Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

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.

Onska lycka till den vacker bruden, Katarina, och den stilige brudgrumen, Adam! Beside the lab freezer containing Kindly M icrobe, 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. Together, she and her boyfriend, the counter-tenor William Towers, sing Pur ti miro, the final duet from Monteverdi's Poppea. I am so moved by the glory of the singing that I can barely speak. I am almost crying.

'So, you are interested in new cancer treatments?' whispers a Swede standing to my right, bringing me back to earth with a bump. He points at my lapel.

I've forgotten to take off the badge the Uppsala University fundraising office has designed. Against a background of a virus exploding from a tumour cell, it says 'I .


Flora and I have rented a new house in the South Downs. We can't afford to buy even a two-bed dump in foulest Gants Hill, and the result is that we live in nice places. We give up all thoughts of taking responsibility for burst boilers and leaking roofs, and go deep into Sussex to sit in somebody else's four-bed farmhouse, in front of somebody else's log fire and spend our weekends pottering through somebody else's woodland and fields of sheep. …

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