As if suffering from cancer weren’t bad enough on its own, a new study has found that nearly two-thirds of the cancer drugs that gained authorization from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from 2009 to 2013 did not offer any clear proof that they would extend or improve patients’ lives.
The study, which was carried out by researchers from King’s College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science, revealed that most of the cancer drugs approved by the body rely on surrogate measures, which are not reliable predictors of a patient’s quality of life or survival.
Lead author Dr. Courtney Davis commented: “When expensive drugs that lack robust evidence of clinical benefit are approved and reimbursed within publicly funded healthcare systems, individual patients may be harmed and public funds wasted.”
In other words, cancer patients and the population, in general, suffer as Big Pharma watches its profits pile up.
The study also carried out follow-ups at a median of five years, at which point nearly half of the drugs continued to show no benefits in terms of quantity or quality of life. Among those that did show an improvement, the benefits were considered clinically insignificant in half of the cases.
These very disturbing findings have prompted the researchers to call on the EMA to raise the evidence bar when it comes to authorizing new drugs, and rightfully so.
LSE Department of Health Policy Assistant Professor and study author Huseyin Naci said it was “remarkable” that such a small number of new cancer drugs entering the European market had clear data showing positive outcomes.
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Another problem is that some of the cancer drugs that have been touted as being a “breakthrough therapy” do not have any real advantage over simply doing nothing or opting for the existing treatments. This creates false hope for patients and their families, and in some cases, it causes them to pass up other treatment options that might have made a real difference in their condition.
Pricey cancer drugs repeatedly shown to be ineffective
Earlier this year, it emerged that a fund set up to help patients access cancer drugs not covered by the National Health Service in England was a spectacular failure. After spending the equivalent of $1.64 billion, only around 18 percent of the 100,000 patients studied noted any benefits from treatments provided by the Cancer Drugs Fund. Just think of how many people were given ineffective treatments and how much they and their loved ones likely suffered as a result.
That study, which was also carried out by King’s College London, referred to the Cancer Drugs Fund as a “huge waste of money.” They believe that more people suffered needlessly from side effects than were aided by getting access to the meds. Among those who did gain benefits, the average was just 3.2 additional months of survival.
If you think you’re safe from this type of problem on the other side of the pond, think again. A recent review found that more than half of the drugs that were given “fast track” approval by the FDA in the U.S. did not undergo blinded, randomized or controlled testing, opening them up to significant bias. The “fast track” process is an accelerated approval program that allows drugs designed for serious conditions that have few other options to gain approval quickly so they can be given to people who desperately need them. Nineteen of the 22 drugs studied that gained approval on weak evidence were designed for cancer treatment.
This is the unfortunate reality for cancer patients. There is a slew of conflicting information available, different doctors say different things, and patients can’t even trust the drugs that have been approved by regulators to make them feel any better – and in many cases, they make them feel worse. Stricter standards need to be put in place to protect sick people from being victims of Big Pharma’s profit machine.