An international panel of doctors has decided that a type of tumor that was classified as a cancer is not a cancer at all.
As a result, they have officially downgraded the condition, and thousands of patients will be spared removal of their thyroid, treatment with radioactive iodine and regular checkups for the rest of their lives, all to protect against a tumor that was never a threat.
For drug developers, there’s not much interest in rare cancers; for scientists, after the initial lab excitement of discovery has worn off, there’s little opportunity for glory left. Pushing new ideas into clinical testing is tedious, exhausting and takes time away from making other discoveries. Promising work that offers alternatives to the savage old therapies for such diseases is therefore difficult to fund and quickly forgotten. There were no suitable EU grants for the Uppsala work; Swedish cancer charities have shallow pockets, and the Swedish government refuses to support clinical trials as a matter of policy. Even if a private company could be involved, the patent situation was muddy, the target population small and the commercial risks unusually high.
It was then that I had my unexpected funding idea. As far as I knew, no one had ever tried it before. I flew to Uppsala to meet the lead researcher, Professor Magnus Essand, and asked him, if I could raise the cash he needed, whether he would restart work on his unpronounceable bug.
It’s long, and covers iterations to address various issues. I don’t know that I’d have a problem if the person paying had a chance of getting the placebo. But trying an experimental drug won’t always be a cure either.