Anti-euthanasia group gets behind clinical trials of neural toxin

Interim Staff

Euthanasia advocates often cite extreme cases of intractable pain in cancer as a justification for “compassionate” assisted suicide. Now, the argument could be made moot by a little spiny fish popular with Japanese restaurant goers as Fugu, the daredevil dish. This particular fish emits one of nature’s strongest neural toxins, a poison called tetrodotoxin, which can cause numbness, respiratory failure and sometimes death, but becomes completely harmless and beneficial for controlling pain when processed into the drug, Tectin.

Dr. May Ong-Lam, an oncologist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, is involved in the testing of the drug for cancer patients. She told the B.C. Catholic, “Definitely, one of our patients received a significant benefit after she had damage to nerves in her arm from radiation treatment, which was very painful. This patient took Tectin for two days intramuscularly and the analgesic effect lasted about three weeks, a significant result.”

It is exciting, she said, that with the drug’s success in controlling cancer pain, she expects Tectin to be used for other severe and chronic pain conditions in the future.

Vancouver-based International Wex Technologies Inc. is working to develop the drug, which is as much as 3,000 times stronger than morphine. The current debate on euthanasia often centres around cancer patients who can suffer extreme pain from the disease and from radiation and other therapies.

With Tectin, the Phase II trial results showed that pain could be relieved for up to two weeks in some patients. Based on these results, the company is currently pursuing a larger trial. The current trial is a double-blind and placebo-controlled study designed to compare the efficacy and safety of Tectin versus placebo in moderate to severe inadequately controlled cancer-related pain.

“We are definitely encouraged by the Phase IIa results,” said Dr. Neil Hagen. “We believe that the current study will be one of the largest and most important Canadian clinical trials conducted to date to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a drug for medically refractory cancer pain.”

The company expects that next year’s results of the Tectin trials will lead to the investigation of its clinical use in patients suffering from non-cancer chronic pain. Drugs trials are expected to continue for several more months, with results to be announced later this year. More information is available at Wex’s Web site:

More patients are currently needed for trials in more than 200 medical centres across the country. Those suffering moderate to severe pain should ask their doctors to contact Wex Technology.

Pain control is central to the issue of euthanasia; lack of control of severe pain is one of the most frequently used arguments of right-to-die advocates, who argue that patients have the right to demand euthanasia or assistance to commit suicide if they suffer “uncontrollable” pain.

Dr. Williard Johnston, president of the B.C. Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, which opposes the promotion and legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide, told the B.C. Catholic that the development of Tectin and other similar drugs points the way to a time in the not-too-distant future when “the physical comfort of palliative care patients will be solved, allowing us to focus on the emotional and spiritual aspects of this stage of life.”

“Euthanasia,” Johnston pointed out, “is really the abandonment of someone experiencing severe emotional and spiritual as well as physical symptoms. Rarely are we unable to at least partially control pain. Untreatable pain was never a valid argument for euthanasia but, unfortunately, hard-core euthanasia proponents don’t always need the excuse of physical discomfort; they would like to claim that personal freedoms lie at the heart of someone’s choice to end his or her life.”

– with files from the B.C. Catholic and