Value of New Cancer Drugs

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

OCTOBER 31, 2017

This is a very discouraging report from The Guardian. It states that more than half of new drugs approved for cancer treatment have demonstrated no value for either survival or quality of life/well-being. One can,however, be pretty sure that they cost more than the existing similar treatments. I will admit that I am surprised and perplexed by this fact. Presumably, the approval from the FDA or similar agencies in Europe relied on data from trials that was positive.

But, to quote from the article: But the study, which looked at the clinical trials associated with the drugs, reveals that at the time the therapies became available there was no conclusive evidence that they improved survival in almost two-thirds of the situations for which they were approved.
In only 10% of the uses did the drugs improve quality of life. Overall 57% of uses showed no benefits for either survival or quality of life.

To use an old phrase, there is something really rotten in the state of Denmark (and other places!). In addition to those issues, this is a distressing report for cancer patients and their families. We are all told that many drugs are in the pipeline, no therapies are being approved every month, and that there is lots of room for optimism about the future. This seems to contradict some of that rosy outlook.

Do read this:

Over half of new cancer drugs 'show no benefits' for survival or well being

Nicola Davis

The team found that after a follow-up period of between three to eight years, 49% of approved uses were linked to no clear sign of improvement in survival or quality of life. Where survival benefits were shown, the team said these were clinically meaningless in almost half of the cases.

“What we find very surprising is that not very many studies are looking at overall survival or quality of life as their [primary] objective,” said Naci. He said that instead most of the studies examined indirect measures, such as x-rays or laboratory tests that were assumed to offer clues as to a drug’s survival benefits.

He added: “Unfortunately the expectation is that once the drugs are on the market then companies will be investing in [longer term] trials to then demonstrate overall survival benefits. But unfortunately these trials are not necessarily taken up and conducted.”

Naci said the findings did not mean patients should worry. “I think it is very important that no one is alarmed,” he said.

(Note from Hester: Oh really??)

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