A new treatment for cancer?
June 11, 2009 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Rose bengal is a red dye that has been used for decades to identify eye and liver damage. A company, Provectus Pharmaceuticals, has developed a drug based on this compound, which clinical trials show may be able to destroy advanced melanoma with minimal risks. Melanoma is an extremely dangerous form of skin cancer. The company hopes to extend this drug to other cancers as well as to other skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, for which poor treatment solutions exist. Claims such as these inspire skepticism, but the melanoma trials have been conducted by some of the most eminent names in the melanoma community. Does this drug hold potential, or is the whole thing snake oil?
posted by prunes (18 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Where does the snake oil comparison come into play? The clinical trials seem to show promise, based on the links posted. Can you show any scientific rebuttal of those? I don't get the point of adding that link.
posted by procrastination at 6:44 AM on June 11, 2009

sometimes you need to add something like that just to finish the post else it feels like its just hanging in space
posted by infini at 6:48 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Current/completed clinical trials mentioning rose bengal. And seconded procrastination--that "snake oil" link is superfluous; more relevant would have been something on failed cancer cures of the past.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:48 AM on June 11, 2009

or is the whole thing snake oil?

posted by gman at 6:49 AM on June 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is a bit premature to evaluate the drug. Only 8% of cancer drugs that enter clinical trials get approved eventually. The most recent citation is an "interim" report on a phase 2 study. The phase one study had 11 people and like most phase one studies, it was mostly to avoid catastrophic problems and get a feel dosage - too few people to determine whether the drug worked. The phase 2 study which looks at a limited number of patients is underway. Then the phase 3 study that requires to show the drug works to a statistically significant degree.

Several of these links are drug company announcements - these are always promotional. I'd give the drug about a one in five shot at approval.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:07 AM on June 11, 2009

i know someone who would probably go to great lengths to procure rose bengal if he speculates that there is the SLIGHTEST CHANCE AT ALL that a new method of treating eczema exists, bypassing restrictions and ignoring any possibility of side effects.

i'm just saying superficial discussion of studies can have dangerous consequences.
posted by Hammond Rye at 7:30 AM on June 11, 2009

I came back to see if maybe rose bengal was actually procured from essential oils of snakes, or something, but no. That would have been clever.
posted by Casuistry at 7:36 AM on June 11, 2009

If every drug in Phase I and II eventually succeeded, all disease would have been cured by now.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:55 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

There seems to be a lot of progress being made on the cancer treatment front. I've started watching a few pharma stocks recently and some of the results are pretty promising, but like dances_with_sneetches, I'd take all company announcements with a grain of salt.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:03 AM on June 11, 2009

Remember that Provectus's #1 mission right now is raising capital. I'm not slamming them here, just explaining what they're dealing with. Clinical trials are incredibly expensive, and they need to keep the investment $$ coming in or they will not be able to keep the clinical program going; so naturally they are putting the best possible spin on their lead product, even though it is years away from approval under the best possible circumstances. There are hundreds of companies like this, and they all suggest that their product(s) is/are the best thing since sliced bread.
posted by Mister_A at 9:35 AM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can say what you want about snake oil, but once I rubbed it on my snake it completely stopped the squeaking.
posted by Floydd at 9:39 AM on June 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

"There just aren't enough people who want to oil a snake!"
posted by horsemuth at 10:02 AM on June 11, 2009

There's a huge cash shortage in the biotech industry at the moment. The small-cap pharma I work for recently laid off a third of our R&D staff (62% of my department!). I predict we'll be seeing more and more bold claims about early-stage drugs in the coming months.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 10:14 AM on June 11, 2009

There's anotehr solution Mister_A. You sell your product to a big company where they find out that your purification scheme involves little more than a Mr. Coffee filter and are shocked the FDA let you get as far as phase I testing. I'm not saying this is a fundamental rule, just that it's often the way to bet.

This sort of thing has happened before.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:20 AM on June 11, 2009

is the whole thing snake oil?

According to your link, snake oil is a traditional remedy for joint pain, while this is being suggested for cancer. So I'd say no.
posted by explosion at 11:03 AM on June 11, 2009

In an odd bit of synchronicity, Carl Zimmer actually wrote about lubricated snakes just the other day. They can't move. (actually, the snakes were placed on a smooth board, and then put in a "snake jacket", rather then oiled directly)
posted by delmoi at 12:22 PM on June 11, 2009

Kidding aside, Kid Charlemagne, that's the desired outcome for most of these small pharma and biotech companies. They want Merck to buy them, but usually the bigger players wait until the products are a little farther along than this.
posted by Mister_A at 12:41 PM on June 11, 2009

I've heard so much about this great Snake Oil stuff. I wish someone would do a post about that!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:08 PM on June 11, 2009

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