Alexander Masters

Diary – 27 September 2012

In Scandinavia, gene therapists have invented a virus that may treat the cancer that killed multi-billionaire Steve Jobs — but are going to have to throw it out, because of lack of cash. I am in Uppsala, Sweden, sitting among pipettes and centrifuges, helping the professor in charge to set up a rescue fund for this kindly microbe. My friend and co-writer, the biographer Dido Davies, has been diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer or ‘Steve Jobs Disease’, and Professor Essand’s virus makes neuroendocrine tumours melt away — at least, in lab mice. It is not clear if this will happen in humans; the only way to find out is to run clinical trials. But there is not enough money in Prof Essand’s lab to do this. Unless we can find a way to bring in the cash, he may have to incinerate the therapy without even testing it. Steve Jobs had been one of the richest people in the world and this ‘oncolytic’ virus might have helped him. ‘How much money do you need?’ I’d asked Prof Essand when I found out about his work. ‘A million pounds?’ he’d said. ‘Two million, to test a really good version.’ Two million pounds: less than Apple earns in seven minutes.

Önska lycka till den vacker bruden, Katarina, och den stilige brudgrumen, Adam! Beside the lab freezer containing kindly microbe, Prof Essand and I devise a wedding speech, in Swedish. My girlfriend’s brother is marrying a Swede in Stockholm, and wedding receptions here are like Quaker meetings spiced up with vodka and dancing: anyone who feels so moved can speak, and I will feel so moved. It is a welcome break from thinking about anti-cancer viruses. Adam’s other sister is the soprano Anna Dennis.

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