• U.S.

Is Cancer Cured Yet?

2 minute read
Michael D. Lemonick

Printing “cancer cure” on the front page of a major newspaper is like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, as the New York Times found to its dismay last spring. The treatment in question, a combination of two drugs called angiostatin and endostatin, works only in mice so far, and while the newspaper noted that lots of medicines fail to make the leap from rodents to humans, the caveats were easily overlooked. Shares in Entremed, the small company developing the drugs, shot up 30% literally overnight.

But now the caveats are coming home to roost. Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Entremed’s partner in angiostatin, said last week that it was dropping its work on the drug–not, the company emphasized, because of doubts about its potential, but because it’s proving difficult to make enough of the stuff to test on humans.

That was enough to scare off investors. Entremed shares dropped nearly 50% at the news last Tuesday, even though the company is still planning human tests later this year–and even though Bristol-Meyers Squibb has retained the right to market angiostatin if it works out. The sell-off didn’t last either: the stock rebounded, jumping more than 60% on Thursday, after the National Cancer Institute, which had been unable to replicate endostatin’s effect even in mice, finally managed to do it.

So rodents, at least, can feel reassured. But will the compounds end up curing cancer in humans? The bottom line is precisely where it was last year: maybe yes, maybe no. Until the drugs are fully tested, there’s no way to tell.

–By Michael D. Lemonick

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