Life Extension Magazine June 2004
Are You Afraid of Terrorists?
By William Faloon
LE Magazine June 2004
|Are You Afraid of Terrorists?|
For the past 32 months, the news media have carried daily accounts of the threat of terrorism. It is as though humans have already achieved biological immortality and the only risk of death we face is at the hands of terrorists.
Regrettably, this is not the case. Every day, 6,500 people die in the US, mostly from age-related diseases. The table on this page lists the nation’s 15 leading causes of death in 2001.1
The federal government has been on a spending rampage as a result of the events of September 11, 2001, that claimed nearly 3,000 American lives. In 2001, however, a total of 2,416,425 Americans died. Terrorists were responsible for approximately 0.001% of these deaths.2
We know that defense against violence will always be a human need. For the first time in history, however, we have an opportunity to dramatically extend the healthy life span of those living today. Unfortunately, the government spends relatively little on meaningful medical research, while many billions of tax dollars are being used to guard against terrorism.
What Do You Fear Most?
People do not just suddenly die of cancer. They often suffer through multi-year therapies that have high rates of failure. Once the diagnosis of cancer is made, a person’s life is turned upside down. Chemotherapy sessions dominate the cancer victim’s schedule, along with agonizing side effects and the daily fear that the cancer will not be completely eradicated.
Cancer phobia has become so prevalent that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on diagnostic procedures such as colonoscopies to rule out colon and rectal cancer, head MRIs to rule out brain tumors, and whole-body scans to rule out visceral malignancies.4,5 These diagnostic tests are expensive, inconvenient, and often dangerous. Yet the American Cancer Society urges that more Americans undergo these diagnostic procedures in the hopes of reducing cancer mortality rates.
We at Life Extension are all in favor of diagnostics, but would like to see a more concerted effort by the government to encourage the discovery of cures for cancer, other killer diseases, and aging, instead of relying mainly on early diagnosis to improve survival rates.
In addition to spending more money to extend the healthy human life span, the government needs to loosen the reins of control that currently prevent private companies from spending more money on research. If the government continues to escalate spending to protect against terrorism while restricting privately funded scientists, the money to discover how to cure age-related diseases and aging will not be adequate.
In March 2004, we conducted a survey on a popular website visited by 500,000 people every month. When asked whether more fearful of dying from cancer or a terrorist attack, 66% of the respondents were more fearful of cancer, while 34% were more concerned about a terrorist attack.6 On the Life Extension website, 92% were more afraid of cancer, while only 8% were more fearful of terrorists.7
These survey results indicate Americans would feel much more secure knowing that cancer is more readily curable as opposed to thinking they are completely protected against terrorist attacks.
Government Interferes with Progress Against Cancer
Back in 2000, I wrote an editorial about a class of cancer drugs known as “epidermal growth factor receptor blockers.”8 Although the evidence then available indicated these drugs could save some cancer patients’ lives, the FDA was delaying their approval. We urged that these drugs immediately be made available to cancer victims who were willing to try experimental therapies.
As it turned out, the results from large-scale human studies were not as impressive as the initial research. The FDA, however, eventually approved both drugs—Iressa® and Erbitux®—as being effective against certain types of cancer. The problem is that over the past four years, many cancer patients who could have benefited from these drugs died because of the FDA’s delay in approving them. Erbitux®, for example, was not approved until February 12, 2004.9
In 1998, in another editorial that described the potential benefits of anti-angiogenesis drugs, I stated:
“The scientific evidence indicates that these (anti-angiogenesis) drugs could have been tried on cancer patients already, but political reality dictates that these potential lifesaving therapies linger in an Orwellian drug-approval quagmire. Today’s cancer patients sit in the FDA’s waiting room hoping they will be granted permission to live before they succumb to their disease.”10
In criticizing the FDA’s delay in approving new drugs, I wrote: “If a cure for cancer were found today, almost every cancer patient alive would die before the FDA approved the breakthrough drug.”
For too many cancer victims, my prediction sadly may have turned out to be true. On February 27, 2004, the FDA approved the first anti-angiogenesis drug, AvastatinTM, which works by choking off the blood supply to the tumor.11 Avastatin™ is not a cure, but patients live 30% longer compared to standard therapy, and some terminal patients have lived for years.
FDA Delays Prostate Cancer Drug
The FDA refused to accept the results of this study because the agency does not allow retrospective analysis of a subgroup that may have benefited from an experimental drug. To gain FDA approval, the company was forced to begin a brand new study on men with Gleason scores of 7 or less.
But the company continued to follow patients in the original study, and the results, announced in January 2004, are impressive. Of the 75 patients who entered the trial with a Gleason score of 7 or less, those receiving the Provenge® cancer vaccine were 3.7 times more likely to be alive after 30 months. This translates to 53% of the Provenge® group being alive, compared to only 14% of the placebo group. The Provenge® group also remained in pain-free remission an average of two times longer than the placebo group.14 Regrettably, this lifesaving cancer therapy may not be approved until well into 2005.
On January 26, 2004, a Wall Street Journal editorial on this deplorable delay stated:
“We know that it works, and we know why it works. In any rational regulatory environment, that would be reason to speed Provenge® to market. But this is the FDA we are talking about. The agency that sat on Iressa®, another targeted cancer therapy, for months after an advisory panel recommended approval.”15