Many new cancer drugs don’t save lives

And scientists discover a new part of the brain.

When researchers in the U.K. took a close look at the effectiveness of new cancer drugs approved by the European Medicines Agency between 2009 and 2013, they discovered that only about half showed “a significant improvement in survival or quality of life.”

The finding published in the BMJ follows a study in JAMA last March that also found less than half of the new cancer drugs approved in the U.S. and Europe between 2003 and 2013 increased overall survival by more than three months. And many of the drugs have toxic side-effects.

What does this research mean for patients? “That’s the million-dollar question,” said Queen’s University oncologist and researcher Dr. Christopher Booth.

“We’ve always thought in medicine that any medical intervention should help people live longer and better lives, which means any new treatment in a clinical trial should be shown to increase survival and improve quality of life.”

The problem is that many trials evaluate the success of the drug using “surrogate endpoints.” That means instead of measuring whether patients live longer, they measure whether their cancer progresses or how many patients experience tumour shrinkage. It’s sometimes called “progression-free survival.”

“It seems counterintuitive,” Booth said. “But it’s been clearly shown that ‘progression-free survival’ does not predict or is not associated with overall survival.”

Booth said it raises challenging questions for oncologists and regulatory agencies about whether it’s acceptable to expose patients to very small gains for very toxic and expensive drugs.

“Our group is starting to do some work with patients to find out what they value,” Booth said.
By Kelly Crowe, CBC News
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Photo credit: Shutterstock/Phonlamai Photo

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