Nobel laureate James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, is disputing a quote attributed to him in the New York Times predicting that cancer would be cured within two years by two drugs featured in a story by the newspaper.
The front-page article in the Sunday New York Times spurred an explosion of interest in biotech company EntreMed of Rockville, Md., and its two drugs, angiostatin and endostatin, helping boost its stock shares 500% on Monday.
The two drugs are naturally occurring proteins that block the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors. They were discovered by Dr. Judah Folkman, a cancer researcher at Children's Hospital in Boston, and licensed to EntreMed.
In the New York Times article, written by Gina Kolata, Watson is quoted as saying, "Judah is going to cure cancer in two years."
The article added that Watson said Folkman would be remembered along with scientists like Charles Darwin as someone who permanently altered civilization.
Some Wall Street analysts said the bold statement by Watson, a co-discoverer of the "double helix" structure of DNA, was a key factor in inspiring the EntreMed rally.
Watson, the director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island in New York state, has submitted a letter to the editor of the newspaper challenging the cancer-cure quote, said laboratory spokesman Wendy Goldstein.
New York Times spokeswoman Lisa Carparelli told Reuters that she was unable to comment immediately on Watson's letter but would do so later.
EntreMed officials could not be reached for comment.
Goldstein provided Reuters a copy of Watson's letter, which she said would be submitted to the New York Times on Wednesday for publication.
In the three-paragraph letter dated May 4, Watson states, "In the May 3 New York Times article, Ms. Kolata reported that I predicted that Judah Folkman would cure cancer in two years. My recollection of the conversation to which she refers, however, is quite different."
The letter continues, "What I told Ms. Kolata, at a dinner party six weeks ago, was that endostatin should be in NCI [National Cancer Institute] clinical trials by the end of this year, and that we would know about one year after that whether they were effective."
In the letter, Watson noted that the two drugs have not yet been tested in humans. The drugs have only been tested in mice, a point that the medical community and drug industry analysts have underscored in recent days as a reason for caution.
Goldstein said Watson was in California and could not be reached for comment.
"Dr. Watson feels very strongly about setting the record straight that he did not make such a statement. He is contesting that quote primarily because he feels a statement as bold as his coming from him has offered what could very well prove to be false hope to a great many people" with cancer, Goldstein said.