Disclaimer: Consult with a doctor before deciding on a treatment plan for cancer or any other disease.

William Coley noticed that when one of his patients came down with an infection and a high fever, the patient’s cancer went away. Other doctors had noted the same thing so Coley developed a treatment in which patients are inoculated with infectious organisms to induce a high fever. Today, patients can still receive Coley’s Toxins at various clinics around the world.


Detailed Information

Coley Therapy was developed by William Coley in the 1890’s as a cure for bone cancer. Other names that Coley Therapy goes by include Coley’s Treatment, Mixed Bacterial Vaccine, Endotoxin Treatment, and Issel’s Fever Treatment [2]. Because of his discoveries, Coley is now known as the “Father of Immunotherapy.”


In 1867 Wilhelm Busch, a German surgeon working at the hospital at the University of Bonn, discovered that the malignant tumor of one of his patients had disappeared after the patient came down with an erysipelas infection caused by the Streptococcus bacteria (the cause of the erysipelas infection wouldn’t be discovered until 1881). Another doctor by the name of Bruns tried injecting a cancer patient with the streptococcal organism to induce an infection. As with Busch’s patient, the malignant tumor got noticeably smaller. Coley based his initial experimentation off reports like these in his search for a cure for cancer [1].


Coley Therapy induces a fever. As with hyperthermia treatments, by increasing the temperature of the body, cancer cells are killed.



William Coley was a surgeon operating at the Bone Tumor Service at Memorial Hospital in New York who focused on treating bone sarcoma cancer. After much research and many personal observations (e.g. patients who developed infections after surgery had higher survival rates than those who didn’t), Coley decided in 1891 to do an experiment where he injected streptococcal organisms into a patient with inoperable bone cancer in an effort to kill the cancer. The 1891 experiment was successful, and Coley continued working with bacteria to treat bone and soft-tissue sarcoma cancers.


However, despite his success in treating cancer (and other diseases as well), Coley was harshly criticized by his peers. Many doctors practicing in the same hospital didn’t believe his results, and the development of chemotherapy and radiation treatment started to encroach on his success until the treatment was almost completely wiped out.


In 1920, the Coley’s Toxins treatment encountered resistance from the Bone Sarcoma Registry. Coley had a difficult time getting accepted as a member of the registry, since many members doubted his success and denied Coley’s cases where patients had recovered using the treatment. The Registry eventually stated that the treatment wasn’t an actual cure for cancer, and that the patients who recovered from the treatment must have been misdiagnosed. Previously, the Park Davis Company had been producing Coley’s product that he’d developed, but in 1952 they stopped producing and distributing the treatment. In 1962, the FDA discredited Coley’s Toxins as an illegitimate treatment/medication, and the method became illegal in the United States [1].


Today, Coley Therapy can be found in the United States as a cancer treatment, but it’s not widely used or recognized because the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer was able to acquire the Coley Pharmaceutical Group in 2007 and suppress it’s distribution. Most of the clinics today that use the treatment are smaller groups of practitioners or individuals operating in their own office [3]. The Cancer Research Institute (https://www.cancerresearch.org/about-cri) was started by William Coley’s daughter as a way to distribute reliable information to the public about cancer cures, specifically immunotherapy.


Safety and Effectiveness 

Coley’s therapy is a form of immunotherapy that works by stimulating and encouraging the patient’s immune system to fight cancer cells on its own. In the beginning stages of development, Coley injected live bacteria (specifically streptococcus bacteria) into his patients to stimulate erysipelas, which is an immune reaction to the bacteria that often results in swelling or redness/rash in the body’s limbs and face in addition to a high fever. After time, he started using dead versions of the bacteria to achieve the desired results without the health risks that exposing cancer patients to the live bacteria posed [1].


With Coley’s therapy, the body’s temperature is raised to create a state of hyperthermia to stimulate cancer cell death; Coley discovered that cancer cells are unable to survive in environments above 42°C (107.6°F), which is why the high fever that he induced in his patients resulted in cancer cell death [5].


Today, the original formula for Coley’s Toxins is unavailable in conventional medical environments. This original formula consisted of two different bacteria, which were a gram-positive Streptococcus pyogenes  and a gram-negative Streptococcus pyogenes  and Serratia marcescens [6]. The cancer-killing result of Coley Therapy is attributed to a few different possible factors:


  • The bacteria boosts the patient’s immune system to kill cancer cells.


  • The bacteria causes the body to produce a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) that produces a healing inflammatory response in the body.


  • The bacteria stimulate the body to produce a different protein, interleukin 12, that create a healing inflammation while also increasing cytotoxicity by activating T-lymphocytes and the body’s natural killer cells.


  • An enzyme called streptokinase (a combination of the streptococcal organism and the patient’s own plasminogen) is responsible for the death of cancer cells; this possibility is based off of the success of streptokinase in treating thromboangiitis obliterans.


  • The bacteria are anti-angiogenic, meaning that they halt the development of new blood vessels that sustain cancer cells.


  • The bacteria result in a PAMP (“pathogen associated molecular pattern”) that activates and incites growth of the body’s dendritic cells to fight the cancer. One PAMP that is often considered in this hypothesis is the CpG motif found in bacterial DNA (like the DNA that would be found in the bacteria in Coley’s Toxins) [7].


The CHIPSA Hospital in Mexico explains that the body’s resting dendritic cells are activated in response to the Coley therapy, which then causes anergic T cells to become activated as well in the fight against the cancer. After some cancer cells are damaged/killed, cancer antigens are supplied to dendritic cells to give them more strength in fighting the cancer [7].


After Coley’s death in 1936, his daughter Helen Coley Nauts (1907-2001) documented his work and established the Cancer Research Institute to preserve her father’s work in immunotherapy. One table displayed in an extra from the documentary “Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering” shows the following results from a group of 896 patients who had been given Coley’s Toxins to cure their various cancers. The 5-year survival rates for these patients were the following for:


  • Ewing’s sarcoma – 21% (11/52) for inoperable cancer, 29% (18/62) for operable cancer
  • Osteogenic sarcoma – 13% (3/23) for inoperable cancer, 31% (43/139) for operable cancer
  • Reticular cell sarcoma – 18% (9/49) for inoperable cancer, 57% (13/23) for operable cancer
  • Multiple myeloma – 50% for inoperable cancer (4/8) and operable cancer (2/4)
  • Giant cell tumor – 79% (15/19) for inoperable cancer, 87% (33/38) for operable cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – 49% (42/86) for inoperable cancer
  • Hodgkin’s disease – 67% (10/15) for inoperable cancer
  • Soft tissue sarcomas – 57% (78/138) for inoperable cancer, 73% (36/50) for operable cancer
  • Breast cancer – 65% (13/20) for inoperable cancer, 100% (13/13) for operable cancer
  • Ovarian cancer – 67% (10/15) for inoperable cancer, 100% (1/1) for operable
  • Cervical carcinoma – 67% (2/3) for inoperable cancer
  • Uterine sarcoma – 73% (8/11) for inoperable cancer
  • Testicular cancer – 34% (14/43) for inoperable cancer, 71% (15/21) for operable cancer
  • Malignant melanoma – 60% (10/17) for inoperable, 71% (10/14) for operable cancer
  • Colorectal cancer – 46% (5/11) for inoperable cancer, 100% (2/2) for operable cancer
  • Renal cancer (adult) – 43% (3/7) for inoperable cancer, 100% (1/1) for operable cancer
  • Wilms tumor – 33% (1/3) for operable cancer
  • Neuroblastoma – 17% (1/6) for inoperable cancer, 67% (2/3) for operable cancer


In total, 46% (238/523) of patients for inoperable, 51% (190/374) for operable were still alive 5 years after treatment [4].

Coley therapy would not be recommended for brain cancer or cancer in the skull, since the treatment causes an inflammatory reaction that could be damaging and result in seizures, blackouts, or other severe reactions. It’s possible that it could be used with some success for these cancers, but the authors would recommend asking for guidance from a doctor or hospital that administers Coley therapy on this topic (clinics listed in the “Other Information” section).


How Coley Therapy is Administered

Coley therapy is offered in the form of an injection. The injection may be given into a vein or directly into the tumor; patients continue to have daily injections of the treatment until they maintain a constant high temperature, which can take a few months.

Coley therapy can cause temporary side effects in its patients during the treatment that include:

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Chest pain
  • Shock-like reactions
  • Fever-like symptoms, like chills, shakes, and achiness [2]

At the Saisei Mirai Clinics in Japan, Coley therapy is generally administered between 3-5 times per week (sometimes up to every day) with 1 injection each day the treatment is administered. The clinic analyzes each patient’s condition and reaction to the treatment and makes adjustments as needed. The treatment results in a body temperature between 103°F-106°F (39.5°C-41°C) and lasts for about 5-6 hours, during which time the patient’s vital signs are constantly monitored and a member of medical staff is present.

The Saisei Mirai clinics also offer a low-dose Coley therapy option, which uses low doses of the infusion and takes about 1-2 hours. They recommend that some patients start with this therapy before moving to the traditional Coley therapy.

Other Important Information

Clinics that offer Coley therapy:

  • The Saisei Mirai Clinics with locations in Osaka, Tokyo, and Kobe. The cost for 30 treatments is about $9,400USD; 1 treatment is $93USD and 10 treatments are $750USD


  • The CHIPSA Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico founded by Dr. Charlotte Gerson (Dr. Max Gerson’s daughter), and Dr. Josef Issels worked at the hospital to develop its immunotherapy protocols. It’s extremely accessible at only 30 minutes from the US-Mexico border, and their website states that they can arrange a private shuttle from the San Diego Lindbergh Airport to their facility. There are “companion stay” facilities at the hospital so that loved ones of patients can stay close by. The CHIPSA hospital offers Coley therapy as well as other treatments for cancer (specifically the Gerson treatments).



The following link instructs on how individuals can make their own Coley’s Toxins treatment, but these instructions should be used with great care: http://www.second-opinions.co.uk/coleys_instructions.html#.WuopadMvzOQ


Wayne Martin wrote the article above and instructed individuals on how to use Coley therapy, but he passed away in 2006. Patients who want to do the therapy should consult with a practitioner at a clinic that supports alternative therapies to ensure that they work safely with the treatment.


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[1] McCarthy, F. Edward MD (2006). The Toxins of William B. Coley and the Treatment of Bone and Soft-Tissue Sarcomas. Retrieved March 22, 2018 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1888599/


[2] Cancer Research UK (2012). What is Coley’s toxins treatment for cancer? Retrieved May 1, 2018 from: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/coleys-toxins-cancer-treatment


[3] Pfizer (2007). Pfizer to Acquire Coley Pharmaceutical Group. Retrieved May 2, 2018 from: http://press.pfizer.com/press-release/pfizer-acquire-coley-pharmaceutical-group

[4] Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering – Documentary (2014). Chapter 1 of 12 “Coley’s Toxins” – DVD Extra Clip from “Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering. Retrieved May 2, 2018 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3Ky2z8x3Mw


[5] Dr. Michael Johnson (2012). Coley’s Toxins. Retrieved May 2, 2018 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nRdpUg5r54


[6] N.A. (n.d). Coley Vaccine (Mixed Bacterial Vaccine) therapy. Retrived May 2, 2018 from: https://www.saisei-mirai.or.jp/gan/coley_vaccine_therapy_eng.html


[7] CHIPSA Hospital (n.d) Coley’s Dendritic Therapy. Retrieved May 3, 2018 from: https://chipsahospital.org/coleys-dendritic-therapy/