Of mice, not men Cancer cure? News reports on Dr. Folkman's research raised the world's expectations too high.


SOMEDAY, scientific research will cure cancer and bring true hope to patients with the fatal disease. But that day is not here yet. This has become clear, but only after days of hype stirred by an unrestrained story in the New York Times that was filled with overly optimistic statements about research conducted in Boston by Dr. F. Judah Folkman.

No question, Dr. Folkman's work is promising. His laboratory has developed two proteins, angiostatin and endostatin, that have worked with remarkable success to eradicate cancer in mice by blocking the formation of blood vessels that feed tumors.

But the story's gushing quotes from other researchers, including James Watson, a Nobel-laureate geneticist, overshadowed the critical point that no human tests have been conducted.

From this study, we can only conclude that there is a cure for mice with cancer.

The New York Times and other newspapers had reported Dr. Folkman's findings months earlier, without much fanfare.

The more recent story, though, hyped the notion of a cure.

Before calm returned, the expectations of people across the globe, including cancer patients, were raised to unrealistic levels.The stock-market price of EntreMed, the Rockville company that has rights to market angiostatin and endostatin, quadrupled in a single day, with its shares trading at a dizzying pace.

It may be impossible to bottle the hope that was unleashed. Dr. Watson wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times, claiming he was misquoted when the story said he predicted Dr. Folkman would "cure cancer in two years."

By week's end, EntreMed's shares were trading nearly three times higher than before the story, but had dropped noticeably since the earlier madness.

The excitement may subside more because of troubles surrounding the reporter of this cancer-cure story, Gina Kolata. the day her article ran in the Times, she submitted a book proposal on the subject -- which she withdrew when ethical questions arose.

The world desperately seeks a cure for cancer. Perhaps Dr. Folkman's research will provide it, but history shows it remains a long shot.

We can indeed hope for a cure soon without counting on it.

Pub Date: 5/10/98

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