Cancer patients are understandably desperate to try every treatment that promises a cure. They often turn to the Internet where they find thousands of “alternative” cancer cures being sold often for exorbitant cost. One of them is Ukrain.
Ukrain is based on two natural substances: alkaloids from the Greater Celandine and Thiotepa. It was developed by Dr Wassil Nowicky who allegedly cured his brother’s testicular cancer with his invention. Despite its high cost of about £50 per injection, Ukrain has become popular in the UK and elsewhere.
Ukrain has its name from the fact that the brothers Nowicky originate from the Ukraine, where also much of the research on this drug was conducted. When I say much, I should stress that I use this word in relative terms. In the realm of “alternative” cancer cures, we often find no clinical studies at all. For Ukrain, however, the situation is refreshingly different; there are a number of trials, and the question is, what do they really tell us?
In 2005, we decided to review all the clinical studies which had tested the efficacy of Ukrain. Somewhat to our surprise, we found 7 randomised clinical trials. Even more surprising, we thought, was the fact that all of them reported baffling cure rates. So, were we excited to have identified a cure for even the most incurable cancers? The short answer to this question is NO.
All of the trials were methodologically weak; but, as this is not uncommon in the area of alternative medicine, it did not irritate us all that much. Far more remarkable was the fact that these studies seemed to be odd in several other ways.
Their results seemed too good to be true; all but one trial came from the Ukraine where research governance might have been less than adequate. The authors of the studies seemed to overlap and often included Nowicky himself. They were published in only two different journals of little impact. The only non-Ukrainian trial came from Germany and was not much better: its lead author happened to be the editor of the journal where it was published; more importantly, the paper lacked crucial methodological details, which rendered the findings difficult to interpret, and the trial had a tiny sample size.
Collectively, these circumstances were enough for us to be very cautious. Consequently, we stated that “numerous caveats prevent a positive conclusion”.
Despite our caution, this article became much cited, and cancer centres around the world began to wonder whether they should take Ukrain more seriously; many integrative cancer clinics even started using the drug in their clinical routine. Dr Nowicky, who meanwhile had established his base in Vienna from where he marketed his drug, must have been delighted.
Soon, numerous websites sprang up praising Ukrain: “It is the first medicament in the world that accumulates in the cores of cancer cells very quickly after administration and kills only cancer cells while leaving healthy cells undamaged. Its inventor and patent holder Dr Wassil Nowicky was nominated for the Nobel Prize for this medicament in 2005…” .
Somehow, I doubt this thing with the Nobel Prize. What I do not question for a minute, however, is this press release by the Austrian police: since January, the Viennese police have been investigating Dr Nowicky. During a “major raid” on 4 September 2012, he and his accomplices were arrested under the suspicion of commercial fraud. Nowicky was accused of illegally producing and selling the unlicensed drug Ukrain. The financial damage was estimated to be in the region of 5 million Euros.
I fear, however, that the damage done on desperate cancer patients across the world might be much greater. Generally speaking, “alternative” cancer cures are not just a menace, they are a contradiction in terms: there is no such a thing and there will never be one. If tomorrow this or that alternative remedy shows some promise as a cancer cure, it will be investigated by mainstream oncology with some urgency; and if the findings turn out to be positive, the eventual result would be a new cancer treatment. To assume that oncologists might ignore a promising treatment simply because it originates from the realm of alternative medicine is idiotic and supposes that oncologists are mean bastards who do not care about their patients – and this, of course, is an accusation which one might rather direct towards the irresponsible purveyors of “alternative” cancer cures.
As a conventional clinical NHS GP it is proven: a factual part of medical education comprises the body’s ability to heal and the methods used to enhance this behaviour include conventional medical and complementary methodologies as the healing occurs in manners some of which Medicine is aware of and many of which Science remains ignorant.
I feel constrained in commenting on this personal blog, Ernst as you will no doubt redact text you disagree with and there is no protective editorial cushion as previously provided when you commented in PULSE- a publication intended for health professionals.
As so often before, I find that Dr Sikorski makes very little sense. Yet I am delighted to welcome him to this new blog. The PulseBlog he mentioned is indeed restricted to healthcare professionals; in my view, this is one of its disadvantages, and I started this new blog not least because so many people had expressed their frustration whith this restriction. Alt med is a subject that needs to be discussed more widely, I think.
Good news, a blog by Professor Ernst will be very welcome.
Dr. Sikorski what do you mean when you say “As a conventional clinical NHS GP it is proven:…”? Are you intimating that because you’re a ‘conventional clinical NHS GP’ (is there any other kind of NHS GP?) your following statement should be regarded as factually correct?
One would hope that, as a medical doctor, you understand that there are absolutely no qualifications or positions of authority a person may hold that makes what they say more likely to be true. Whoever they are, evidence is still needed.
Even though, as you say, ‘healing occurs in manners… many of which science remains ignorant’ this should not mean that we accept a new treatment lacking adequately conducted research even though a medical doctor says he cured his brother’s cancer with it.
Slight typo: by “So, were we EXITED to have identified a cure for even the most incurable cancers?”, I assume you meant “So, were we EXCITED to have identified a cure for even the most incurable cancers?”.
Curious how a professor uses the personal and anecdotal ‘I’ and ‘me’ above, perhaps it’s the effect of retirement?
You certainly have assisted in raising the worldwide profile of the beneficial effects of complementary medical interventions for suffering patients who have had no benefit from conventional approaches. I agree with you- further use of both modalities to improve welbeing is definitely worth discussing. If it were within my power you would be invested with an honorary professorship in Homeopathy. Shame you have to keep tweeting to get anyone else to look at this page…………………
Andrew, why do you insist on posting comments that make no sense? If you want to get banned from this blog, you are going about it in the right way!
Could you please highlight the part where Edzard wrote that “further use of both modalities” is worth discussing? I’m blowed if I can find it.
Welcome Edzard to the independent blogosphere. How sad that Sikorski’s manners are no better here than they were at Pulse.
I’d simply like to know Dr Sikorski’s definition of the word “conventional”, as used by him.
My understanding of “conventional”, when used by proponents of alternative reality medicine, is always pejorative or derogatory.
Sikorski is famous for making comments that are off topic and devoid of rational thought. In my view, they confirm that homeopathy is not effective for the treatment of severe irrationality. My fear is that he might provide further ample proof of this suspicion on this blog. In this case, we have to take his strange statements for the entertainment value they can, on a good day, deliver.
Excellent, excellent, look forward to following this blog.
Dr Sikorsi as a health care professional one would imagine that you would understand the concept of evidence plus the idea that we can test for outcomes even if we don’t how they happen?
“As a conventional clinical NHS GP it is proven: a factual part of medical education comprises the body’s ability to heal … as the healing occurs in manners some of which Medicine is aware of and many of which Science remains ignorant.”
Oh, secret knowledge, unbeknown to science!
Has this knowledge fallen from the sky, has it been given to us by the gods?
Inquiring minds want to know what methods there are beside science to gain knowledge?
Ouija boards and chicken bones?
“Science” does not know everything (or rather at all times some scientists have gathered a small percentage of faulty knowledge), but there is no other method to gain knowledge than the scientific method. To imply that there is knowledge to be gained through some alternative mysticism is foolery.
BTW: If something is “proven”, as the good Dr. Sikorski implies, than through what else than through the application of scientific method? So his eagerness to place himself outside of science is rather comical.
Comical is exactly the right word!
Conventional, dear boy, describes the BNF medications, the blood tests, x-rays, MRIs and referals to appropriate healthcare professionals both NHS and private, including secondary care, used by doctors like me in our daily work, taking into account the clinical need and consent to treatment discussed with patients and relevant available evidence- both infallible and fallible.
Seen the groovy Guardian article on cough syrups?
Sikorski, why the condescension? Why the patronising? Who, apart from you, has ever suggested that anyone or anything is infallible. Clearly from your smug, self-satisfied tone you regard yourself as infallible – absolutely the worst kind of GP.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/16/cough-medicine-wont-cure-you Groovy? Barmy might be a better term!
As Andrew mentioned homeopathy above: it seems as though this placebo-intervention is on the way out – at least to this report which I just picked up http://www.gponline.com/News/article/1154606/pcts-abandon-funding-homeopathy/
‘Groovy’ can have multiple interpretations, dear, dear old friend………………..including ‘comical’………….. to paraphrase Philip Ball of the Guardian- whom you will no doubt be castigating for daring to offer an opinion divergent from your barmy own: Have you misunderstood the nature of the transaction and can you ditch the barmy simplistic view that medicine is about the evidence- based products of the pharmaceutical industry versus the crystal healers rather than continuing your skeptic agenda of indulging a modern conceit for ignoring the entire history of medicine? Live , love and learn, dear Ed?
Edzard- why were you never so chatty with me on PULSE?
The application for licensure of Ukrain was rejected by the Ministry of Health in Austria many years ago.
But if Ukrain is so good as the producer claims then Ukrain should be legally available in at least all EU countries. And for this reason the producer should sent his new application to the European Medicines Agency. This was never done. Why? A short answer: quality, safety and efficacy must be given- this is not the case with Ukrain. No chance for licensure – but illegal distribution.
Since this herbal preparations are widely in use the European Medicines Agency has published an assessment report
in addition the producer had no license to produce or distribute medicines in Austria
although Ukrain was illegally sold, adverse drug reactions ( severe liver damages) are nown.
Slightly off topic but just so I can appreciate all the links in the forum: What exactly does the acronym PCT stand for? (see the article on gponline Ernst posted) Being a Non-brit I am just vaguely familiar with the British healthcare system and acronyms other than NHS are a tad problematic. Especially considering that most of them will be used here eventually.
In a UK medical context, PCT means primary care trust; the local bodies who decide what patients can get without paying out of your own pockets. To confuse us all, the NHS seems to get re-organised with unfailing regularity, and most of its elements get re-named. By the time everyone knows what a PCT is, it has a different name and a slightly different function.
I am a carpenter with a bachelor’s degree and perhaps out of my depth among such esteemed doctors and debaters. I have used and benefitted from chiropractic over twenty years and had:amazing results 10%, good results 40%, mediocre results 40%, and WTF 10%. The best results came from a practitioner who spent as much time as needed discussing lifestyle and dietary issues that might also be contributing factors to my pains and health problems. His technique was fairly gentle and his listening and observational skills were like those of the iconic family physician.
Still, I like to think that at my core I retain the ability to throw it all out the window as poppycock. For that reason I will pay close attention to your blog.
However, I wish the following questions might be addressed:
1-Why have most traditional practitioners lost what I would call “hand skills”, the practice of feeling disturbances in the body and having the skill set to correct them. This whole area has been given over to every stripe of bodywork therapist and masseur, as well as chiropractors.
2-Let’s assume that getting adequate amounts of sleep, water, exercise and nutritious food could reduce health problems by 50%. Why doesn’t the traditional heath care system devote half of its resources to that end? Perhaps because it is too commonsensical and without any profit.
If I get hit by a car today, I won’t be asking for a lift to the health food store. I will gratefully avail myself of every life and limb saving modality the hospital has to offer. But in that large gray zone between a headache and bodily trauma, where is it prudent to place ones trust? Who is looking closely at the hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies? Who is looking at the profit streams, marketing and commercial and philosophical underpinnings of that powerful behemoth of healthcare?
I appreciate your shining a light on the mumbo jumbo of alternative therapies. But aren’t scams and fraud woven into the fabric of all large systems? Politics? The financial sector? Agriculture? The military? Big Pharm? Large systems have the benefit of having won (or bought) the acceptance of their basic presuppositions. What do we do if the whole foundation is rotten?
I suspect my comments are way off topic. Keep up the good work.
Perhaps the commenting Dr could avoid argumentum ad hominem? Personal attacks neither prove nor disprove nor add value to the discussion.
Found your blog via BOING BOING, looking forward to your work here. Wondering if you know anything about using cannabis oil to cure skin cancer?
Cured: A Cannabis Story (A film by David Triplett) (about 10 minutes runtime)
Run from the cure, The Rick Simpson Story (about one hour runtime)
Also here from Boing-Boing, which alerted readers to a scientific review of ‘alternate’ medical treatments. But in this post I find studies dismissed with the suggestion that Ukranians don’t understand the scientific method, and an unproven accusation by a government used to try to discredit a treatment. Based on the subsequent post, one would expect the author to be careful about lobbing unfounded accusations.
This product may be entirely snake oil, but the above don’t add to the conversation. Are any of those integrative treatment centers mentioned doing a randomized double-blind study? That would at least be science.
It would be great if this blog were dedicated to the scientific exploration of such treatments and/or hoaxes.
mk: I know very little about cannabis for cancer and advise great caution.
Bill: I did not say that “Ukrainians don’t understand the scientific method”; I did review the studies in question and found them wanting for several reasons which are fully discussed in the publication that I linked to – in my book, this is science.
Gregory’s comment may have been off-topic, however it was a refreshing and succinct elucidation of my own opinion and I hope it has merit to the author as he looks to find his focus in this new venue.
It is the violence of adjustments in chiropractic care that I myself am wary of – but it’s the hands on aspect, and the wholistic nature of many alternative practices, that has been lost in allopathic practice. The last time I went for an infection the doctor literally stood three feet away while I opened my mouth for him to “look”. This is typical, not unusual. For the privledge of this, a check of my blood pressure, two hours of waiting and a prescription I was charged $300. And this from a “compassionate” care clinic. And yes, I had bathed that day!
And it’s not just that it’s lacking – our current medicial system is full of its own quackery and more often than not seems to do more harm than help. The statistics on death by hospital infections, medical procedure mistakes and drug interactions would have had an individual doctor run up the flagpole, except these are institutions, and therefore immune to true ethical standards. I have joined the camp that believes we haven’t found any “cures” for things such as cancer because it’s not in big pharma’s interest to do so. They profit from sickness not health.
By all means please examine the alternative modalities, criticize and ferret out the good from the bad, but please keep in mind the reason they are embraced – it is an empowering and welcomed option to the darkness of our modern medical system, and it is that option that helps us regular folk keep a grip on our humanity, which is far more precious than life and limb.
Dawn, I’m baffled at your comments that big pharma does “profit from sickness not health” and your calling our modern medical system “darkness.” Of course pharma (and doctors) “profit from sickness.” Do you expect them to do what they do for free? I was once injured and my life was saved by our medical system, not by “alternative modalities,” whatever those are. And the doctors and hospital got paid. I’m a university professor, so I guess you could say that I “profit from ignorance.” That is, I get paid money to teach ignorant students so they end up not being ignorant. Do food stores “profit from hunger”? Well, they sell food to hungry people. By definition, “alternative modalities” do not work. If they were proven to work, they would be used by the masses and would automatically become “conventional.” Virtually all alternative medicine (1) has been tested and has been shown not to work, (2) is being tested and the jury is still out (rare), or (3) has never been tested (probably because the “method” is so obviously useless). Again, if some alternative method actually works, people would use it and it would no longer be “alternative.”
I have a few things on the evidence about cannabis as a general cancer cure. Cancer is a collective term for approximately 200 different diseases. Every cell type in your body can (in principle) develop into its own type of cancer. On top of that individual cancer cells in every cancer are also different from one another. On top of that, the cancer cells interact in very complex ways with the surrounding normal cells. So it is not all that surprising that we don’t have, and most likely won’t find a single cure for all cancers.
This also applies to cannabis. The notion that cannabis (or more precisely THC) comes from experiments on cultured cancer cells in dishes or implanted in mice.
But a cancer in a human is not the same as a cancer cell line in a dish or injected into a mouse. Such experiments are important in selecting a substance that might be developed into a useful anti-cancer drug. But you can’t jump directly from results of such experiments to effects in humans. This is explained in further details here: http://anaximperator.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/if-it-works-in-a-mouse-it-works-in-a-man-right-well-not-necessarily/
There are currently ongoing clinical trials that aim at answering if THC will be useful as part of treatment of some cancers. The fact that anti-cancer capabilities of cannabis is being researched proves that it is not being suppressed.
Here is a balanced, honest and up to date review of the results of cannabis research, and the conclusions that can be drawn from it: http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/07/25/cannabis-cannabinoids-and-cancer-the-evidence-so-far/
Dr. Ernst, can I call you Edzard?
I found you via Steven Barrett’s Consumer Health Digest newsletter, and I’m glad I did. Excellent work on this piece and I look forward to reading more.
I’m a blue-collar, under-educated, autodidact-nobody with a technical trades background, a somewhat bizarre obsession with the scientific method, and an unfortunate curiosity about deviant – aka “alternative” – “science/physics/energy/medicine/history/etc.” concepts, the people who create/spread/believe them, and why.
It would appear that you have a healthy(?) mix of both scientifically minded researchers, and some typically fallacy-ignorant alt-med cheerleaders and/or commercial shill-bots commenting already. So, yea… have fun with that.
My previous experiences, that include the Flat Earth Society Forum (yes, they really claim it’s flat), have shown that a clear distinction can be made between one type of commentator and the other, usually. The patterns are easy to pick out, and the results are predictably consistent. Rarely, some actual debate (both sides learning) can be found, but all to frequently fleeting, off-topic and a trivial side-show.
I look forward to seeing how things pan out here, and to be quite honest seeing how you hold up to it. I’m not familiar with your other online works, so I don’t know what to expect. I myself am only beginning to learn the fine art of debating a woo-woo without verbally stabbing them in the throat at every anecdote or pseudo-scientific gibberish spill. It’s the personal attacks that lack even a trace of intellectual meat that sting the most of course; I’m not sure I’m cut out for it.
Good luck, sir. I’ll be around.
yes, of course you can call me edzard – I know lots of people who call me worse names than that!
Dear Edzard, thank you very much for looking at this, but I find your article above puzzling and frustrating. You don’t answer the one question that we are interested in: what were the results from the integrative cancer centers like?
My mother died of cancer 15 years ago. There was some talk about ukrain at that time because it was the only alternative to chemotherapy, but no clear results were available. Now my father has leukemia and we still don’t know whether ukrain works.
You seem to imply that the fact Dr Nowicky is a crook proves that ukrain does not work – of course it doesn’t.
I see above that there may be a problem with supply, but the stuff is patented, so any lab can look up the method of making it in 5 mins
In fact he kindly describes the method in his abstract which he doesn’t need to do!
I assume that oncologists are not mean bastards, but they seem to be excessively worried about having their names associated with anything alternative. Maybe not mean bastards, but apparently cowards.
I find the whole thing baffling
Best wishes, Patrick
the results from integrative medicine centres are not published, to the best of my knowlwdge. even if they were available, they would be very difficult to interpret – there are too many confounders in such data. only controlled trials can provide reliable informations, and there were reviewed in our article.
Edzard, it would be fantastic if you could look at this again.
Take a look at this site
Ukrain – a new cancer cure? A systematic review of randomised clinical trials.
“ Numerous pre-clinical and clinical investigations seem to suggest that Ukrain is pharmacologically active and clinically effective. ” ukrain is effective
“ CONCLUSION: The data from randomised clinical trials suggest Ukrain to have potential as an anticancer drug. ”
ukrain is applicable
That is selective quotation and a dishonest interpretation of your article.
But now look here:
Our findings demonstrate the in vitro and in vivo cytotoxic effects of Ukrain on breast cancer cells and may provide insight into designing Ukrain-based therapies for breast cancer patients.
Is anyone saying that these scientists from the Emory University School of Medicine are cranks, or lazy, or lacking in scientific integrity?
I assume not, but Dr. Nowicky published his first articles about Ukrain in the 1980s. Why has it taken 30 years for the Experimental Oncology article to appear?
And, if it doesn’t work, where are the negative results?
It seems to me that both sides are guilty of a lack of integrity. On the whole I find it easier to forgive the alternative bunch because they sincerely believe that the pharma-global capitalistic conspiracy doesn’t want to find a cure for cancer.
Can anyone tell me what the heck is going on here?
Thank you – Patrick
our review was clearly mis-quoted. the evidence is NOT AT ALL convincing!
OK I take back some of what I said. There may be problems with the evidence, and it does seem to be too good to be true. However it is good to see that there is some recent lab work, at least with the plant material.
I am desperately looking for a drug for my mother who have a breast cancer. That is how I heard for Ukrain. I am not medical person, but i have read all studies for this drug. All of them showed the positive effects of this drug, and the little or not side effect. But, the question is why is the inventor arrested, because his invention was a potential cancer cure and this was contra to the profits of the pharmaco – mafia. In the past decades, it is evident that each drug that was proclaimed as a cure for the cancer and HIV had never saw the light of the day. But does those pharmaco-profiteers are aware how many people desperately needs a cure for cancer, but they are interested just for how much profits makes the pharmaceutical companies, unfortunately.
I have sympathy and empathy for your situation. however, I do not recommend to pin hopes on ukrain.
I wanted to read more about this fraud arrest, but I can’t find any reference to it on the internet – other than Dr. Ernst comments, which have no reference. Nor do they suggest any source.
It’s funny how unashamed and unaware some are about their own hypocrisy.
You mean you could find nothing about the arrests other than what Prof Ernst says above, and the press release by the Austrian Police he linked to?
might it be the right moment for Michael to apologise?
1. If you read
which is an article from 17 December 1896 of the weekly journal “Nature”, you will find that Chelidonium was mentioned to heal cancer as early 1491.
2. Chelidonium succeeded in healing the warts on my hand (18 years ago) and my foot (this year). Looking at the name
Chel + donum = “gift from the sky” in Latin, it might be that the knowledge comes from the inhabitants of the Roman Empire.
Now I read on Wikipedia that:
“Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).” and ” “high-risk” HPV types are associated with cancers”.
3. If my warts simply disappeared in a matter of days without side effects, WHY shouldn’t it be very effective in all types of HPV-associated cancers?
4. Alternative… during hundreds of years chelidonium and other natural sources were THE cure in Europe while the Chinese traditional medicin has thousands of years of verified success in Asia. I still have very hard to understand how a mass-murder weapon became the “established” cure of cancer after WW2
and why all verified folk-medicine knowledge got into this unsupported side group of “alternative”… shouldn’t it be the other way around?
How is it going to look in 50 years ? I hope not the same as today. I hope laboratories around the world will open their “eyes”!
I hope you’re not attempting an appeal to antiquity fallacy are you? Chelidonium may well have been claimed to treat cancer for thousands of years, but that does not mean it is effective. Only properly conducted trials would show that.
That is an unverified and unverifiable anecdote and tells us nothing about Chelidonium.
It might be. However, that still tells us nothing about whether or not Chelidonium is effective.
May be, but it still tells us nothing about whether or not Chelidonium is effective.
Why should it?
Please provide full details of a single verified instance of chelidonium curing cancer.
Because there is good evidence it works.
No, because there is no good evidence it works.
Are you open to the possibility that you are wrong?
Hello everyone. I’ve seen that most of comments are out of topic. I just want to mention that there is not to much interest in the plant based medicines, alternative therapies and so called energy healers because the pharmaceutical industry is too big and is such a good business that there is no interest in developing a cure for any illness because then the profit will decrease. The drugs mafia is too big and the only thing we can do is to trust our intuition and our body signs. Just bare in your minds that they just think we are too many anyway and they just experiment on us. Good health for all!
That’s a non sequitur, but what about the pharmaceutical companies that sell homeopathic products, herbal products, etc? Are they doing any research?
That’s one of the last things we should do.
Who does? But can you reconcile your assertion that ‘they’ want to reduce the population with your assertion that ‘they’ want to also increase their profits? Or are you referring to different people?