Vidatox: Cuban Medicine Defies Logic and Reason

*this post first appeared on the Swift blog at www.randi.org on December 5th 2011

Over the past several weeks promotion of the newly licensed Cuban anti-cancer medication Vidatox has been evident. The venom from the Cuban scorpion Rhopalurus junceus is the base for this supposed cancer treatment, and the manufacturer has received permission from the Chinese and Albanian governments to distribute the remedy in those countries.  The treatment was previously only available in Cuba but they are now seeking licensure and distribution opportunities abroad, including, we must assume, Canada and Mexico (due to the US embargo, Vidatox could not be imported into the US). It remains, however, a dubious and dangerous treatment that is worth our skeptical attention and we must remind our governments and regulatory agencies that its sale should not be allowed.

There is research into the venom of R. junceus and its components, and it may indeed have anti-tumoral properties that deserve further research. This paper available on the Cuban digital library system Infomed, as well as PubMed, describes the effects of the venom on molecular and cellular systems, including mouse models.   There are other papers to be found on Pubmed also describing the qualities of the scorpion venom, but this interesting research becomes immediately irrelevant when we look closer at the Vidatox product.

Vidatox is a homeopathic preparation at the 30CH potency. As such, it defies the basic principles of chemistry and physics that we all know well.   We do not need to reiterate the poor reasoning of homeopaths here as homeopathy has been covered enough on this site for readers to understand its fantastical nature. The chance of the presence of a single molecule of any of the 5 proteins said to be the active ingredients in the product is extremely low.  Even more, as this is an oral medication, the chance of the proteins making it though the gut would be zero, if they were even present.

 A closer look, however, at the evidence put forward by the state-run Laboratorios Biológicos Farmacéuticos, or Labiofam, reveals information that is infuriatingly deceptive.  The “evidence” page on the marketing website for Vidatox lists study after study about the undiluted testing of the venom of the R. junceus species as well as related scorpians, but makes no reference to direct testing of the Vidatox product.  Even more, the only information resembling a study that I could find published is a phase IV trial protocol listed on the site of the international distributer of the product Pharmamatrix.  This phase IV trial describes an open-label (meaning un-blinded) and uncontrolled post-approval test of the product; a standard procedure for any regular drug approved by the FDA or Health Canada.  The catch is, of course, that there is no record of a published phase I, II, or III trial of the drug and in fact no record of any testing of the product on Pubmed, Google Scholar, or even on the Cuban Infomed server.

This is, sadly, not surprising from the manufacturer of a natural health product.  Little Mountain Homeopathy, the bane of Canadian skeptics, is promoting Vidatox, despite it is lack of approval from Health Canada, for the treatment of cancer.  The study listed on that site (without a reference) was presented at a recent conference put on by the manufacturer to support the launch of the international registration of the product, which had previously only been available in Cuba and was the source for medical tourism to that country for treatment of cancer.  In this press release available on Infomed, several papers were presented to the Chinese government when seeking approval, but they appear to remain unpublished and in house information, unavailable for scrutiny.

What is most disturbing is the claim that Vidatox had already been tested on 10 000 patients in Cuba, including 3500 foreign patients who had travelled to Cuba.  This is very troublesome language in the context of drug testing.  Prior to any drug being approved for use therapeutically, it must be shown to be efficacious.  In the case of Vidatox, as is the case for most alt-med therapeutics, it was decided that it should work and it was given experimentally to anyone who would pay for it as a standard treatment.  It is unethical for a physician to give an experimental treatment outside of an approved trial and it is doubtful that any institutional review board approved such treatment.  The trial of 174 patients listed on LMH website is unavailable online and appears to be completely unconnected to any peer-reviewed journal.  It is far too credulous to accept this study as proof of efficacy directly from the company in the context of what is essentially a product launch, and homeopaths espousing their scientific acumen should be vilified if they use this data to justify Vidatox’s use to treat cancer or its symptoms.

What is even more incomprehensible is the use of such a preparation at all, in the context of homeopathy. which purports to individualize treatment for a patient, and adhere to the “law of similars”. Labiofam used to produce the full concentration product as Escozul, which may have been shown in vitro studies to have cytotoxic effects (see above). With the “law of similars”, this means that the homeopathic prep should be used to protect against cytotoxic effects, not produce these anti-tumor effects like the mother tincture. As well, where are the homeopathic “provings” or “triturations” for Vidatox, and why is it appropriate to prescribe its use for everyone’s cancer given the supposed variability of a patient’s complete and holistic symptoms?  It is nothing short of hypocrisy to promote homeopathy as treating the patient not the disease and then turn to medicines that are marketed to treat a specific disease.  It belies the ideological backflips that homeopaths will go through to justify their system of medicine, and shows their treatment decisions to be not only externally inconsistent, but internally inconsistent as well.

Vidatox, Labiofam and Pharmamatrix have all ignored my email requests for the studies they purport to have to support the use of Vidatox for cancer treatment.  Labiofam is a large pharmaceutical company in Cuba and produces mainstream medical products as well as non-medical lifestyle, cleaning and plastic-based products.  They must have scientists trained in biochemistry, molecular biology, medicine and other disciplines required to produce such products.  To promote what is, at the 30CH or 10^60 dilution, a very cheap drug to manufacture, and with in-house experts who would be terrible scientists not to realize the unsupportable claims of this drug it is nothing short of fraud and should be treated as such.

Labiofam and its distributers have been taking advantage of those suffering from cancer and the side-effects of its conventional treatment for years; the travel costs alone would strain the budgets of most people, and combined with individuals who do not have good insurance and who had already laid out tens of thousands of dollars for mainstream diagnosis and treatment of cancer, we have fraud at its worst: selling false hope to the disadvantaged.  We must keep the product from being licensed in Canada and Mexico in order to prevent injury to those North Americans suffering from this already intractable disease.

 

*According to this investigation of the history of scientific publication in Cuba, the Infomed system, which is the primary system by which medical investigators share knowledge in post-soviet Cuba, exists without peer-review; it is only an information sharing system, so the competition of ideas which exists in mainstream publishing, even in open-access publications, does not exist to winnow out the bad ideas from the good.

11 Responses to “Vidatox: Cuban Medicine Defies Logic and Reason”

  1. Even if this was a safe, functional drug with a plausible mechanism and plausible route of uptake… why on earth would something that works on prostate cancer also work on melanoma? The properties of the tumours are so drastically different you may as well say “Eczema causes breaks in the skin, and so does an open fracture – treat them both with this miracle product!”

    What’s scariest about this product is that they say all the right things on the “how it works” page regarding angiogenesis – any slightly skeptical person with access to Google could look it up and see that anti-angiogenics are the latest strategy in our anti-tumor arsenal. The whole thing is blatantly designed to mislead.

  2. Matt says:

    Make no mistake about it, this is a fraud.
    However, thinking about it; it’s well thought out and not badly executed fraud.

    Sure, there are no studies to directly support the product claims and even in the most glowing testimonials; the patient died.
    But, let’s look at this from the perspective of the Cuban government.

    The donor scorpion is only found in Cuba. (It’s actually found in a couple of other Caribbean countries but they either don’t have the wherewithal to produce this product or are very friendly to Cuba) This is great. And so the myth begins; an indigenous scorpion has been studied for decades in Cuba and found to have magical healing properties. No one else has discovered this because no one else has this scorpion. Perfect.

    A 30C preparation (1 in 10^60) is perfectly safe, there is absolutely no risk of doing any harm at this dilution. There is no need at all to go the ridiculous (and expensive) lengths of producing a 200C dilution. So, now we have a safe and inexpensive product.

    Cuba already has an operational healthcare tourism industry.

    All we need is for a world renowned documentary film maker to come to Cuba and “discover” the fantastic Cuban healthcare system and demonstrate how it is so much superior to arguably the best healthcare system in the world. Cue Michael Moore … done and done. If I was running this fraud I’d be almost giddy by this time.

    So, put it all together; an inexpensive product to produce that can only be found in Cuba, no promises that the product actually works and an industry ready and able to support an influx of tourists looking for this treatment. No risk, all gain; an excellent money making formula.

    So far they’ve had about 3500 foreign patients. Each one probably stayed for a number of weeks or months and each of them probably brought along at least one person to accompany them. Something in the range of 40,000 to 100,000 tourist weeks. Not insignificant, but a drop in the bucket compared to Cuba’s ~ 2,000,000 tourist weeks per year. What else can be done?

    License this product to be sold in a couple of special countries. Not countries with strong homeopathic testing requirements but rather countries that don’t regulate homeopathic preparations at all.

    Cuba has a strong vaccine program in place, while it’s completely contrary to homeopathic ideas, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see more “exclusive miracle cures” coming out of this program and generating even more (much needed) tourism and biomedical sales.

  3. Marie Linton says:

    Oh Oh, didn’t we just find a Cancer drug produced in the United States that did not have all the listed components… All because it’s Cuba. Come on now, my mother takes it and it is working.

    • Art Tricque says:

      Homeopathy does not work whether it is from Cuba or anywhere else. Thanks for (not) taking the two minutes of trouble to check whether or not this blog discriminates as to the country of origin (<a href="http://www.skepticnorth.com/tag/homeopathy/"have a look). And “…my mother takes it and it is working” is an anecdote that does not qualify as proof of anything.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your mother’s cancer and I hope she goes on to make a full recovery. I can understand your desperation to try anything that might help. I’m sure you recognize that she still needs to take medical advice from a specialist for her treatment. As Art has pointed out, homeopathy doesn’t work (can’t work), so any improvement you’re seeing is either going to be the placebo effect or a spontaneous regression of the disease. Either way she still needs to be followed medically and treated appropriately!

      (And for the record, I know some very excellent physicians in Cuba and sadly had to turn down a month training there over the summer due to schedule conflicts. Criticism of this product has nothing to do with criticism of Cuban medicine.)

  4. LillyR says:

    Yes and that is why most of the cancer drugs sold by the bigger pharmaceutical drug companies is acceptable to some of you!! in Canada/USA when it has been known that many of those drugs cause heart attacks, serious allergic death threatening reactions, including many serous drugs side effects.. some have been withdrawn from the market quietly, because yes ordinary citizens can’t fight the big pharmaceutical companies that produced this killer drugs
    No need to go any further, if one is educated, intelligent and wants to seek the truth and be knowledgeable search the big wide INTERNET!!! No need to be brains washed by anyone on here..
    Little known CUBA comes along with a cancer drug that works, then hell breaks loose! why because it should be only USA or Canada or some country in Europe that should have discovered a winning cancer drug.. ha!!ha!! it ain’t happening! CUBA HAS IT ! PERIOD! as for the mother that is taking the VIDATOC CANCER DRUG. continue my dear.. you will live longer, look to those who want to help rather than those pharmaceutical companies that have lined their pockets with $$Billions without a care for suffering for humans… some if test on humans.. GOOD JOB CUBA!
    AS FOR CANADA IT WOULD BE THEIR LOSS IF THEY DON’T ALLOW DISTRIBUTION..but any Canadian can buy it from Cuba or Europe! if they seriously want to be cured of cancers!! enuff said!!

    • NEKITA says:

      WELL SAID

    • remilove says:

      VDATOX WORKS GREAT FOR MY MOTHER IN LAW. AFTER ALL THE CHEMO THAT ALMOST KILLED HER, SHE QUIT CHEMO TO TRY THIS CUBAN MASTERPIECE AND SHE HAS NEVER BEEN BETTER.
      TO BAD THE U.S. DIDN’T DISCOVER IT FIRST, GUESS WHO WOULD BE SINGING A DIFFERENT SONG!

    • SONIAB says:

      You go Girl! Well Said Lilly I agree 100 percent. My grandfather is taking this, we figured he has tried all the chemo and radiation that would of probably killed him much faster with all the side effects.

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    Michael is an advanced-care paramedic in York Region, just north of Toronto, Ontario. A semi-retired theatrical lighting designer as well, he re-trained in 2005 as an EMT-PS at the University of Iowa and as an ACP at Durham College, and is currently working towards a B.Sc at the University of Toronto. Michael is a founder and the chair of the board of directors of Bad Science Watch. He is also the recipient of the first annual Barry Beyerstein Award for Skepticism. Follow Michael on twitter @anxiousmedic. Michael's musings are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer or Bad Science Watch.