BCG: The 100-Year Old Wonder Drug

Who would have ever thought that cow bacteria could be so useful?

Made from a weakened strain of live bovine tuberculosis bacteria, Bacillus Calmette-Guérin or BCG as it’s more commonly known, was first used as a common tuberculosis (TB) vaccine. First used to treat human TB in 1921, it’s up to 80% effective in preventing TB which is why it is still used worldwide to vaccinate children against the disease. But that’s not all this wonder drug can do.

In 1979, a clinical study determined BCG to be “beneficial in the treatment of lung cancer”. According to the study abstract, when administered once before surgery and four times afterward, “The survival rate in the BCG administered group was significantly more than in the control group. Further, when only the cases that were treated strictly in accordance with the protocol were taken into consideration, the effectiveness of BCG was even more significant.”

A little over a decade later, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine gave evidence that the BCG vaccine offered significant protection from bladder cancer recurrence during remission. A couple of years after that, in 1994, an unrelated medical trial concluded that BCG had the same effect on malignant melanoma, colorectal cancer, and most recently, bladder cancer.

So not only does BCG treat TB and multiple types of cancer, it has also been proven to reduce the incidence and severity of symptoms of multiple sclerosis as well. BCG is not yet being used as a treatment for MS, but the journal Neurology recently deemed it a safe and sensible use of the BCG vaccine.

In addition to MS, BCG has also been shown to have a protective effect on leprosy, delayed the onset of Buruli ulcers, and a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease has shown that BCG provides a mild neuroprotective effect. BCG has also shown promising results in animal tests for type 1 diabetes. If the results could be replicated in humans, it could mean the end of insulin dependence for those with diabetes.

While these broad-spectrum positive results are stunningly encouraging, we still do not know what makes BCG so successful on such a wide variety of illnesses and ailments. Unfortunately, due to the manner in which the US pharmaceutical industry is structured, BCG is not widely used. American medical professionals generally prefer to treat TB instead of vaccinate against it.

This is a shame, considering we may have only barely begun to scratch the surface of what BCG is capable of treating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *