Cancer cure pills for ₹100 a possibility soon? What do oncologists have to say?

The tablet, which is the outcome of research and testing, has been the subject of both intrigue and caution within the medical community.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Feb 29, 2024 | 8:00 AMUpdatedFeb 29, 2024 | 1:58 PM

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Doctors and researchers at the Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai have made headlines with their announcement of a breakthrough tablet, costing just ₹100, designed to not only prevent the recurrence of cancer but also to significantly reduce the side effects associated with traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation by up to 50 percent.

The tablet, which is the outcome of over a decade of meticulous research and testing, has been the subject of both intrigue and caution within the medical community.

Dr Rajendra Badve, a senior cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital and a key member of the research team, said in a TV interview that the research involved introducing human cancer cells into rats, leading to tumour formation.

Subsequent treatment with radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery revealed that dying cancer cells release chromatin particles that can potentially induce cancer in healthy cells.

To counter this, the team developed a pro-oxidant tablet containing resveratrol — a natural compound found in grapes and berries — and copper (R+Cu), which produces oxygen radicals capable of destroying these harmful particles.

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What are these cancer-cure tablets?

Researchers claim that the combination of resveratrol and copper — referred to as R-Cu — has been shown to generate oxygen radicals that could deactivate harmful cell-free chromatin particles (cfChPs), released by dying cancer cells during chemotherapy.

These cfChPs can cause damage to healthy cells and lead to side effects associated with cancer treatments.

“Human cancer cells were inserted in rats for the research, which formed a tumour in them. The rats were then treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery,” Badve told news channel NDTV.

“It was found that when these cancer cells die, they break into tiny pieces called chromatin particles. These particles can travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and when they enter healthy cells, they can turn them cancerous,” he added.

A phase-II study conducted on patients with advanced gastric cancer receiving docetaxel-based multi-agent chemotherapy showed that while R-Cu did not significantly reduce overall grade ≥ 3 toxicity, it did markedly reduce non-haematological toxicities such as hand-foot syndrome, diarrhoea, and vomiting.

This suggests that R-Cu could potentially make cancer treatments more tolerable for patients by lessening these specific side effects​.

Further research on mice indicated that R-Cu might also have broader health benefits beyond cancer treatment.

The administration of R-Cu was associated with the deactivation or eradication of cfChPs and led to a reduction in various biological markers of ageing in the brain.

This implies that R-Cu might not only be useful in mitigating the side effects of cancer treatments but could also contribute to healthier ageing and potentially reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases​.

Also Read: New cancer treatment is shrinking head and neck tumours by 90%

Cancer cure tablets for ₹100?

The “Magic of R+Cu” tablets, as they are referred to by the researchers, promise not just a reduction in treatment side effects but also a 30-percent efficacy rate in preventing cancer from coming back, particularly targeting pancreatic, lung, and oral cancers.

The research team is currently awaiting approval from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), with hopes of the tablet hitting the market by mid-year at an affordable price.

Badve further explained that the tablet was estimated to cost only ₹100, and that its side effects had been tested on humans and in rats. However, prevention-of-cancer tests had been done only in rats.

“While the budget for cancer treatment ranges from lakhs to crores, this tablet will be available everywhere for just ₹100. Human trials are expected to take approximately five years to complete,” said Badve.

Also Read: IIT-Madras researchers patent use of Indian spices to treat cancer

In simpler terms

Starting point: The researchers began by studying what happens to cancer cells when they are treated with the usual cancer treatments. They found that when cancer cells die, they break apart into tiny pieces.

The problem: These tiny pieces, known as chromatin particles, can travel through the bloodstream and potentially enter healthy cells. Once inside, they can cause these healthy cells to become cancerous, leading to the spread of cancer in the body.

The solution: To tackle this issue, the research team developed a special tablet containing two key ingredients — resveratrol (a substance found in grapes and berries known for its antioxidant properties) and copper. When this tablet is taken, it releases substances called oxygen radicals in the stomach, which quickly enter the bloodstream.

How it works: These oxygen radicals are capable of destroying the chromatin particles, thereby preventing them from entering healthy cells and turning them cancerous. This action not only helps prevent cancer from spreading (a process known as metastasis) but also reduces the toxic side effects associated with chemotherapy.

Affordability and availability: The researchers are hopeful that once approved, the tablet will be affordable at as low a cost as ₹100, and could significantly reduce the financial burden of cancer treatment.

Also Read: What is CAR-T cell therapy and how can it help ‘cure cancer’ in India?

What do other oncologists say?

Despite these promising claims, a significant portion of the oncology community is adopting a stance of cautious optimism.

Many oncologists preferred to reserve their judgments until a comprehensive peer-reviewed publication of the research was available, especially considering that human trials were yet to be conducted.

The lack of data from human trials, which is expected to span at least five years, has led some in the field to withhold comments as they emphasised the importance of thorough validation before embracing new treatments.

While the researcher called it a “big success”, other oncologists are saying that it was still early days, despite the research looking promising for now.

Hyderabad’s Osmania Medical College Oncology MD Dr Dharmula Sagar told South First about the pills, “They are not for cure. They are only to prevent the recurrence of cancer after the main treatment.”

He noted the tendency of many cancers to recur months or years following the primary treatment, and highlighted the potential of a new pill to reduce these chances of recurrence.

Asked about its proven efficacy, Sagar simply said, “Not yet in humans”, suggesting that the pill’s use was currently limited to clinical trials under strict surveillance and supervision for patients who have already undergone cancer treatment.

Dr Nitin Yashas, a medical oncologist and haemato-oncologist at Manipal Hospitals, said there had been many natural extracts or compounds over the years used for the reduction of chemotherapy-related toxicities such as mouth ulcers and fatigue.

He pointed particularly to compounds such as curcumin (obtained from turmeric), honey, and ginseng extracts.

He said, “Some of these compounds have also demonstrated evidence of anti-cancer activity based on preclinical animal studies or Phase 1 and Phase 2 studies by down-regulating certain inflammatory markers or pathways involved in cancer, but most of them are not recommended by guidelines as standard of care.”

Yashas added that though it was heartening to note that a cost-effective natural compound containing resveratrol and copper could play a pivotal role in reducing the side effects of chemotherapy, “We need to also understand that long-term follow-up studies need to be done in humans and compared with current standards of care treatment in a randomised control trial to prove it’s effectiveness as an anti-cancer drug.”

The doctors claimed that real-world outcomes for cancer patients were paramount, and that it was premature to claim its usability for cancer treatment in the absence of a thorough examination of potential toxicities and the DNA-damaging effects.

They also said clearance from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) was crucial as the FSSAI was a food regulator and could not authorise medicines.

However, the human trial period for any drug is five years, noted Sagar, adding that this pill was currently limited only to clinical trials, and expecting a drug by 2024 was highly unlikely.