As reported by CBC News yesterday, the small community of Peace River, Alberta, has collected $250,000 to fund the clinical trial of dichloroacetate, or DCA. The drug has been in use for decades but only recent studies on rats showed that DCA fights cancer by attacking the metabolism of malignant tumors.
That would normally be a great news if it wasn’t an old drug with expired patents. As a generic drug it costs only about $2 a dose, and as a result no drug company is willing to finance further research of DCA and perform any tests on humans. Big pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars on research of new drugs that they can patent and sell at high price. The irony is that if a cheap solution to a health problem is found nobody can make profits on that, and consequently no drug company is willing to support any such finding. That is when the communities of Alberta decided to step in. In addition to a quarter of a million raised by the residents of Peace River, the community of Grimshaw, a town close to Peace River, also raised more than $100,000 toward the research.
The research is going to be undertaken by the scientists of the University of Alberta in Calgary. According to CBC News “Health Canada approved DCA for the limited trial on people with an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. The researchers are looking for 50 patients in Edmonton who have already tried chemotherapy, surgery or radiation with no success. The drug is to be tested over the next 18 months.”
The drug was promoted on the internet by “The DCA Site”, an internet site from Sonora, California. But now they have a following message on their home page:
“Two agents from the FDA visited us on Tuesday, July 17, 2007 and ordered that we stop making and selling DCA. Unfortunately, the site www.buydca.com no longer offers DCA for sale.”
The drug can still be purchased from pharmacists with a prescription. However, until the research confirms otherwise, it cannot be prescribed against cancer.
Doctors warn of potential problems if people attempt to try DCA outside a controlled clinical trial. "If it starts going badly, who is following you before it gets out of control? By the time you realize your liver is failing, you're in big trouble," said Laura Shanner, Associate professor of health ethics at the University of Alberta.
On the other hand, people with advanced stages of cancer do not have much to lose and it is very likely that they will be trying DCA at their own risk.
A private cancer centre in Toronto, lead by wife-and-husband team Drs. Humaira and Akbar Khan, prescribe DCA to cancer patients in Ontario who have exhausted all other treatments.