AdVince - The Inspiring Story About Human Will and the World's First Crowdfunded Cancer Drug

Hospital Bed

Jan Smørlung of Sweden was struggling with a rare form of cancer caused by the spread of neuroendocrine tumours. Having tried all available treatments with little or no success, the situation was getting dire and he was told he had little time to live. (Image Source: Pixabay)

Prof. Magnus Essand heads this research project along with post-doctoral fellow Justyna Leja in Uppsala University

Meanwhile, writer Alexander Masters from the UK was also desperately searching for a cure for his friend Dido Davies, who had the same sort of cancer. His search led him to stumble upon an old Youtube video uploaded by a bio-tech company called Neotropix. The video described a drug which had shown some promise in treating this kind of tumours. The FDA had approved it and some human trials were pending. With his hopes rising, he investigated further only to discover that this company had gone under some time after releasing the video, and the drug now lay unused in a deep-freezer in a laboratory in Uppsala University, Sweden. (Image Source: ©FieldcraftStudios –

AdVince in Uppsala University

Masters wanted to get the trials re-started and get the drug to the public (specifically to Dido) as soon as possible. He wrote an article titled “A virus that kills cancer: the cure that’s waiting in the cold” in the Telegraph. The article went viral in a few days and attracted attention from Dominic Nutt, another NET cancer survivor and Vince Hamilton, a wealthy businessman who was also waiting for a successful drug to save his life. (Image Source: ©FieldcraftStudios –

The NET tumour

Without getting too scienc-y, NET(Neuroendocrine tumour) is the umbrella term for a group of unusual tumours that develop from the neuroendocrine cells that are responsible for the production of various hormones such as adrenalin, insulin and serotonin. When this spreads it develops into cancer. Steve Jobs too died from this type of cancer. Because it is rather rare, there has not been much advancement into its treatment when compared to breast or lung cancer. As for the drug, which was named AdVince in honour of the gentleman who donated three fourth’s of the money needed for the trials, it is an oncolytic virus – a virus which infects and kills cancer cells. (Image Source: Nephron/Wiki Commons)


Crowdfunding is very ‘in’ these days. It’s used for making creative projects like movies, as well as for funding thousands of startups. When we think of crowdfunding platforms, wildly successful companies like Kickstarter come to mind. However, this concept was unheard of in areas concerning drug research and trials. (Image Source: Pexels)

Liz Scarff and David Carter of Fieldcraftstudios, the team behind the crowdfunding operation

Soon after, Alex met Liz Scarff and David Carter, who headed the consultancy Fieldcraft studios. Together they started iCancer in an effort to crowdfund the money required to get the drug back on track. They succeeded in collecting £2million from 2001 people in 40 countries. Vince paid almost 75% of the sum – with the condition that he too would be a part of the trials. As a result of this massive labour of love from thousands of people, Jan Smørlung became the first person to receive the drug in August 2016, and also got to be the first patient ever to receive the first and as yet only crowdfunded cancer treatment. A page on their website ( acknowledges the contribution of each person in this endeavour. (Image Source: ©FieldcraftStudios –

For some, the drug arrived too late…

Others were not so fortunate. Masters’ friend Dido Davies passed away in 2013 and Vince, after whom the drug was named (“AdVince”) died just months after making the donation. However, Masters wants iCancer to continue its work, stating that “We want to show that Uppsala wasn’t a fluke: that the fundraising approach which we accidentally developed is a good way to get other neglected drugs out of their freezers and into clinical trials. Generalise our tactic in a way that does not promote quackery and you have, we believe, the chance to raise billions of pounds of new money for peer-reviewed, quality medical research.” (Image Source: Pexels)

The power of united action

Masters formulated this process of funding much needed drugs in his “Plutocratic Proposal”. He explains it this way in his article in the Week: “What the plutocrat who provides this new type of funding is saying is: ‘I will finance this neglected drug (that otherwise would not stand a chance of being developed) to be tested in all the poorer patients on a trial. All I ask in return, is that I be allowed to tag along.'” This undertaking was among the first of its kind in the history of medical research; let’s hope it ushers in a much-needed era of humane, ethical and fast research and eventually, affordable healthcare for all. (Image Source: Mike Baird/Flickr)

Cancer – the word itself is enough to invoke dread in our hearts. According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide. In 2012, there were 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths worldwide. Unfortunately medical advancement has not progressed enough to make safe, successful treatment options accessible and affordable to every patient. This is why this life-affirming story of friendship, altruism, hope and science went viral worldwide. Here’s how the world’s first crowdfunded cancer drug came to be.
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