Such a comfort

Miss Cellania picked up this bit of newsprint, sourced from Freakonomics:

Miracle cure kills fifth patient

After a few minutes of eyestrain, I was able to locate a Web version of the story, with a different headline. It dates to 1993:

A fifth volunteer died Tuesday from an experimental drug touted as a miracle cure for hepatitis B, beyond medical rescue even as scientists unraveled the mystery of what went gravely wrong in a clinical trial.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have agonized over the fact that the first clue was in sight a year ago, but they didn’t know enough about how the drug worked to recognize what it meant, the study’s lead scientist says.

And he wasn’t kidding, either:

The drug, Fialuridine, or FIAU, had shown great promise for fighting the hepatitis B virus, which can cause deadly cirrhosis and liver cancer. When animals passed toxicity tests unharmed, the Food and Drug Administration approved FIAU for human trials.

Too late, scientists would discover that in humans, FIAU stealthily attacks the very building blocks of cells in livers, kidneys and nerves.

Two decades later, there are some drugs that actually seem to help.


  1. sya »

    19 December 2012 · 7:25 pm

    My first thought was: why didn’t they test the drug on a human cell line first before actually giving it to people? They could have at the very least, dosed a bunch of HeLa cells to see what it would do. But after a cursory search of the literature, I only saw it tested on rabbit, mouse, and monkey cells before they started the clinical trials. Someone, I think, skipped a couple steps and screwed up royally while trying to pursue the big game.

  2. McGehee »

    20 December 2012 · 7:50 am

    Cases like FIAU will of course be used to justify FDA’s normally glacial approval process.

  3. CGHill »

    20 December 2012 · 5:26 pm

    And with winter coming on, I expect the Feds to initiate a glacier approval process, what with all that global warming and such.

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