Search for cancer killer leads researchers back to nature

It was heralded as possibly the most powerful cancer drug ever developed.Less than three years after testing the first dose on a human (half the normal testing time for a cancer drug), Novartis Pharmaceuticals presented GleevecTM to the FDA for approval. After a short two-and-a-half month review, FDA officials granted the New Drug Application in May. Twenty-four hours after that, trucks loaded with Gleevec pulled out of Novartis’s warehouse in East Hanover, New Jersey. Novartis boasts that Gleevec enjoyed the fastest time to market of any cancer treatment in American history.

Novartis executives used phrases like “revolutionary drug,” “unsurpassed efficacy,” and “breakthrough cancer therapy” to describe their new product. The chemotherapy agent was specially tailored to combat chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) – a strain of cancer that accounts for 15 percent of all leukemia deaths and usually kills end-stage patients within two to six months. Granted, Gleevec’s preliminary test results were impressive. In early trials, nearly 90 percent of patients with early-stage CML went into remission. The median survival rate among end-stage patients who tried Gleevec, climbed to seven months (traditional chemotherapy generally lets a patient survive two to six months).

And Gleevec improved the quality of CML sufferers’ lives. Novartis acknowledged that the majority of patients treated with Gleevec experienced adverse affects. But unlike standard chemotherapy which assaults the entire immune system, Gleevec targets only the over-active protein that causes CML. Consequently, Gleevec patients suffered notably fewer side-effects than chemo patients.

Enthusiasm for Gleevec soared in the medical community. In the journal Nature, Junia Melo who works on CML at the Imperial College School of Medicine in London, England, said Gleevec’s initial success was so impressive that it left some CML researchers wondering if their careers were over. “It’s the first designer drug for cancer that’s a winner,” Melo said.

But just a few short weeks after the FDA approved Gleevec, researchers discovered the drug didn’t entirely live up to expectations. In fact, the cancer patients who needed it the most – those with advanced CML – were the ones shortchanged. Scientists at the Molecular Biology Institute at UCLA discovered many patients initially responded to the drug, but then relapsed and grew resistant to Gleevec. Lead researcher Charles Sawyer, M.D., explained that the protein at the root of CML actually fought back against the drug. In some cases, the protein’s genetic makeup mutated and rendered the drug useless.

The journal Nature announced the disappointing findings with the headline “Cancer outwits us again.”

The problem is that cancer – and a host of other diseases – have been outwitting pharmaceutical companies for ages. And it’s not surprising. Pharmaceutical companies have set themselves the daunting challenge of trying to extract some miniscule component from nature; re-engineer, alter, fuse and strengthen it; then dispatch it to fix another incredibly complex product of nature — the human body.

The devil, as they say, is in the details. And in the pharmaceutical process, the number of details – and, hence, the number of opportunities for mistake – is infinite.

One thing that natural – and even some conventional -medicine has shown is that health-protecting substances drawn from nature work best when they’re allowed to function the same way they function in their natural state. Remove the ‘active ingredient’ from an herb and often that ingredient won’t produce the same effect. The frustrating truth is that substances don’t work in isolation (a situation that regularly foils our efforts to dissect, extract and control nature). Other components typically boost or expand the medicinal value of a natural substance.

You’ll see one example of this phenomenon in the October issue of the HSI Members Alert. It’s the story of ellagitannin, a substance found in raspberries, walnuts, strawberries, pomegranates, and other fruit. In several published studies, ellagitannin has demonstrated an ability to prevent the growth of cancerous cells and even destroy existing cancer cells. But, as I explained above, ellagitannin works best when you leave it in its natural state.

In tests, Daniel W. Nixon M.D. of the Hollings Cancer Center in South Carolina discovered that the way to get the maximum benefit from this cancer-fighting substance was to pick up some Meeker red raspberries at the market, drop them into a blender, and enjoy the fruit puree. Ellagitannin, extracted from the raspberries, still showed remarkable cancer-fighting abilities. (In one test, cervical cancer cells treated with ellagitannin began to die off with 72 hours.) But the entire raspberry proved even more powerful than the isolated substance. Researchers concluded that other components of the raspberry heightened the effect, but to date, they haven’t been able to identify those components or decipher the interaction.

We aren’t suggesting that ellagitannin is an absolute cure for cancer. If something as simple as a raspberry could cure cancer, the world never would have known its first oncologist. Further, ellagitannin hasn’t yet shown the power to combat a cancer as aggressive as end-stage CML. But the research we’ve uncovered indicates that it may bolster your natural defenses against developing cancers. And that bolstered immune system can prevent a cell mutation from developing into a malignancy.

HSI Panelist Jon Barron brought the story of ellagitannin to our attention. Working with Healing America, he has developed a supplement made exclusively from the Meeker red raspberries featured in Dr. Nixon’s study. Right now, Healing America’s supply is limited. That is why we are offering e-Alert members this early opportunity to try this promising treatment.

To learn more about ellagitannin, or to try it out for yourself, follow this link to Healing America’s website: http://www.northernnutrition.healingamerica.com. And, look for the October issue of Members Alert for further details on this interesting discovery.