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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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June 2, 2010

The Power of Photons, You Say?

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Posted by Derek

A longtime reader sends me word of a new company out in La Jolla, Nativis Pharmaceuticals, whose technology is most certainly eyebrow-raising. I think that the only way that I can do it justice is to quote directly from their web site; I wouldn't want to get anything wrong:

Nativis has developed and patented a breakthrough technology that captures the unique photon field (signal) of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), or drugs. . .Every drug molecule in a solution is surrounded by a photon field that contains information unique to the molecule. With Nativis’ technology, the photon field, or “drug signal” can be recorded and then replicated for medical treatment. Nativis has proven in preliminary trials that the drug signal – or photonic signature – mimics the original chemical molecule and can unlock the same biological processes as the original to treat diseases, such as brain tumors. With the technology, the drug signal can be reproduced rapidly and flawlessly, each time containing all relevant biochemical information encoded into the new therapeutic signal to drive a biologic reaction. . .

There now, tell me that your eyebrows didn't get some exercise when you read that. I'm baffled. According to this story from the North County Times, Nativis has investors and advisors who are neither scam artists nor saffron-robed gurus, and unfortunately, the only other appropriate category I can think of is "victim". Am I wrong?

I say that because there have been ripoffs beyond number that claim to use some sort of strangely energized or structured water, which is what seems to be going on here (see below). Honestly, you could easily fill a 500-page book with them, in fine print, and there are more every day. And if the Nativis folks don't want to be taken for another member of that crowd, then they should do more to differentiate themselves from the scam artists (and no, linking to videos of Feynman explaining the basics of quantum electrodynamics is not enough). Here's why I say that - this is the company's explanation of their process:

MIDS (Molecular Interrogation and Data Systems) captures the photon field surrounding the solvation shell of a molecule in solution.

Captured photons are then imprinted into Coherence Domains in dipole (water-based) solution for delivery to patients; following administration, the photon payload chemically activates a non-water molecule for therapeutic effect.

The questions come tumbling out: what, exactly, is a "photon field"? And how do you capture one? Isn't a solvation shell a rather dynamic thing, which depends on (among other things) concentration, ionic strength, and pH? How do you imprint captured photons into something? And "Coherence Domains?" That sounds like optical coherence tomography or the like, but only vaguely. How do you imprint into one? And this creates a "photon payload"? How does that, whatever it is, not dissipate?

And that "chemically activates a non-water molecule", does it? By that, I presume that they mean a drug target. But my understanding of how a drug works on its target is that the drug has to be physically present, because it's interacting, on an atom-by-atom basis, with said target. Drugs engage in a complex dance of attraction and repulsion with their binding sites (with attraction winning out!), and this process is affected by electron density (charge), hydrogen bonding, van der Waals forces, and more besides. The drug molecule physically occupies that binding site, which forces the rest of its target into a different shape. And in many cases, it physically displaces water molecules while doing so, and while it's there, it keeps other molecules from coming in.

I don't see how a "photon payload" can do these things. If it's some real assembly of water molecules, I don't see how it holds together at room temperature. Besides, the water solvation shell of a drug molecule isn't what comes in and binds to a target; it's the molecule itself. Shedding those waters is a key energetic part of the whole process. And if it's not a real, physical assembly of water molecules, then what the heck is it? And here's another objection: either way, it sound as if they're taking this "drug signal" while the original drug is out there in solution. But the shape that most drugs have in solution isn't the one that most drug have when they bind to their targets; adopting that new shape is another key process.

No, I have a weakness for wild ideas, but not this wild. Nativis has a lot to prove: can they take the "drug signal" from a fluoroquinolone antibiotic and kill bacteria with it? Can they use the signal from a receptor agonist and see calcium or cAMP changes in a cell assay? Will the "drug signal" displace a reference compound in a radioligand binding assay? Can you do Michaelis-Menten kinetics with one of an enzyme inhibitor? Will it affect a protein's NMR spectrum? Can you determine its on- and off-rates in an SPR assay? Can you see a thermodynamic signature in a calorimeter?

And most importantly, will it help anyone who's sick? Well. . .Nativis says that they've shown efficacy in a mouse model of glioblastoma with the "drug signal" of taxol. They say that they hope to file an IND later this year, and to publish more details in the literature within the next few months. I cannot wait. If they really have data sufficient for an IND, then I will enjoy, most thoroughly, being proved wrong. And if this stuff works, we can all take the opportunity to learn some physics while glory, prizes, and huge amounts of money rain down on the Nativis folks, to a backdrop of cheering cancer patients.

I am, as this post shows, intensely skeptical. But these are issues that can be answered, completely answered, by experiment. Bring on the data, guys. I'm sticking with the blog category shown until then.

Update: John Butters, CEO of Nativis, has sent along some more information about his company's technology. Much of it seems to be based on work by del Giudice and Preparata on the properties of water. Those names rang a faint bell for me - turns out that their work pops up in all sorts of discussions of odd water effects: cold fusion, homeopathy, theories on the origins of life and of consciousness, and so very much on. I must confess that much of the physics is beyond my competence.

However, this all reminds me very much of homeopathy, and of the Benveniste affair and its aftermath, with many phrases ("digital biology") in common. I have to conclude, for now, that this is what's going on. In which case, I wish everyone involved - particularly the investors - the best of luck, because I have grave doubts that anything useful will come out of it. I will be delighted and amazed if I am proven wrong.

Comments (83) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cancer | Snake Oil


1. lynn on June 2, 2010 8:09 AM writes...

I think the photon payload acts as a die or mold; it interacts with a non-water molecule (sort of atomic plastic) to create a model of the original drug - which then goes on to interact with the target. This is amazing hogwash! Unless, as you say, it stands up to experiment. Thanks for the morning eyebrow exercise.

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2. Petros on June 2, 2010 8:09 AM writes...

The science behind homeopathy?

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3. steve on June 2, 2010 8:22 AM writes...

Why start with something as complex as taxol? Would the 'drug signal' for ethanol get you drunk...? and would you get a hangover?

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4. Jerseylicious on June 2, 2010 8:25 AM writes...

Forget the eyebrow exercise. This concept is new to me. My brain is now tired of trying to imagine how you can target one organic molecule in, literally, a sea of water and biological goo. If those papers do come out, I would love the follow up post and have my skepticism proved wrong too.

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5. Dave on June 2, 2010 8:26 AM writes...

Even IF I bought into the whole photonic field (sounds Star Trekky to me) thing, I read on their website that their Digitax caused no side effects. Surely if it is the photonic field that causes the thereapuetic effect, it is the photonic field that causes toxicity?

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6. Tok on June 2, 2010 8:29 AM writes...

Step right up folks! What we have here is a genuine, one-of-a-kind photon field! Why, with this little gizmo, you can cure most anything! Any ailment, from arthritis to headaches to cancer can be cured without harmful chemicals! I say again, without chemicals! Get yours while the gettin's good because you know Big Pharma's going to snap this up right quick and keep it for themselves! Quantities are limited, so get your photon field right now!

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7. Kathryn on June 2, 2010 8:30 AM writes...

Definitely great for facial exercises! The mind doth boggle...

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8. anon on June 2, 2010 8:36 AM writes...

I guess they named themselves Nativis Pharmaceuticals because Naivitis ("naive-itis") was already taken? At least the investors will get help with their naivete...

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9. Helen on June 2, 2010 8:38 AM writes...

They are saying that the disadvantage of Taxol is it's ability to cross the blood brain barrier, they are saying their technology overcomes this. By taking their "drug" in a water solution it "is effective in safely crossing the blood-brain barrier" to kill brain does that work?!

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10. Henning Makholm on June 2, 2010 8:39 AM writes...

Photon therapy is a mainstream treatment for conditions as diverse as nearsightedness, neonatal jaundice, seasonal depression, cancer, and disfiguring paleness of the skin. How dare you claim it doesn't work?

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11. c on June 2, 2010 8:42 AM writes...

Surely there is some quantum superpositioning that can be exploited so that all possible drugs are represented in one ensemble.

Seriously, this would be funny were it not for the countless diseases which will require nothing short of relentless and expensive disciplined drug development.

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12. sgcox on June 2, 2010 8:44 AM writes...

Most funny part - why do they need to deliver photons orally, intravenously, intraperitoneally and intrathecally and how ?

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13. HelicalZz on June 2, 2010 8:56 AM writes...


Doesn't everyone include claims on the photonic signature of their molecules when writing out their patents? LOL


P.S. - I feel deeply for whoever is tasked with the CMC section of their 'pending' IND filing.

P.P.S. sgcox -- I think the answer you are looking for is 'telepathically'.

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14. RB Woodweird on June 2, 2010 8:57 AM writes...

Here at Nativis Pharmaceuticals we have an algorithm which drives our business. Cause we're super sciency. It is:

If {(potential investor IQ/100) 1},
bullshit generator = on
hype machine = full.

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15. RB Woodweird on June 2, 2010 9:03 AM writes...

Well, that comment didn't render well at all. Greater than and less than symbols got dropped, and a whole logical clause where the potential investor's bank account divided by 100000 is over unity was lost, and...

Hell, it wasn't that funny. Nevermind.

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16. RandDChemist on June 2, 2010 9:12 AM writes...

What can one do for mental whiplash?

Maybe Geordi could explain this to me if he wasn't changing the flux capacitor in the Jeffries Tube.

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18. partial agonist on June 2, 2010 9:20 AM writes...

Remember that program that generates total hogwash research papers, to explore such wonderful concepts as synergistic paradigms of fluxational variance? I think that the makers of that program have branched out into the area of corporate spin for the purpose of raising venture capital.

Their pitch makes my wife's shampoo bottle, touting its ability to invigorate and energize your scalp with ionic moisturizing botanicals, seem almost logical.

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19. rick b on June 2, 2010 9:29 AM writes...

Can anyone make sense of their patent, US7081747? They zap a sample with Gaussian noise and read some molecular rotation signal at up to 50kHz. The experimental setup has some fancy electromagnetics, SQUIDs, FFTs, etc.

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20. Cassius on June 2, 2010 9:33 AM writes...

Damn it Jim! I'm a doctor, not a physicist!

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21. J-bone on June 2, 2010 9:42 AM writes...

Maybe they can get Generex to help them with their clinical trials.

partial agonist, the program you're talking about is SciGen. Got me through grad school!

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22. Hap on June 2, 2010 9:48 AM writes...

1) "[ampersand]lt" = <
"[ampersand]gt" = >

(I don't know how to put in the ampersand without HTML interpreting the quoted material.) If you use the standard characters, they get interpreted as delimiters for HTML commands, and ignored if there isn't one.

2) Certainly, each molecule has an electrostatic field, and considering that atoms are mostly space, maybe you could replicate that with a field. If that were the case, though, you'd expect the fields to behave like the molecules they emulate. Oh, and how much energy does this take to implement? Most hospitals don't have nuclear power plants of their own.

Sounds like some investors are going to have to live with the field effects of their previously held money rather than real cash.

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23. Design Monkey on June 2, 2010 9:57 AM writes...

Ew. The ususal pseudoscience mix of fraud and self delusions. Exact proportions unknown, but that's not really important, in the end it's all the same.

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24. weirdo on June 2, 2010 10:02 AM writes...

Comer & Yakatan as scientific advisors. Destined for greatness, this company is, yeeesss.

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25. Curious on June 2, 2010 10:07 AM writes...

Has anybody contacted some of the advisors listed on their website to see if they are 1) real, and 2) genuinely advising the company beyond telling them they are completely loony? I wonder if some of them would be very greatful to be notified their reputation was being trashed in this way.

Why do I suspect they called these people, asked them some random question, then marked them down as advisors? Oh, because it's hard to believe any of these people would sign on to such bullshit.

If it weren't for that list, they wouldn't have a shred of credibility, right?

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26. john on June 2, 2010 10:35 AM writes...

"Given the high cost of mistakes, it might appear obvious that a rational organization should want to base its decisions on unbiased odds, rather than on predictions painted in shades of rose. However. . .optimistic self-delusion is a diagnostic indication of mental health and well-being. . .The benefits of unrealistic optimism in increasing persistence in the face of difficulty have been documented. . ."

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27. Harry on June 2, 2010 10:35 AM writes...

Homeopathy with the serial numbers filed off and a bright new coat of cheap paint.

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28. geezer on June 2, 2010 10:42 AM writes...

It seems that John Butters CEO has managed to hoodwink a few Whidbey Isl. investors out of some dough.

I'm wondering how you get the photon payload out of the fumehood....

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29. John on June 2, 2010 10:51 AM writes...

Derek, you didn't catch the half of it. These guys have actually been featured on CNBC via the offices of a guy who calls himself an "eco-capitalist":

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30. CB on June 2, 2010 11:03 AM writes...

The CEO Lisa C Butters apparently has two patents with other members of the Butters family!

Both patents measuring EM using a SQUID detector with a stocastic excitation/detection scheme between 0-100KHz to look at the EM signature of molecules. Both patents might work but have no utility.

It appears that the patents only purpose is for buttering up and defrauding investors.

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31. SRC on June 2, 2010 11:11 AM writes...

Yep, and one of the issued patents cites Benveniste. Yow.

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32. Chemjobber on June 2, 2010 11:34 AM writes...

I second Petros -- this sounds like homeopathy baloney.

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33. Matt on June 2, 2010 11:36 AM writes...

There is this patent application from John and Bennett Butters (but does not include Lisa Butters).


61. A method for treating a tumor in a mammalian subject, comprising(a) generating a plurality of low-frequency time-domain signals by the steps of:(i) placing a sample containing a cancer chemotherapeutic the agent in a container having both magnetic and electromagnetic shielding,(ii) injecting noise into the sample at a given noise amplitude;(iii) recording an electromagnetic time-domain signal composed of sample source radiation superimposed on the injected noise, and(iv) repeating steps (ii)-(iii) at each of a plurality of noise levels within a selected noise-level range,(b) analyzing the plurality of time domain signals generated in (a) by producing spectral plots of the time-domain signals, and identifying an optimized agent-specific time-domain signal based on information in said spectral plots, and(c) exposing the subject to the optimized agent-specific time-domain signal identified in (b) by placing the subject within the magnetic field of an electromagnetic transducer, and applying said signal to said transducer at a signal amplitude and for a period sufficient to produce a reduction in the size and/or rate of growth of a tumor in the subject.

62. The method of claim 61, wherein said agent is taxol or a taxol derivative.

I suspect Deepak Chopra might be one of the investors. In 1998, he was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Physics. The Chopra Center for Wellbeing is in La Costa (San Diego).

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34. Hap on June 2, 2010 11:37 AM writes...

1) The ability to detect an electronic signature of a molecule doesn't mean that you can actually create that object or its signature somewhere else, nor that it has the effect of the original molecule. Just because I can see a planet in the sky doesn't mean I can actually create one.

2) Wiki said that Beneveniste claimed that people trying to replicate his work didn't get the protocol right. Asssuming that 26 has it right, if you can't reproduce the results reliably, how can you make a drug from them?

3) You can't say that photons don't have some power - they're allowing us to give our faces some exercise, and Nativis to show their investors the signature of what used to be their money.

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35. MTK on June 2, 2010 11:46 AM writes...

The really sad part was reading some of the comments from Whidby News. Mostly relatives or victims of cancer enthusiastically wishing Nativis well or saying "Great News!"

It's one thing to hoodwink folks with money to spare looking for a big score. It's another thing entirely to exploit desperate people looking for hope.

If those involved in this venture sincerely believe they're on to something, well, good luck. If not, then they should enjoy life now, because they might not enjoy the next one in whatever special place may exist for their ilk.

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36. sigma147 on June 2, 2010 11:56 AM writes...

I assume that in a clinical trial, the successful endpoint would be having the patients go into the light....

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37. the Bard on June 2, 2010 12:30 PM writes...

I hate it when html messes with my prose and "o-apostrophe" becomes something bizarre...
lets just make it "of"

Round about the cauldron go
Into the pot the photons throw
From Pacific Yew, grown in fog
Blend with fur from sleeping dog
The potion shall make a tumor go
Or allow us all to roll in dough

Double, double, toil and trouble
Photon fields for patients bubble

Thrice add photons from a snake
In the cauldron boil and bake
Photons from a toe of frog
From woolly bat and tongue of dog,
Burn more incense, make a smoke
Our investors need a mighty toke
For a charm of powerful trouble
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble

Double, double, toil and trouble
Photon fields for patients bubble

Now add a pinch of dragon hair;
Made fresh in labs of Jim LaClair
Needs a pinch of piperkadsin C
Yes, anti-Bredt is fine with me
Hair of Woodward in the brew
Put some in from Corey too
Thicken an hour in the sun
Then we are ready for phase one

Double, double, toil and trouble
Photon fields for patients bubble

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38. Sili on June 2, 2010 12:31 PM writes...

It's not even original as a kind of woo. Prior art exist as I'm sure Orac'd point out. I seem to recall that it's also possible to transform homoeopathic remedies to sound and transfer them over the phone.

True story, as Pat Robertson would say.

ativis has investors and advisors who are neither scam artists nor saffron-robed gurus, and unfortunately, the only other appropriate category I can think of is "victim". Am I wrong?
Yes. Illiterate fucktards are more like it. If one is too stupid to suss out as obvious a scam as this, one deserves to part with one's money.

If one does suss it out and still invests, knowing full well that the last sucker is yet to be born, one is all too likely to make a profit.

Of course I hope that it's possible to shut the down for fraud, but frankly I doubt it in this deregulated age.

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39. alig on June 2, 2010 12:33 PM writes...

Evidently you are not the only one skeptical. From NCTimes:
Experts skeptical

The North County Times gave several quantum electrodynamics experts at universities and national laboratories promotional material from Nativis describing the technology, and the theoretical justification from quantum electrodynamics.

Peter J. Mohr, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md, expressed moderate skepticism.

Mohr said by e-mail that while he's not a drug chemist, "our understanding of photons or radiation emitted by a molecule is that it is unlikely to contain enough information to transmit the therapeutic properties of the source. ... Work on quantum computation may eventually change this, but it appears that practical applications are well off in the future."

Two experts replied with more strongly skeptical responses, but neither gave permission to be quoted by name.

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40. Sigma on June 2, 2010 1:21 PM writes...

I have a cast-resin copy of an M-16 carbine hanging over my mantlepiece. Everybody thinks it is real. It is painted to have a weathered appearance. Even to the experienced observer, it looks exactly like the real deal.

Of course, since it is solid plastic, you can't even pull the trigger. Seems to me a molecule with the same "photon field" as the drug would be as effective fighting disease as my plastic rifle would be fighting Osama Bin Laden. (Less effective, since you could hit Osama over the head with my fake gun.)

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41. JasonP on June 2, 2010 1:36 PM writes...

You know its funny but not so much. It's BS science like this that makes regular folk who don't know much about it mistrust science and its results. These guys should be forced to answer some hard questions.

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42. CarlB on June 2, 2010 1:58 PM writes...

If homeopathy works -- water retains the active principle of no longer present molecules -- how come my survival water filter works? Seems like any water would just endlessly accumulate more and more ghostly characteristics.

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43. Harry on June 2, 2010 2:35 PM writes...

Mildly off-topic. A hilarious takedown of homeopathy:

I particularly like the part where the nurse questions the dose at 1 part per million, and the doc replies- "You're right, we need a stronger dose- one part in ten million".

What a huge pile of crap.

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44. daen on June 2, 2010