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Sensing where you are in history


Judah Folkman and endostatins
James Watson Scientist
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When I was approaching my 70th birthday, I didn't want any party at all marking my 70th birthday. So we decided to return to Australia and on the way to our flight which started in Los Angeles, we - I went to a meeting on gene therapy at UCLA, which had, well, two consequences, I think a good consequence. The bad consequence was that at the sort of dinner marking its end, I was seated next to the newspaper reporter Gina Kolata and I couldn't withhold my enthusiasm for the work of Judah Folkman who'd been in Cold Spring Harbor about a week before and talked on endostatin, a proteolytic fragment of collagen and - which was an inhibitor of angiogenesis. And it was not toxic, it was present in our bodies, and - but it somehow stopped the formation of blood vessels. And Judah, throughout his entire career, had problems in raising money and found a company which, you know, would give him $1 million but then would get the commercial rights to everything in his lab. It was a big giveaway. It was a company called EntreMed and one of the junior scientists in Judah's orbit was a friend of its president. And so they were manufacturing it and it was going through a phase I clinical trial and had people who were very, very sick from cancer. But Judah in his talk at Cold Spring Harbor had showed data which said he cured mice of cancer and it - so I was, you know, thought, why not, you know? And- but then after I returned from Australia about six weeks later, in the New York Times on the front page was an article on, you know, I was quoted as saying cancer will be cured in two years from Judah Folkman's work. And the next day the shares in the price of the company, EntreMed, shot from 10 to 100. And luckily, I didn't own any. And, but one of our trustees had heard me being enthusiastic and had bought some shares. And he sold them as it was going down on the same Monday at about 60 and then donated all the profits to the lab for our cancer research. But you know, I would have- the trial proved afterwards unsuccessful and so, you know, I was just glad I didn't own any shares, because that would have looked pretty bad. But I get very enthusiastic at times. And I had never met her to my knowledge and she's still with the Times and still writing articles which sometimes badly annoy me. And we still don't know whether they work. The endostatin was commercialized in China and it's been given to people with lung cancer together with a more conventional chemotherapy. And it seems to extend life by several months, so- which is, you know, about what most drugs do now, but far from the miracle drug we all need.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Walter Gratzer Martin Raff

Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 4 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010