserts, where informative content might crash with commercial purposes. Fine. I don’t find it scandalous, keeping that a vague shade of research underlines the science presented.
Considering the energy that Nature puts in contrasting Stamina, an italian company that entered a regulatory loop to “cure” terminal patients with obscure infusions, I expected that a similar rigor had to apply for a company like MBVax, which similarly has no solid evidence to justify its interventions.
I was wrong.