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What's in a cancer drug name? Maybe a $1.5M cash windfall for researchers

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Of all the unconventional methods being hatched to fund drug research these days, a team at Sweden's prestigious Uppsala University may get the prize for creativity. Faced with a marked lack of appetite from potential industry collaborators, the investigators say they're willing to name their experimental cancer immunotherapy treatment after anyone who comes up with a £1 million ($1.51 million) contribution to the cause.

"We have developed a virus that was effective in mice, but it's been in the freezer for the past two years because the trials in humans are too expensive for an academic center," gene therapy professor Magnus Essand tells the Financial Times. This particular therapy will be tested for neuroendocrine cancer, a rare disease that killed Apple's Steve Jobs not so long ago.

Essand's group developed a modified cold virus to fight the cancer, an approach which has been met with significant success recently on the part of several U.S.-based researchers and biotechs. But the chief investigator tells the FT that an early publication of the work thwarted any chance at patent protection--the kiss of death for any potential commercialization partner. And he's hoping that some wealthy benefactor more interested in fame than fortune will take the risk of putting a name on the drug so he can test it in 20 patients.

The odds of success, though, can't be very good. Therapies typically fail the jump from animal to human research. That's particularly true for oncology R&D, often proving over and over that mice can make very poor specimens for cancer drug research. But given the stakes, the early-stage success of similar attempts and the chance, however slight, of making a name for yourself in the cancer field for a mere $1.5 million, some rich individual may feel that's a gamble worth taking.   

- here's the report from the Financial Times

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