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Study raises questions on effectiveness of new cancer drugs

Wednesday 11th October 2017
A new study has raised questions about the effectiveness of recently-approved cancer drugs. Image: tommytucker7182 via iStock
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There is little evidence to prove the effectiveness of many of the cancer drugs approved in Europe between 2009 and 2013, a new study claims.

According to research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), 48 cancer treatments were approved during this period for 68 different uses.

Yet just over one-third (35 per cent) of these drugs had shown evidence of increasing survival for cancer patients and the majority for just an average of three months, if not less.

Meanwhile, just ten per cent of the approved treatments had demonstrated any signs of improving patients' quality of life, raising questions as to why they were approved in the first place and whether they are really the best option for terminally-ill individuals.

Emma Greenwood, director of policy at Cancer Research UK, explained that the findings of the study are important, but may not necessarily represent the approvals system in the UK.

After the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has granted its approval to a drug, it then has to also meet the requirements of the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) before it can be used routinely on the NHS.

Meanwhile, those drugs that are not approved by NICE after coming through the EMA are sometimes made available via the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF). Although this scheme offered little in the way of monitoring in its early days, reforms in 2016 mean that patients can now access drugs while their benefits are evaluated.

Other drugs, such as immunotherapies, are the first of their kind, which again means there is little evidence of their effectiveness just yet, which may have also adversely affected the results of the BMJ study.

Ms Greenwood added: "The study does highlight the importance of using real-world evidence from patients, on top of data from clinical trials, to build our understanding of how drugs work in a real-life setting.

"We're already starting to see this happen through the CDF in England, where patients can access promising new drugs while more data is collected on their effectiveness. This type of evidence is becoming increasingly important."

Written by James Puckle

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