Unexpected Places


“Hello Peter, it’s Alex. I hope I’m not disturbing you. I’ve got something rather important to tell you.”

“No, your not disturbing me at all. I’m on holiday actually, but it’s raining right now. We’re waiting for it to stop before we go out. It’s good to hear from you.”

“Well you might not think that when you hear what I’ve got to say. I’ve just read reports that a universal cellular trigger for cancer has been identified. I’ve read the research paper that backs the reports as well. It seems that they have found that there is just one fundamental trigger for all forms of cancer. The research has been done well and they have plenty of evidence. They’ve also found how to suppress the trigger. It’s straightforward to suppress it once you understand the trigger’s mechanism. And as far as anyone can tell, stopping it won’t have any side-effects either.”

“What ….? So those guys at USCI beat us to it. They were better funded than us I suppose, but still …. I thought we were going to come up with something interesting before them. And this …. this …. if it’s true … this is the cure.”

“It wasn’t USCI I’m afraid. I wish it was.”

“Then who was it?”

“This work was done in Tanzania?”


“Tanzania, in Africa. The United Republic of Tanzania to give the country its full title. I had to look it up”

“Is this a practical joke Alex? It’s not in very good taste after all the work we’ve done. I’ll admit it, you had me worried there. It’s lucky there’s no camera on me.”

“No joke, Peter. I’m serious. It’s happened. I looked into this in detail before accepting it myself. At first I assumed it was a fake. Whoever heard of any research coming out of Tanzania, let alone anything close to this? But something in the sub-title of the paper struck me, something that made sense, so I started reading all of it. The thesis and the experimental results comprehensively hang together. In fact you have to wonder how we’ve all missed it. Then I investigated the source of the paper, the National Institute for Medical Research. It’s a government body, set up principally to research diseases that affect Tanzanian citizens. There are three names on the paper, all hold senior research positions at the Institute. ….. Peter? …. Peter, are you still there?”

“Yes …. yes Alex. Sorry, I’m still taking this in. I hardly know what to say. Can you tell me how it works, what exactly have they found?”

“I’m sending you the paper. It’s all in there, it’s an excellent piece of work and very well presented.”

“OK. So who else knows about this? Is there any way we can keep it to ourselves?”

“That was my first thought too. I’ve checked – it’s out there now. I’m sure all the big research units have seen it, but none of them have mentioned it. It seems they’ve all tried to keep it locked down. But Aikinson must have seen it. You remember him? Retired now, used to do some work on cancer himself and then reviewed grant applications. He’s an independent, just a guy at home, but he has contacts in the media and he must have brought their attention to it and also vouched for its credibility. It started spreading on all the major news sites around half an hour ago.”

“I wonder if anyone will believe it. Given the extraordinary size of this claim. A cure for cancer, all cancers, in one leap. It hardly seems credible. And given the source ….”

“They’ll believe it soon enough. This is it, I’m sure of it.”

“Then we’re screwed, aren’t we? How do you think this has happened? How did they do this and we couldn’t?”

“I’ve been thinking about that too. Until I read the paper I wondered if they had found a plant extract, you know something from a plant that grows only in that part of the world. A lucky break. Perhaps some traditional witch doctor herbal medicines put them onto it. But it’s not that at all. They did fundamental cellular and biochemical research, just like us. And it turns out the answer was staring us all in the face. So I can only speculate that it’s been something to do with being out of the mainstream. We couldn’t see the obvious because it was so familiar to us, but I suspect it wasn’t so familiar to them, so they had fresh eyes. The human mind is creative but you’ve got to let it free. We were shackled by our own prejudices.”

“Perhaps they piggy-backed on our research? This might have been one of those discoveries that was about to happen everywhere, and they just happened to get there first. The world was on the cusp of it. Someone was going to do it; we’d all got to the stage where it was just random chance who it was going to be.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think popular opinion is going to buy into that argument easily. The fact is that they discovered it. So you’re right that we’re screwed. The Foundation is going to be furious. It would be bad enough if USCI or some of those other guys had beaten us, but Tanzania! And they’ve not just beaten us in one field event, it seems that they won every event in the tournament.”

“I don’t think we have just some shouting from Johnson and the other board members to deal with. It’s worse than that. Who is going to fund us in the developed world now when they can get results like this somewhere in Africa? I’ll bet those guys in Tanzania worked on a tenth of the budget that we do, maybe even less. At the very least we’ll be continually reminded of what they achieved and asked to do more with  less. It’s very likely though that our outright amount funding will simply decrease. I’m not sure any money for cutting edge research like this has gone to Africa or anywhere else in the developing world. But this will surely change the view of what those guys can do. It’s a game changer for our business. I guess technology and globalisation gets us all in the end. What’s happened in other industries is now going to happen to advanced medical research as well.”

“I fear you’re right. I’d hoped you would say something different, but I think I knew already what you’d see and I have to agree with you.”

“Well there is something we can salvage from this, something big, if we move quickly enough. We’ve always focused on the research, relying on other people to take care of commercialising it for us if we came up with something valuable. Now we have to be the people who do the commercialising. I think we know enough about how that works. We have to get to these Tanzanians and take the fruit of their discovery to the market. The innovation may not have our name on it, but we’ll be rich.”

“I’ve got bad news on that as well. A Tanzanian drug company has already taken out full world wide patents on the molecule that suppresses the trigger. They’ve also worked out and patented the process to synthesise the molecule. Of course they still have all the tests to pass, the clinical trials and so on. But they’ve got it completely sewn up. When it comes to market they’re the ones who are going to be rich. They filed all the patents before the research paper was published, so they’re not the hicks we all might have thought they are. They know what they’re doing.”

“So that’s it. Now the world will have a cure for cancer. I guess that’s us finished then.”








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