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05th Oct 2017

Study raises concern over ineffective cancer drugs with little benefit

Louise Carroll

Research published yesterday presented findings showing most newly approved cancer drugs may have no survival benefits.

Published in the British Medical Journal, researchers from King’s College London and the London School of Economics, analysed 48 drugs in total used to treat 68 types of cancers after approvals were made by the European Medicines Agency during 2009 and 2013.

Of these 68 approvals, 39 (57 percent) showed no supporting evidence of providing improved survival rates or quality of life at the time the drugs entered the market.

For 49 percent of the approvals, “uncertainty remains over whether the drugs extend survival or improve quality of life.”

Out of 23 drugs shown to help patients, only 11 (48 percent) were shown to offer a clinically meaningful benefit.

An author of the study, Huseyin Naci said;

“It is remarkable that so few cancer drugs enter the European market without any clear data on outcomes that matter to patients and their doctors – longer survival and better quality of life.”

Naci also pointed out that at present, there is little incentive for drug companies to produce more evidence that the drugs work.

Lead author, and medical and political sociologist in the Dept. of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London, Dr Courtney Davis, said;

“We evaluated the evidence base for all new drugs entering the market over a five-year period and found that the majority came onto the market without clear evidence that they improved patients’ survival or quality of life.”

The study found that the drugs were approved through indirect measures which didn’t always show that a patient would necessarily feel better or live longer.

The researchers also said that when costly drugs which lack significant benefits are approved and paid for within a publicly funded healthcare system, “individual patients can be harmed, important societal resources wasted, and the delivery of equitable and affordable care undermined.”

According to the Irish Times, the Irish Cancer Society’s head of research, Dr Robert O’Connor said he was familiar with the work of the authors and that they had raised some “very valid issues” that would increasingly impact society.

Current statistics show that one in three people in Ireland will at some point develop cancer during their lifetime and around 29,000 new cases emerge every year.