Home Dog Health TOP #59: Treating Canine Cancer with Coley’s Toxins

TOP #59: Treating Canine Cancer with Coley’s Toxins


If you've never heard about Coley's Toxins, you're not alone. Invented back in 1893 by Dr. William Coley, they were used to treat about 1,000 cancer patients and had much better results than a similar group of patients being treated for cancer today. Naturally, after I learned about this new potential canine cancer treatment, I immediately decided we needed to have the expert on our podcast to share more information.

So for today's podcast I got a chance to talk to Donald MacAdam, author of The Reinvention of Coley’s Toxins, and discuss what Coley's Toxins actually are, how they work, and the ways they've been recently used to treat cancer in dogs. It's a fascinating topic to cover about a somewhat forgotten cancer treatment with a huge potential, so tune in to learn more!

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

Treating Canine Cancer With Coley’s Toxins
(podcast transcript)

Treating Canine Cancer with Coley’s Toxins - Podcast

Thanks for listening today to Theory of Pets, my podcast that dives into the pet industry to uncover all of the questions and answers that we as pet owners have every day. I have done many different podcasts in the past. You can check out theoryofpets.com for all of those. There's information on everything from how to feed your pet to grooming, training, all of that.

Today I actually am able to talk to a man who has worked in the healthcare side of the pet industry, but not in the mainstream veterinary way that we normally think. We work with a holistic veterinarian for our pets. We have tried many different things to try to treat our pets over the years. We had a boxer at one time that had a heart condition that was, we use prescription medication to treat her. We have used essential oils and CBD oil, many different natural ways to treat our pets as well.

So when I heard about Coley's Toxins, it really piques my interest. Coley's toxins were invented in 1893 by Dr William Coley when he was 29 years old. For the next 43 years, Dr Coley treated about a thousand inoperable cancer patients with better results than he expected and better results than would be expected for a comparable group of patients today.

That sounds mindblowing to me. And of course, I wanted to dive into this a little bit more, see exactly what Coley's Toxins were, learn more about the toxins themselves, and of course, see what research has been done and what kind of things are happening to bring these into the mainstream medical field.

For the purpose of today, I wanted to share some information with all of you about Coley's Toxins are being used for canines. There's a book called The Reinvention of Coley's Toxins. It was written by a man named Don MacAdam. And I had the pleasure of speaking with Don about the book, about Coley's Toxins, and about their use in canines.

And before I let you listen to our conversation, I just wanted to read you a quick little excerpt from his book. Chapter eight of the book is all about dogs and how these toxins have been used in canines and the excerpt that I wanted to read you goes like this —

The first curative cancer treatment and dogs was reported at the 1907 conference of the American Medical Association in a paper read aloud during the section on pathology and physiology and subsequently published in the AMA Journal. The paper reported on the results of experiments conducted by Martha Tracy and Silas Beebe on the effect of injecting actively growing cancerous tumors with several different bacterial toxins including the formulation of Coley's Toxins made for the personal use of Dr. Coley.

This chapter in the book deals specifically with dogs. And today was able to talk to Don MacAdam about the information that's in the book, the research that has been done on Coley's Toxins, a company called Mbvax Bio-Science, which produced a modern version of the formulation used by Dr Coley, and the research that's been done, the different things that they've done treating dogs, so I got a lot of really great information. I wanted to share that with you guys today and if you're interested in more information about Coley's Toxins, pick up the book, The Reinvention of Coley's Toxins. You can find it on Amazon and there is some great information about the treatment itself as well as how it's used in many different areas of the medical field.

Interview with Donald MacAdam

Samantha: Don, thank you so much for agreeing to be on the podcast today. Appreciate your time. I'm sure everybody is going to appreciate this interview and all the information that you have to share. So what should we know about Coley's Toxins?

Don: I think it's important that people understand that this is something that originally came out for humans.

Samantha: Absolutely.

Don: I came about this kind of, not intentionally — I used to be in the electronics business for many years. But I was trained in chemistry and physics in university, and at one point in about 2003, I took a job, this is described in the book, for a robotics company, CRS Robotics as president and then to take that company public and to get it refinanced. And what that company did, one of the things was develop the automatic systems for the human genome project. And that sort of got me back into the chemistry. So the next thing I did was I became CEO of a genomics company in Canada called TM Bio-Science. And what we did was we did a number of products related to bio chips and diagnostics. But while I was at that company, I met a group of guys who were starting a company with a cancer vaccine, a therapeutic cancer vaccine.

Most vaccines that people are familiar with are called prophylactic vaccines. They're intended to prevent something from happening, like the cervical cancer vaccine is a prophylactic vaccine. A therapeutic vaccine is something that is administered to a person with a disease, with the intention of curing that disease. And that's the kind of action that they had for melanoma.

Well, we got that company financed and it established eventually in California in the San Fernando Valley, and it still continues today as a company called Mankind, a division of that company. Nevertheless, while I was at that company, I learned about William Coley. I had never heard of him before. And William Coley was a New York doctor who in 1891 treated his first cancer patient with a new technique called immune therapy. And the first patient was cured as were many others. And they were cured by using live bacteria to combat the cancer.

The way this came about is there was a patient at memorial hospital in New York, back in the 1880's who was dying of a synovial sarcoma and was treated with the typical surgery. It's all they had at that time, but the surgery was not effective. And while the patient was recuperating from the surgery, patient had an infection called erysipelas, which results in something called St Anthony's Fire where your head turns red. It's a terrible looking thing.

But when the bacterial infection resolved itself, the cancer also went away and the patient checked out of the hotel and was never seen again up until 1891 when Coley went out to find this individual. And he found this individual still alive, living in a tenement in the German section of Lower Manhattan, brought them back to the hospital and they checked this Mr Stein out and found that his cancer had completely regressed and had not returned.

Samantha: Wow.

Don: Coley came up with the idea of treating people with bacteria to kill cancer. And he began using live bacteria. But after a couple of years he stopped doing that because several of his patients died, not from the cancer, but from the bacteria with which he infected them. So he couldn't have that.

So in really, just a good educated guess, he thought, well, maybe, if the bacteria can cure the cancer, it's something in the bacteria and it doesn't even have to be alive. Maybe I could just kill the bacteria and to use that and then the patient would not get infected, but might get the benefit of the toxins, which is what they were called.

And that was where Coley's Toxins came from, in 1893 he began treating patients with Coley's Toxins, and between then and 1936 treated about a thousand patients and the product was manufactured worldwide, by the Lister Institute in the United Kingdom and Parke Davis and the United States and it became a standard therapy for a wide range of cancers.

And the interesting thing, and this is from a paper from 2009, but MD Anderson, the results that Coley achieved personally, achieved long term cure rates — I'm quoting — unrivaled by medical science in the 73 years since his death, 1936 to 2009, so I'm just saying, Coley's results were better, better than what we get today. And that's from MD Anderson. This is not just some, you know, anybody talking.

So there was a mystery. Coley's results for better than other people that were using his toxins during the same period of time. And for a long time it was unknown why he got such good results and other people got good results but not as good as Coley. And one thing that we did at Mbvax, just serendipitously, I didn't set out to do this, was to discover the reason why. And then it was simply that none of the other vaccine formulations made — there about 20 made — during this entire period of time was equivalent to what he was using. The vaccine that was used by Coley himself was different than any of the other vaccines, including all of the vaccines that were used in all of the clinical trials, all of which got reasonably good results but not as good as Coley used to get.

And the reason was very simple, Samantha, and I think you'll understand this and your guests will understand this. The first thing is, and the main thing, is the bacteria were fed differently. In other words, when you raise bacteria, grow them and media and if the media is a different concentration, has a different concentration of say beef extract, the bacteria will be different, the ones that grow in that. And all of the vaccines that have been made by other organizations since Coley's times have been using only one-sixth, the content of these extracts that's necessary to get the results. The same type of bacteria that Coley had grown — this is all in my book.

The other thing is quite simple. When you grow bacteria in liquid, you have to, back in the old day, you would swirl the flasks once a day to resuspend the bacteria in the liquid. But today bacteria are grown on agitators that continuously keep the bacteria in the solution. And there's a significant difference in how those bacteria develop into an adult bacteria. Just like there's a difference if you feed the animal once a day and feed them all the time.

So, just those simple things have resulted in enormous differences in the different types of vaccines. And our vaccine, which we made and we, have given to quite a few humans, about 700, the results that we received are better than the results that MD Anderson lists for Coley. So we know it's a good vaccine.

Nevertheless, Coley's Toxins are not approved. Mbvax Bio-Science was unable to obtain regulatory permission to commence clinical trials either in Canada, Europe, or the United States, and in all cases the regulators would not allow the trial to go forward for purely bureaucratic reasons.

People don't realize this. But today, the rules for running a clinical trial demand that the product being used is made in a continuous manufacturing pharmaceutical facility, not made in a laboratory. Like you would compound a medicine in a hospital. It has to be made in the pharmaceutical 24 hour a day production line environment.

And this rule was put in really to protect the pharmaceutical industry. And yet there it is. In the United States, they have an exemption for this rule that compounds can be made in a laboratory like at the national institutes of health or something, and the FDA will provide an exemption to the rule for GMP manufacturing. But it's an exemption they have to give you. And they refused to give us that exemption even though our clinical trial was being sponsored by Baylor University in Texas, and Harvard Medical School in Boston. The same thing happened in the European trial, which was sponsored by Aarhus Medical school in Denmark. And Health Canada would not allow the trial to go forward unless it was first approved in the US. And so we were unable to do the trial at the University of British Columbia.

Samantha: Completely ridiculous. Wow.

Don: It is. So the company had to shut down.

But I would like to talk a little bit about the treatment of canine cancer, because of that is your subject.

Samantha: Absolutely, yes.

Don: The first, as far as I know, the first published for sure, account of treating canine cancer, with any therapy, but it happened to be with Coley's Toxins, was read to the conference of the American Medical Association, Atlantic City at 1907 and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that same year.

So this therapy has been well known, or it has been published and out there, for well over 110 years. And it's been known to work in dogs for that entire period of time. The paper is available. You can get it online. And that the doctor that did the work with Dr Martha Tracy, who happened to be the individual that manufactured the best version of Coley's Toxins for Dr Coley himself from 1908 to 1922, and it is her vaccine upon which we base the Mbvax formulation.

Even though, as far as I know there were no incidents of pets being treated to cure cancer on the behalf of individual owners until say the 1980's, and recently it's become a bit of an industry in the veterinarian profession to have pet owners treat their dogs for cancer using various types of therapies. In fact, all of the therapies that are available for human cancers have been used to treat a dogs — chemotherapy, radiation surgery. And in veterinary research hospitals they're even doing bone marrow transplants for dogs.

But what many people probably don't realize is if you check, for example, with a National Canine Cancer Foundation, a conventional chemotherapy, which is a typical method of treating lymphoma, which is the cancer that affects dogs more than any other, conventional chemotherapy for lymphoma in dogs, results in total remission and approximately 60 to 90 percent of cases.

Now, what your audience has to understand is total remission — all that means, if the cancer stops growing, it doesn't mean it's gone away. It's no longer growing. It's not getting worse. It does not mean you're cured. Just like when a human is in remission, the cancer is not getting worse, it's just staying the same.

What you need is you need a regression, a complete response where the cancer, all of it goes away. That is the only way you can cure cancer in any case. In dogs with lymphoma undergoing the chemotherapy, typically they get remission in 60 to 90 percent of cases with a median survival, that means a 50 percent live longer and 50 percent live less of six to 12 months and in approximately 20 percent of cases, dogs can live up to two years after initiation of this treatment.

Now, if you compare that to humans, the results are much poorer than in humans and the reason is simply this, in humans, chemotherapy is given — to kill the cancer, the intention is to kill the cancer, and in order to do that, you have to get enough so that it kills all the cancer cells, or it tends to kill the cancer cells. In the meantime, it also kills all rapidly dividing healthy cells, quite a few of them, as in the gastrointestinal track and the bone marrow and so forth.

Samantha: We actually had a dog who was diagnosed with lymphoma a few years ago and chemotherapy was obviously the option given to us and that's one of the things I learned through that process — that oftentimes it does more damage than good.

Don: Absolutely. It's terrible. And in humans, chemotherapy can be curative in certain cancers. But if you have a widely spread metastatic disease, the chemotherapy also damages your immune system, so you no longer have any natural defenses against the metastases. And in the end, the cancer will come back.

Samantha: Right.

Don: In fact, since 1950 — I mean, I know that medical researchers like to talk about how much success they're making — but if you look at percentage of cancer patients that die of cancer, it's the same. It's 50 percent. It's just that it takes a little longer today to die than it did in 1950\. But dying itself is from the cancer, happens because the ways that we treat it aren't really curative. They just keep you living a little bit longer.

But having said all of that, for a canine lymphoma, there are many different drugs, but Lomustine is the one that's used most often. It's what's called an alkylating agent. And all that means, it attaches to the DNA, and prevent cells from dividing, thereby killing the cancer cells that it attaches to. But it's so much of it is not given that the dog, hopefully… They try to keep the side effects down to a minimum in dogs. They don't intentionally give the dose lower, so the dog doesn't experience the bad side effects, because who wants to treat their and have them throwing up and doing everything all day long.

Samantha: Right.

Don: So it in fact [inaudible] intentionally treating it, they're kind of tightening that dose so that the animal lives longer but lives a somewhat reasonable life. Pretty good quality of life. And that's fine. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to do, but normally the owners are going into this with the expectation that the ideal was to cure their dog. And that really isn't the expectation.

Now I want to mention Cain. Cain was a two and a half year old lymphoma patient, back in 2007. He was a 110 pound male Mastiff who was a rescue dog from an animal sanctuary in Missouri, where he was sick with canine epilepsy, and his new owner brought him home and with the help of a vet and her own knowledge — she ran a natural vitamins and herbs store, still does — she and the vet kept the dog's seizures under control with medical treatment and diet and so forth and got the dog back into shape for, you know, had a pretty good life for a couple years. But when the dog was two and a half years old, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. And the lymphoma was widely disseminated in almost every lymph node. And the disease was considered to be incurable. And the vet said, you know, there's really nothing we can do.

So Adrienne, that's the lady who owns the dog, heard about Mbvax on the Internet, and she got in touch. And I explained that we had not yet treated any dogs. This is the first dog that was treated with Mbvax Coley fluid. But would be happy to provide it, providing a licensed veterinarian was willing to administer the therapy and issue that prescription for a three month supply, no charge.

And the vet, her vet refused, her vet said that dog was so sick, and in light of the fact that the dog had a history of seizures, it would be just cruel to try to treat the dog. Undaunted, the owner found a new vet who began treating Cain with regular intramuscular injections, I think from the beginning of 2007 until the middle, the beginning of July, 2007 until the middle of August. And by that time, six weeks later, there were no apparent suspicious lymph nodes remaining.

The doctor sent samples of the dog's tissue to the veterinarian diagnostic center at the University of Missouri and Cain was found to be cancer free. So Adrienne to him home, and Cain went on to live a normal life until he died seven years later of natural causes, not cancer.

Samantha: Wow.

Don: So that's the experience that we had with that one dog. We only treated three dogs. Two out of three were cured. But we weren't really in the business of canine cancers. We would've continued to treat cancers in the US, but the FDA issued an order, an FDA action stating that future entries must have an approved new drug, a new animal drug application on file. In other words, that we would have to do as much work to proceed treating dogs as you would have to do to proceed with the human clinical trial.

Samantha: I see.

Don: So we just couldn't do it. So… And that's just the way it is. It's truly unfortunate that even a dog can't be treated, even though we continued right up until 2014 to ship Coley Toxins to major hospitals in the United States that do animal experimentation. That was OK. You were OK to experiment on animals with unapproved therapies, but it wasn't OK to treat animals that had existing conditions, in the hopes of curing them. It was just bizarre, the rules.

Samantha: It's completely ridiculous. I think a lot of people don't realize the money that's made in the pharmaceutical industry, especially from cancer, but for so many different diseases that, you know, there may be more natural holistic treatments for, there may be other answers out there. Like you said before, I think you said it perfectly, where it was completely bureaucratic issues and that's just the way it is unfortunately.

Don: Well, I'm hoping that it will change. I really am. Because these immune therapies are becoming more and more widely available. There are, for example, a range of clinics associated in Japan that only use immune therapies. They also used to use the Coley's Toxins. Coley fluid, we called it while we were manufacturing it. And they get results better than normal treatment of cancer using chemo and radiation. But they use a range of immune therapies like dendritic cell vaccines and NK cell infusions and vitamin C and hypothermia in all sorts of things. And I think that that kind of treatment of cancer will become more and more acceptable in more parts of the world — Germany and Japan, and maybe Australia, will lead the way, but for the time being not North America.

Samantha: Absolutely. I certainly hope so as well.

And just so everybody knows that is listening. The Reinventing of Coley's Toxins is the book that you wrote. It's available on Amazon and there's going to be a link underneath our article in there and underneath our video on YouTube as well. So anybody that wants to check out the book.

There's so much information in here. You've touched on so many small parts today, but if anybody really wants to do some more research and look into it, your book is a great place to start. I love that.

Don: It's not expensive. And this is the sort of information that people really need to understand. Even though right now, this is not available, there will be clinics. The main reason I wrote the book, Samantha, was to make sure that this formulation doesn't get lost to history again. So that the formulation for Coley's Toxins has been worked out. It's completely disclosed in the book. In the appendix here, is the manufacturing protocol, it's quite lengthy and quite technical. But that doesn't interfere with the rest of the book.

But that manufacturing protocol is vended into the public domain, free to use by any company or any individual in any country. And I know, in fact, I've already been contacted, that clinics will — mainly laboratories — will begin to manufacture this again now that they can. Because it's very inexpensive to make a so they can make it and sell it for a small amount of money and yet they can make a good profit and people can benefit from this once again. So hopefully that'll happen.

Samantha: My favorite part of the book, too, is that it's written in a way that everybody can understand it. When I first began emailing with you, I thought, you know, this may be a book full of medical jargon and all of this scientific information that's really hard for everyone to understand, but Kudos to you. It's very well written, very easy to understand.

You use a lot of the different research that's in here. It's all linked in here. So if people even wanted to go a little bit more in depth and look at some of the studies and things like that, all the information is right here.

It's really a wonderful book. Like you said, it's very inexpensive. So anybody that's looking to learn more, I will have that link. It can be found on Amazon, The Reinvention of Coley's Toxins.

Don: Well that's great. Thank you so much for your kind words.

You know, I think that people should have a look at this whole idea of the immune treatment of cancer, because with immune therapies, if they're used first in particular, rather than after your immune system is devastated with chemo and radiation, but if immune therapies are used at first, you'll be able to tell right away within the first three to six weeks if it's working or not for you. If it's not, you can always go and do the chemo. But if it is, it's much better. You don't lose your hair, you don't feel awful, you'll actually feel better during this sort of therapy in many regards. And there are a number of…

I mean, there are aspects to the therapy that are uncomfortable because it involves having a high fever for four or five days in a row each week. But it's a fever without being sick. So it's not exactly the same. It's not quite as debilitating as being sick with a fever. But once the fever has run its course, which in fact the fever is part of the immune response, this is something that's been built into humans over time, through the process of evolution. When the body reacts to with infectious, whatever disease, the immune system cranks up the fever because fever makes the T cells and everything else work more efficiently. And the fever is a good thing. Fever helps cure disease. Fever helps healing. And the excessive use of antidiarrhetics, things like aspirin and Tylenol or whatever, are partly responsible for some of the medical issues we see today. But the fever is the only real debilitating, if you can call it that, symptom of using this kind of immune therapy.

But at the end of the day, you can sometimes completely cure the cancer, including the metastases. And that's good. That's what we should all aim for when we have the disease.

Samantha: Absolutely. I could not agree more. Thank you again, Don, for coming on and sharing your knowledge of Coley's Toxins. And of course for putting together this wonderful book, for anybody that's looking for it there is a link below this podcast. It's The Reinvention of Coley's Toxins. You can find it on Amazon for less than $20. This is really a wonderful book with tons of information in it. And as I said, it's not written in all that science jargon that you can understand. So it's definitely a great read, very informative for anybody that's looking for more information on different treatments for cancer and for canine cancer, specifically. This could be a great resource and something to look into.

If you guys have any questions, I probably can't answer them for you, but I can forward them along to Don and see if we can get them answered for you. Or if you have any suggestions about future podcasts that you'd like to see information that you'd like covered, jump on our website. It's theoryofpets.com. There is a comment section there and you will also see on the side there is a spot to leave me a quick review and if you can do that it really helps when I'm reaching out to experts like Don, veterinarians, different people in the pet food industry, grooming, training industries, when I reached to them and I can show them that you guys are out there, you're listening, you're enjoying it and you're going to keep following the podcast. So I appreciate you listening today and if you wouldn't mind just leaving a quick review, that would be great to help me with future podcast.

Thanks so much for listening guys. I'll be back with another hot topic next time.

PREVIOUS PODCAST: How to Choose the Right Nutrition for Your Dog