Company Uses Nanobots To Fight Cancer…But Its Not At All What You Thought It Would Be

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Nanobots the size of living cells swimming around our bodies, doing our bidding to fight disease, make repairs, and augment our abilities?  Futurists and sci-fi books have cooked up this fantasy for years, but will it really happen?  Sorry to burst your bubble sci-fi fans, but man-made, fantastic voyage-like motorized nanobots swimming through our bodies simply aren't in our near term future.  Luckily there is another way, and believe it or not a company called Dendreon has already done it!

nanobotFor diseases like metastasized prostate cancer where the disease has spread to perhaps millions of locations throughout the body, treatments are more or less nonexistent.  How are you supposed to fight a disease that is attacking you from so many places?  What is needed is a treatment that can systematically travel throughout the body, seek out the 'enemy', and destroy it one cell at a time.  Translation: we need nanobots!

So what's the catch?  Although Dendreon used nanobots to fight prostate cancer, they didn't make the nanobots themselves!  Instead, Dendreon used the masterfully equipped nanobots that already reside in our bodies.  That's right, I am talking about our own immune system.  Enlisting the billions of cells of the body's immune system as an army of specialized nanobots isn't at all as fascinating as what we see in the movies, but it is every bit as effective and it is available now.

Just a few weeks ago we wrote a story on the breakthrough from Dendreon, but since then there have been some notable developments.

The magic behind Dendreon’s cancer therapy, called Provenge, is that it trains cells from the body’s immune system to identify the unique surface of individual prostate cancer cells anywhere in the body and destroy them.  The idea is not a new one, but Dendreon appears to be the first to have succeeded in making it a reality.

At the time of our last story, Dendreon had announced that its phase 3 trial of Provenge had shown significant success in prolonging the life expectancy of prostate cancer patients, but held off on giving any other details until a meeting scheduled for April 28.  Dendreon's decision to hold off on this data until April 28 created a great deal of suspense and uncertainty, and many questioned whether or not the data was going to be as good as investors (and patients!) had hoped.  To add further drama to the story, a freakish 50% drop in the stock just hours before Dendreon released its results on April 28th is yet to be explained.

To the joy of both investors and patients, however, Dendreon's unveiling of the data on April 28 seems to have met all expectations.  Results were so good, in fact, that Adam Feuerstein, one of Dendreon's harshest critics was forced to make an informative public mea culpa that is worth a read.  The major findings published from the Dendreon trials were as follows:

  • PROVENGE extended median survival by 4.1 months compared to placebo (25.8 months versus 21.7 months)
  • PROVENGE improved 3-year survival by 38% compared to placebo (31.7% versus 23.0%)

Provenge is by no means a cure for metastasized prostate cancer, yet the results above pretty much shatter the effectiveness of any other known treatment and this is a big deal.  With no apparent red flags to speak of, Provenge looks destined for rapid approval by the FDA and will likely be available to patients in less than a year.  The financial side of the story is no small detail either - peak sales are predicted to be in the range of $2 billion.  Dendreon's stock has responded in kind, tripling in value since the story first broke two weeks ago.

Although Dendreon's treatment currently focuses on fighting prostate cancer, the company (and its competitors) will be working furiously in the coming years to harness this same technique to fight other diseases.

Man-made nanobots are a cool idea, and their time will come eventually.  But in the meantime why reinvent the wheel when the nanobots of our immune system are already sitting there, waiting to take our command?  Dendreon shows us that this is indeed a viable (and financially rewarding!) technique, opening the door to an exciting new paradigm in medical treatment.

Discussion — 9 Responses

  • George May 4, 2009 on 6:24 pm

    flawed study. FDA approval denied

  • Keith Kleiner May 4, 2009 on 2:26 pm


    The original study was indeed denied, but this article is based on a followup study to the original study, which has met or exceeded the expectations of even the harshest critics of Dendreon

  • Andy May 4, 2009 on 6:29 pm

    George get your head out of 2007 already. NEW study NEW day!

  • Bill May 4, 2009 on 6:50 pm

    George, how pig-headed are you exactly? Slime…

  • susan May 4, 2009 on 7:01 pm

    it was not Adam Feurerstein that was down on Dendreon, he was actaully rooting fro the treatment m=in 2007 and has ben fair in his coverage. It was Jonathan Aschoff of Brean Murray, who was negative on Dendreon (how about a $1.50 price target – what a genius), who has now changed his tune.

  • grr May 4, 2009 on 7:05 pm

    Not a cure? We don’t know that for sure.

    The patients treated in this study were the sickest patients with the weakest immune systems. Wait until the results are published from the trial that is testing patients earlier in the disease. Dendreon is also learning how to adjust dosages and provide boosters that may increase effectiveness even more.

    Also, the platform used for Prostate Cancer by Dendreon can also be used for many other types of cancer. They have already had favorable results in an early stage breast cancer trial.

    Thanks for your story.

  • pat bennett May 4, 2009 on 3:52 pm

    Paradigm shift; better results than conventional cytoxics/chemotherapy with not a one of the horrific adverse drug reactions that comes with cytotoxic agents that attack ALL rapidly reproducing cell lines (red and white cell producing bone marrow, GI tract, hair etc).

    IMPACT (9902B) trial was well designed 512 patient study that met the gold standard for efficacy. Some 750 patients have now been studied in 3 different phase III efficacy trials ALL demonstrating significantly increased survival in prostate cancer patients with widely metastasized cancer.

  • Don May 4, 2009 on 11:12 pm

    Don’t forget while Dendreon’s nanobots are destroying cancer cells, they are doing so with a remarkably, virtually side-effect profile for cancer at these stages…simply unheard of in cancer treatment today.

    Now if the nanobot in George’s head could only locate and destroy that last remaining brain cell, we’d be all set.

  • Healer May 5, 2009 on 9:50 pm

    I called Dendron for Geroge. Unfortunately they said that not even their nanbots can fix his brain. Too much puss and slime has grown in there.

    Sorry Geroge! :o(