Does scorpion venom kill cancer?

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Scorpion venom. It's a potentially deadly poison, but it's the main ingredient in a drug designed to fight cancer, and while American doctors are skeptical at best, the company behind the drug says it works.

Escozine™ was developed by Medolife, which is based in the Dominican Republic and headed up by Russian expatriate Dr. Arthur Mikaelian.

Made with the venom of the blue scorpion, "Escozine™ is an advanced, clinically proven nutraceutical with a high success rate in previous clinical trials," reads the Medolife website. "Thousands of stage four cancer patients who were only given months to live are still alive today years after first taking Blue scorpion serum."

According to Mikaelian, the scorpion venom that paralyzes prey also helps the body find and kill cancer cells.

Despite Medolife's claims and patient testimonials calling the drug a "miracle," doctors with the American Cancer Society say there's no proof that Escozine™ works and are concerned about patients who might be getting their hopes up. American oncologists often urge their patients to be cautious about unproven alternative treatments, especially if they plan to stop traditional regimens.

While Medolife says preparations for clinical trials in the U.S. are underway, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved Escozine™ and it's not available for sale in American stores, but that has not stopped desperate patients. They buy it  the only place they can -- online. A month's supply, meant to be take orally, is about $700 -- plus nearly $70 for shipping.

In late June, the FDA cracked down on thousands of websites -- online pharmacies -- "that illegally sell potentially dangerous, unapproved prescription medicines to consumers." Because Medolife sells only the one product, which is labeled as a "natural supplement," it's not clear if the site would be considered an online pharmacy like those shut down during the FDA operation.

"Generally, manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA or get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements," according to the FDA information on dietary supplements.

Still, by all appearances, Medolife seems to want the FDA green light for its "revolutionary Escozine™."

While Medolife does not use the word "cure" and stops short of guaranteeing positive results, the implications are clear.

In addition to selling its flagship product, the Medolife website also features a "success calculator," which uses a variety of factors, including the type of cancer, metastases, current pain level and organ involvement, to predict the results of Escozine™ use.

Scorpion venom, which is extracted drop by drop, is not the first natural remedy to claim success where traditional treatments like radiation and chemotherapy can fail. While a few of these therapies have proven effective found their way into traditional medicine, "snake oil" has a negative connotation for a reason.

In its own clinical study of Escozine™, Medolife claimed stunning results.

"Blue scorpion serum showed an 89.5% success rate in the quality of life of those in the study," reads the company's website.

More than 8,300 patients were involved in Medolife' eight-year study, but it was not peer-reviewed and there are no corroborating independent studies.

Still, there is some precedent to consider when it comes to medical uses for scorpion venom. At least two published university studies -- one from Tel Aviv University in 2010 and the other from Michigan State University just last month -- in recent years indicate that the venom might have some analgesic properties. Both studies focused on scorpion as a potential non-addictive painkiller -- not a cancer fighter.

In addition to fighting cancer, Mikaelian believes Escozine™, which was the topic of a recent Nightline report, could be effective against a variety of auto-immune diseases, including HIV, as well. But even he says more testing on the drug is needed.