The Curious Case of Nativis, The Forsaken Nobel Prize Winner and the Ghost of Jacques Benveniste

Jacques Benveniste

I was recently alerted by Bob Park’s rather great What’s New email about an extraordinary new company in the US called Nativis.They have a swish new web site that proclaims “The New Era of Drug Signal Therapy”.

Nativis state they are developing a range of new medical products with the  first being called Digitax™ which is aimed at “reducing and eliminating brain tumors”.

Exciting stuff.

And what makes this look so promising is that they claim their technology is “based on the pioneering work of several Nobel laureates.” Nativis also proudly assert they are ‘Green Pharma” where they “Eliminat[e] the need for traditional manufacturing facilities, extensive use of chemicals and processes, Nativis will be the first true green pharma company.” For a startup and their investors, it could not get much better.

But dig a little deeper and thing quickly begin to look very odd.

In their Technology section, they explain the science of “Drug Signals – the power of photons”.

The first sentence set huge alarm bells ringing – Their technology “captures the unique photon field (signal) of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), or drugs”.

Just what could this ‘photon field’ be and how could it be ‘captured’? This is beginning to look like classic pseudoscience.

A bit more detail,

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.

It is simple unphysical nonsense. Words from physics, put into sentences, without meaning.

Their technology confirms it.

In order to capture the photons of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), Nativis developed a proprietary, state-of-the art platform for capturing the photon field using the latest advancement in superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) technology, known as Molecular Interrogation and Data Systems™ (MIDS).

A SQUID is a device for measuring very small magnetic fields. They do not ‘capture photon fields’. The web reveals no insight into what a MIDS might be.

How do they say the treatment actually works?

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.

Clues are now starting to form. So, water is being used as the ‘drug’ with some sort of imprinted memory of a real drug. Yes, it is a techno-babble derivative of homeopathy. Indeed, “Coherence Domain” is one of those bits of jargon that  a few homeopaths have appropriated to give their ideas of the ‘memory of water’ the veneer of scientific language.

If anything Nativis were claiming was real, you would expect there to be an explosion of papers published, and the world buzzing with groundbreaking discoveries. But nothing. There are just a number of patents – and I will come on to those.

But what of the Nobel Prize winning discoveries that appear to underpin the technology?

The Nativis web site goes on to explain that Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) is the underpinning breakthrough. The work of Dirac, Schrödinger and Feynman describing how photons interact with matter has led to their breakthroughs and that “Nativis may be the first to successfully apply QED theory to medicine by converting photons, or light, to biological action.”

The physicist in me is crying.

They have a nice video section showing numerous lectures from Richard Feynman as if his talks have anything to do with their new alleged therapies.

Now, what is curious, is that if Nativis wish to associate themselves with the work of Nobel prize winners in order to give their claims an imprimatur, then there is one Prize winner they have obviously missed.

I recently wrote about the bizarre behaviour and claims of Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier, the controversial biologist who shared a prize for his role in the discovery of HIV. His self-published paper was making strange claims of being able to capture the electromagnetic field from ‘aqueous nanostructures’ created by bacterial DNA.

The claims of Montagnier and Nativis bear some striking similarities. Firstly, and importantly, water is able to create stable structures that can somehow transmit specific signals related to whatever caused the structures to form. Leaving aside that any structure created in water would not last more than a few picoseconds due to thermal activity, the idea that specific signals, in the form of photons, could be transmitted is ludicrous.

But where the similarities get a little spooky is in the patents held by both Montagnier and the founders of Nativis. Montagnier shows his breakthrough device as follows:


And the Nativis patents, show a claimed invention as such:image

Both patents are describing a coil, attached to an amplifier that feeds a signal into a computer. As simple as that. As a said in my Montagnier post, the device is almost certainly just picking up radio noise.

This looks as if it is unlikely to be a coincidence.

So, I look at the management of the company and I find that the founder is a John Butters whose brief biography states that he worked “at the French government research labs INSERM in Clamart” where he was introduced “to molecular signalling research”.

So, we have the French Connection.

Now, whilst Montagnier made his HIV discoveries a the Pasteur Institute, his codiscoverer, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, worked at INSERM. Its close, but not quite a smoking gun.

The link that joins everyone together here with INSERM is none other that the late Jacques Benveniste, famous for his homeopathic water memory experiments that could not be repeated under controlled conditions. Benveniste did his homeopathic basophil degranulation experiments at INSERM – the experiments that Nature sent a team in to investigate and found badly controlled procedures.

After Benveniste’s failure, he went on to try to show that homeopathic signals could be transmitted over a telephone line.

His patent diagram looks like this:

Montagnier stated that he was a colleague of Benveniste at a recent tribute event. It would appear that all three men, Butters, Montagnier and Benveniste were co-located and almost certainly were aware of each others work.

It is then curious as to why Nativis are not using a Nobel Prize winner with a direct connection to their claims to promote their work. One insight might come from a fourth patent from Bruno Robert who also worked with Benveniste. Robert’s patent on the “analysis of low-frequency electromagnetic signals” was contested by Montagnier in court. His ideas and apparatus were identical. How strange.

On reflection, I think Nativis are right to say their developments are built on the work of Richard Feynman. Not his work on QED, but his work on showing how science can become corrupted. His Caltech commencement address given in 1974, described what he called ‘Cargo Cult Science’,

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

In the case of Nativis, we are missing many essential things – most importantly any data – any evidence that what they say is true. Nativis has all the appearances of a glamorous young biotech company with great ideas and lofty ambitions. But I am not sure it is. I am not sure what it is. It would be simplistic and probably wrong to dismiss it as fraud. I do not believe Benveniste was a fraud and Montagnier too. They were simply wrong and have got carried away with fanciful ideas.

I think Feynman might have agreed. His words are frequently quoted, but it is worth doing it one more time,

We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after

18 Comments on The Curious Case of Nativis, The Forsaken Nobel Prize Winner and the Ghost of Jacques Benveniste

  1. What mind-numbingly stupid quackery this is! Tons of sciency words; not an ounce of science.*

    * The SI version reads “Tonnes of sciency words; not a 0.001 kg of science”, but the Imperial version sounds much better!

  2. Their web site does say they are doing clinical trials and will submit results to the FDA for drug approval in fall 2010. It would be nice to see the reference for the research into mice with brain tumours that they say they have done.

    If it works, it will get FDA approval, and we can all shut up.

    I wouldn’t invest any of my money in it, admittedly.

  3. Details/results of one such mouse study (purportedly conducted by a reputable third party) was provided to Derek Lowe of In the Pipeline. He has not shared these results with his readers. But apparently this data is floating around. Why skeptics are not disclosing these results as further evidence of their skepticism…? Good question, if I do say so myself.

    • If I had evidence that QED in the vicinity of a mouse is different than QED everywhere else in the universe, I probably wouldn’t want to disclose it either. 😉

      • Nativis say they are going to publish the results of their preclinical trials in peer-reviewed journals over the next few months. It will be particularly interesting to see which mouse model they’ve used, and whether they went for the new glioblastoma model developed by Inder Verma’s lab at the Salk Institute. Mouse models of human brain tumours have been notoriously difficult to generate, so the Verma one should have been the logical choice, especially as the Salk Institute is just a stone’s throw from Nativis in La Jolla.

  4. >Both patents are describing a coil, attached to an amplifier that >feeds a signal into a computer. As simple as that. As a said in >my Montagnier post, the device is almost certainly just picking >up radio noise.

    From the diagrams, they do the opposite, feeding a signal from the computer into an power amplifier driving the coil. Probably to imprint some signal into water by means of a elctromagnetic field. 🙂 This is not a radio receiver, it’s the electical part of an dynamic loudspeaker.

    Wait, I have an idea. How about imprinting classical music into water to fight cancer?

  5. As far as I read the diagrams, they are not picking up radio noise, they drive the coil with a signal from the computer by means of a power amplifier. The electical part of a dynamic loudspeaker…

    Maybe we can fight cancer with Mozart?

  6. Brilliant article. Thoughtful, balanced, and very enjoyable to read.

    Typo: “Now, whilst Montagnier made his HIV discoveries a the Pasteur Institute,”

    –> AT the Pasteur Institute

  7. It’s like a chiropractic version of homeopathy.

    Chiropractic – material free fixes for everything – all you need is a bit of hand waving. Oil-less, bottle-less, stopper-less, label-less, snake-less snake oil. Genius – from a commercial point of view.

    Drug signals – homeopathy without all the messy diluting, banging, bottles, postage, water. Homeopathy over t’interweb. Only wish I’d thought of it as I could do with a retirement plan.

    How long before the magic water treatment machine is in Boots?

  8. Oh not that long I shouldn’t wonder, though it will doubtless be out the back and only the suitably labelled products will be on display. After all after the mass homeopathic overdose campaign they know that we are watching them . . .

  9. Just thought you should know that INSERM is a national organisation that has many research units throughout France and probably dozens in the Paris area. I think you should remove from your post the argument that since Benveniste, Butters, and Montagnier all worked at INSERM labs at some point in their careers, they were somehow connected.
    Françoise Barré-Sinoussi doesn’t deserve to be tarred by the same brush as the others, either. She is definitely on the side of the angels, and has no involvement whatsoever with Luc Montagnier’s memory of water lunacy.


  10. This homeopathy-EM radiation guff has recently been taken up by the Institure of Science in Society, which is a pity, because they have some quite useful things to say about climate change, corporate pushing of GM and alternatives to modern intensive agriculture. But I think their biophysics looks very odd, full of conjecture, wishful thinking and over-generalising from what is probably a few anomalous observations.

    I mention this organisation here, because their moderated comments page failed to print a very polite thing I wrote saying there were criticisms of this “physical basis for homeopathy” hypothesis and linking to your page on Montagnier. So much for open-mindedness and free, scientific debate. See:

  11. There is no science. None of the principals has any real scientific background. They met Jacques Benveniste and retold his story to some gullible investors in the US and have lived off it ever since. Cold fusion will happen before a single cancer cell is killed by these so-called “recordings”.

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  1. Luc Montagnier’s Porridge Pill Cure for AIDS | The Quackometer
  2. El increíble caso Nativis o acerca de cómo diferenciar entre ciencia y fantasía | Agentes terapéuticos: ciencia o cháchara al servicio de la salud

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