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My Turn: Maybe Trump’s FDA will help us cure cancer

For the Monitor
Published: 12/17/2016 12:15:06 AM

Why is there still incurable cancer? Why do we still age just as fast as the king of Uruk in 1700 BC?

To you these may seem impertinent questions. Like the character in the Epic of Gilgamesh, you reply that “the gods kept life for themselves and gave death to mankind.” Well, bad-mouthing the gods is no substitute for telomerase-activator drugs. We still have pre-technological diseases because our medical care is pre-technological.

Cells are just tiny computers, with far less usable memory than cell phones. (A human cell has about 2.8 gigabytes of DNA memory, but nearly all of it is taken up by junk, lentivirus leftovers like SINE and LINE elements, and other DNA malware. Only 1.5 percent of “your” DNA actually codes for proteins.)

We know how to read the DNA, how to insert genes (with the same lentiviruses that drove our evolution), how to take genes out (with CRISPR). When I worked in the Shay-Wright lab back in 2001, we could already immortalize human cells with telomerase. A couple years later we were putting dystrophin genes into muscle stem cells and curing muscular dystrophy. We were also shutting cancer cell growth down with imetelstat, a telomerase-inactivating RNA with a lipid tail to get it into cells. (Actually, techniques to weaken cancer for the kill go back to the 1930s Warburg Effect, a simple but sadly unpatentable dietary trick which enhances the effects of nearly every cancer drug).

So in the early 21st century, we had the technology to fix diseases from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s to macular degeneration (I was going to list all the glial-cell diseases, but you get the idea). We had the technology to give any cancer a run for its money (a combination of telomerase inhibition and Warburg Effect techniques just one of the many unused methods). And instead we spent our time bad-mouthing the gods, our money marching around Iraq, and let sick children die.

Now it’s 2016 and biotechnology is still unavailable to the terminally ill. (For humans, that is. Adolfo Cambiaso has just won a polo tournament with a cloned army of horses. As long as you don’t use biotech to help sick children, no one gets in your way). Imetelstat is still locked up in Phase 2 trials, telomerase activator technology is only just now being proposed for trials, and muscular dystrophy patients are “safely” going to their long, agonizing deaths without viral-vector gene repairs.

You’re expecting me to blame the FDA for the slow progress. Actually, I’ll let Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, former head of the FDA 2006-2009, do it for me. Because it is the FDA and Big Pharma’s fault, and everyone involved knows it full well.

The FDA forces terminally ill people to use drugs that we know will kill them, instead of letting their doctors try Phase 2 or 3 medicines that might work. The FDA prevents U.S. patients from getting safe drugs that have been in use in Europe or Japan for decades (e.g., roxithromycin, the strep throat cure in most of the world). We can’t even get melatonin from a nurse to help us sleep off our agony in the hospital, since no one can afford to get a non-patented natural substance through the FDA process.

The FDA, like all regulatory agencies, is captured by the industry that it “regulates.” But it’s a co-dependent relationship; the industry was also captured by the cartelization powers of the FDA. So massive amounts of resources are spent to keep drug prices high, old drugs in use and unpatentable natural substances (often the bodies’ own hormones) out of medical use entirely.

The solution is obvious: Give power back to doctors and patients. Let doctors decide what treatments to use, not Big Pharma. As Dr. Eschenbach suggested back in 2006, after a treatment passes Phase 1 safety testing, make it available to doctors, and keep track of the results.

Donald Trump’s picks for FDA chairman are rumored to support “progressive approval” (letting doctors choose treatments). Like the Wizard of Oz, Trump may not be a very good wizard, but he may let us get on with solving our own brain (at least the glial cells), heart and courage problems.

(Bill Walker of Plainfield worked in the Shay-Wright telomerase and Poeschla lentiviral-vector labs from 2001-2008.)

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