Give them Kalocin

This is from Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel The Andromeda Strain.

Kalocin was perhaps the best-kept American secret of the last decade. Kalocin was a drug developed by Jensen Pharmaceuticals in the spring of 1965, an experimental chemical designated UJ44759W, or K-9 in the short abbreviation. It had been found as a result of routine screening tests employed by Jensen for all new compounds. Like most pharmaceutical companies, Jensen tested all new drugs with a scatter approach, running the compounds through a standard battery of tests designed to pick up any significant biologic activity. These tests were run on laboratory animals — rats, dogs, and monkeys. There were twenty-four tests in all. Jensen found something rather peculiar about K-9. It inhibited growth. An infant animal given the drug never attained full adult size. This discovery prompted further tests, which produced even more intriguing results. The drug, Jensen learned, inhibited metaplasia, the shift of normal body cells to a new and bizarre form, a precursor to cancer. Jensen became excited, and put the drug through intensive programs of study. By September 1965, there could be no doubt: Kalocin stopped cancer.

Through an unknown mechanism, it inhibited the reproduction of the virus responsible for myelogenous leukemia. Animals taking the drug did not develop the disease, and animals already demonstrating the disease showed a marked regression as a result of the drug. The excitement at Jensen could not be contained. It was soon recognized that the drug was a broad-spectrum antiviral agent. It killed the virus of polio, rabies, leukemia, and the common wart. And, oddly enough, Kalocin also killed bacteria. And fungi. And parasites. Somehow, the drug acted to destroy all organisms, built on a unicellular structure, or less. It had no effect on organ systems — groups of cells organized into larger units. The drug was perfectly selective in this respect. In fact, Kalocin was the universal antibiotic. It killed everything, even the minor germs that caused the common cold. Naturally, there were side effects — the normal bacteria in the intestines were destroyed, so that all users of the drug experienced massive diarrhea — but that seemed a small price to pay for a cancer cure.

In December 1965, knowledge of the drug was privately circulated among government agencies and important health officials. And then for the first time, opposition to the drug arose. Many men, including Jeremy Stone, argued that the drug should be suppressed. But the arguments for suppression seemed theoretical, and Jensen, sensing billions of dollars at hand, fought hard for a clinical test. Eventually the government, the HEW, the FDA, and others agreed with Jensen and sanctioned further clinical testing over the protests of Stone and others.

In February 1966, a pilot clinical trial was undertaken. It involved twenty patients with incurable cancer, and twenty normal volunteers from the Alabama state penitentiary. All forty subjects took the drug daily for one month. Results were as expected: normal subjects experienced unpleasant side effects, but nothing serious. Cancer patients showed striking remission of symptoms consistent with cure. On March 1, 1966, the forty men were taken off the drug. Within six hours, they were all dead. It was what Stone had predicted from the start. He had pointed out that mankind had, over centuries of exposure, developed a carefully regulated immunity to most organisms. On his skin, in the air, in his lungs, gut, and even bloodstream were hundreds of different viruses and bacteria. They were potentially deadly, but man had adapted to them over the years, and only a few could still cause disease. All this represented a carefully balanced state of affairs. If you introduced a new drug that killed all bacteria, you upset the balance and undid the evolutionary work of centuries. And you opened the way to superinfection, the problem of new organisms, bearing new diseases. Stone was right: the forty volunteers each had died of obscure and horrible diseases no one had ever seen before. One man experienced swelling of his body, from head to foot, a hot, bloated swelling until he suffocated from pulmonary edema. Another man fell prey to an organism that ate away his stomach in a matter of hours. A third was hit by a virus that dissolved his brain to a jelly. And so it went. Jensen reluctantly took the drug out of further study. The government, sensing that Stone had somehow understood what was happening, agreed to his earlier proposals, and viciously suppressed all knowledge and experimentation with the drug Kalocin.

Too bad it’s not real. We could tell the democrats it makes you smarter.


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