Mandated Long Clinical Trials Favor Trivial Incremental Drugs and Impede Magic Bullet Cures

(p. B1) AstraZeneca PLC’s new cancer research chief, José Baselga, wants the company to prioritize early-stage cancers over advanced disease when developing new cancer drugs. If successful, his unorthodox strategy could reap rewards for both patients—the potential to cure cancer is much greater when it is treated early—and company coffers.

The approach turns the tried-and-tested model of cancer drug development on its head. Typically, drug companies aim their new cancer drugs at patients with advanced forms of the disease who have exhausted other treatment options. Of the more than 30 new drugs for solid tumors approved for sale in the U.S. since the start of 2014, just two targeted early cancer.

That is largely because there is a clear-cut case for testing new drugs on patients with advanced cancer, as they don’t have other options. What’s more, measuring a new medicine’s effect in advanced cancer is straightforward: a meaningful extension in survival can usually be measured in months. Such patients are also often more willing to try experimental drugs, and regulators have smoothed the path for treatments that show they can prolong lives by delaying tumor growth in advanced cancer.

. . .

(p. B5) “One thing with early stage disease, you have to be able to cure patients,” said Daniel Chen, who spent more than a decade running cancer drug development projects at Roche Holding AG. “The majority of cancer drugs delay cancer growth, they don’t cure patients.” Dr. Chen is now chief medical officer at biotech startup IGM Biosciences Inc.

Running clinical trials could also be difficult, as it would involve persuading patients to try experimental drugs when they might already be cured.

Another challenge is measuring the drug’s effectiveness. In patients whose cancer is diagnosed and treated early, it would take years to determine whether a new drug meaningfully extended survival, making for very long clinical trials.

For the full story, see:

Denise Roland. “Drug Giant Tests Bold Tactic to Battle Cancer.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 28, 2019): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 27, 2019, and has the title “Drug Giant Tries New Tactic to Fight Cancer.”)

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