A new study exploring the efficacy of cancer drugs shows that very few increase survival rates.
Research published in the British Medical Journal focuses on a major issue; that of the 48 cancer drugs approved between 2009 and 2013, 57% of uses showed no survival benefits and many were “clinically meaningless.” While that in itself is a worrying statistic, the biggest reveal is how patient benefits were assessed during the study.
The study looked into clinical trials surrounding those 48 drugs, and found that there was little to no improvement rate in survival at the time they were made available. In only 10% of uses did the drugs make a positive impact. The research team then looked at the market once the drugs were readily available for use to see if they generated any evidence of their efficacy.
“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 Huseyin Naci, assistant professor of health policy at the London School of Economics, and a co-author of the study.
So, if pharmaceuticals designed to extend longevity are not being assessed on their ability to do just that, then what are they being assessed on? Naci says 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.
They are approving drugs for market not by the standard of helping the patient survive or improve quality of life, but rather to make a change in clinical procedures.
“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 adds.
Among many issues, this report highlights a desperate need for better outcome measurement with regards to how effective drugs are at their fundamental purpose.
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