The monoclonal antibody F77 and media “over-hype”

“Found, the super molecule to kill prostate cancer cells,” trumpeted the MailOnline. And worse still, “A miracle molecule has been discovered that offers the hope of saving men with currently incurable prostate cancer,” screamed the Press Association.

Of course the truth is vastly less dramatic, and so far we haven’t been able to identify the media release that stimulated these reactions.

These eye-catching headlines were created on the basis of a report by Zhang et al., available on line in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science since earlier this month. What Dr. Zhang and his colleagues have actually shown is that in mice a monoclonal antibody or MAb called F77 binds selectively to cell surface antigens specifically associated with androgen-dependent and androgen-independent prostate cancer cells.

Is this scientifically interesting? Absolutely, it certainly is. Additional data provided by Zhang et al. suggest the possibility that F77 may be able to identify, bind to, and define a unique prostate cancer marker and that F77 may therefore have significant potential in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer, especially for androgen-independent metastatic prostate cancer.

However, this is a long way from saying that F77 is “A miracle molecule” that can save men with “incurable prostate cancer.” There’s probably another 5 years of research needed before we could even think about the possibility of a clinical trial of F77 to see if it might work in men with prostate cancer.

Media hype based on early science of this type is near to criminally negligent. It’s not as though there is even a tiny, Phase I clinical trial of F77 that anyone with late stage prostate cancer could go and enroll in. In fact, we have no idea whether it is possible to administer F77 to a human at all! On the other hand, the media didn’t all stumble over this paper by accident. Someone, somewhere “set up” this story, and the media “bit,” without doing anything like enough homework.

One of the few things that the media did get right in the coverage of this story is that, to date, we have been monumentally unsuccessful in the development of “targeted” drugs to treat prostate cancer based on MAb technology. However, that isn’t for lack of trying! It seems to be particularly hard to identify MAbs that really are appropriately selective for cell surface or other antigens specifically associated with certain types of cancer. Why is that? We don’t know (yet).

Lots of people (at drug companies and in universities around the world) have been working on this, so maybe F77 is the beginning of a breakthrough. However, readers need to understand that for every 5,000 candidate drugs that make it into animal studies, about 1 will make it all the way through the clinical trials system and get approved to treat a specific disorder in humans.

There is no doubt in my mind that, in time, we will develop MAb-based technologies that can be used to treat men with progressive forms of prostate cancer — and other serious forms of cancer. However, as we struggle toward this difficult goal, it would be helpful if the media could (at least sometimes) resist their desire to “sell newspapers”  and tell something approaching the truth — especially when it comes to the impact on people with life-threatening diseases!

If this is “all the news that’s fit to print,” I’ll stick to reading the prostate cancer literature directly!

15 Responses

  1. You know guys I have here for a short and I reality as it really is. Hope is a very powerful drug. Be real and do not destroy hope. If in 5 years it is not ready I will go to a third world country and try it to save my life.

  2. Dear Mr. Williams:

    It is reasonable “hope” that we would VERY much like to preserve … Many of the media reports about F77 are no more than outrageous scribbling touting a fantasy that could only be fulfilled in Narnia.

  3. This patent shows that mAB F77 has been under previous study a long time ago already.

  4. Dear Mr. Venema: I am not sure that there is any specific reference in the patent you refer to to the MAb F77. Certainly prostate cancer-specific MAbs have been under study for a good 20 years, and Cytogen, the company mentioned in that patent, was one of the earliest to try to develop MAb-based treatments for prostate cancer.

    Perhaps of greater interest is a paper by Carroll et al., published in 1984, that seems to refer to a very similar antibody. The senior author of the two papers, Dr. Greene, is the same individual too.

  5. I am sorry, I should have been more specific. In the patent (section 2.3 column 6 lines 6-15), the authors mention the study by Carroll et al., which may have used a similar antibody to the one studied in the recent PNAS article.

    Also there are several references in the list of referring patents which mention treatment of prostate cancer.

  6. Thanks for the clarification.

  7. Well, sceptical old Sitemaster, the media may have hyped it a bit, but the abstract does say:

    “Although the mAb F77 alone directly promotes prostate cancer cell death, it also mediates complement-dependent cytotoxicity and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity. In addition, mAb F77 can significantly inhibit androgen-independent PC3 and Du145 tumor growth in nude mice.”

    So clearly it’s more than just a marker — it shows some signs that it may be a cure.

  8. Dear Mr. Pyke:

    This “sceptical old Sitemaster” never had any problem with what the authors of the paper wrote. However, I would gently suggest that even you continue to “oversell” what they did in fact write.

    The statement which you quote implies only that this antibody may have some degree of clinical effectiveness in the treatment of a specific type of prostate cancer cell line when transplanted into nude mice in the laboratory. That is very different from “a cure.” Every prostate cancer drug on the market today has shown a significant degree of activity in animal models before it was ever given to a human … but so far none of them have successfully affected long-term survival by more than a few months at best.

  9. I don’t think we’re disagreeing except in minor matters of emphasis. I emphasised may and some, just as you did. Yes, there’s a long way to go before we see proof of effectiveness in humans — but if my PSA continues to climb I may volunteer to be part of the first human trial, before deciding that the radical -ectomy is the only safe way.

  10. I see nothing wrong with “unreasonable” hope.

  11. I am 46 and was given 3-5 years. I had my testes removed 6 months ago. My PSA is now 21 and climbing. I have a wife and two kids. Before it’s too late I would give it a try — or if I had to go elsewere. It’s HOPE.

  12. First, sorry for my poor English …

    Hi. My father has cancer of the prostate. Please help me. Can you tell me what hospital or country has this antibody (F77) and how much it costs?


  13. Dear Ali:

    I am sorry to hear about your father, but I do not think that F77 is available for use to treat patients at all — in any country.

    The only data I am aware of related to the possibility that F77 might have a value in the treatment of prostate cancer at some time in the future is from its effects in some laboratory mice. So far I do not believe it has ever been given to a man with prostate cancer, and we have no idea whether it would be either safe or effective in the treatment of prostate cancer patients.

  14. Thank you Sitemaster for fast replay.

    Does that mean that F77 still has not been tested on humans?

    Are you the most effective anti-prostate cancer who introduced me to know?


  15. Dear Ali:

    There is no sign of any information about a clinical trial of F77 on the web site.

    I am sorry but I do not understand your second question.

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