Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

The last week or so has seen some rather garish headlines in the news about cancer treatments currently undergoing testing in early clinical trials.

First up was the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, normally a staid institution renowned for good solid research, but the PR headline screamed pure sensationalism in their press release:

Mayo Researchers: Dramatic Outcomes in Prostate Cancer Study

While we all like to be positive and feel a sense of hope in our lives, what the press releases failed to mention was fair balance, namely that some patients with prostate cancer do actually see occasional stunning results with androgen ablation alone, so highlighting the 'dramatic' results of two patients on androgen therapy plus ipilimumab doesn't really tell us if the results seen were due to the androgen therapy or the ipilimumab.  Making waves about two patients does sadly not a cure make; raising false hopes in patients sick with cancer is a little tawdry at best.

The second headline that caught my eye was an email alert from the FT of all places.  In it, they were reporting about a trial from another venerable institution, the Royal Marsden in London:

New cancer treatment shows ‘great promise’

This time, the article was about AstraZeneca's PARP inhibitor, olaparib, for BRCA1 and 2 breast cancers, although the coverage did not mention that it was the drugs first clinical trial, but the hype really jars a little.  I reported on this data from ASCO in an earlier blog post.

What was interesting that the FT quoted Dr Johann De Bono as saying:

“This drug showed very impressive results in shrinking patients’
tumours. It is giving patients who
have already tried many conventional treatments long periods of
remission, free from the symptoms of cancer or major side-effects.”

Then I remembered he was the same doctor who constantly talked up the Cougar abiraterone trial results in prostate cancer, although it should be noted that abiraterone is part of the same family as ketoconazole, a generic anti-fungal treatment sometimes used to treat hormone sensitive prostate cancer after standard androgen therapy such as Casodex or Lupron and estrogen.  The goal of treatment is to keep men who are hormone sensitive on such therapies for as long as possible, since this keeps the disease (and PSA levels) in check.  Once they become refractory to treatment, the tumor will start proliferating and metastasize, so having new therapies added to the list to extend and prolong lives with minimal side effects is definitely a positive thing, providing the results pan out that way. 

It should be noted that breast cancer is also a disease where patients often undergo multiple lines of therapy and the data with olaparib has not yet been published in full, although a sample of the initial early results was covered in a poster at the recent ASCO meeting.  The press release was probably one of the poorest I have seen in a long while – short on the trial details and long on wild hype.

Perhaps sometimes we forget that cancer Institutions are a business in their own right.  What these centers are doing is marketing themselves and trying to attract more patients to their clinical trials rather than see community oncologists for standard treatment in the local area.  It's an ongoing battle between the two all over America, and while Europe has mainly Academic cancer centres, they all still compete with each other for patients and the flow of money, either from treatments, trials or for research dollars.  

The prize for the worse headline on this topic must surely go to Sky News, though, which is rapidly becoming the tabloid of British Television:

New Drug Is 'Holy Grail' In Cancer Fight

This headline struck my Mother so forcefully that she made a rare call to me this morning from 5,000 miles away to ask whether venerable cancer hospitals were becoming the Heroin dealers of medicine.  Ouch.

Sensationalism has no place in research and development; patients and
their families deserve better than false hope being peddled so
brazenly; the Mayo Clinic and Royal Marsden should know better than
that.  How could they have done better while mataining their

How about something positive, but muted, such as:

"Early but promising results seen in xxxxx cancer – more trials needed to confirm findings"

relevant information about the patients, inclusion and exclusion
criteria and the trial design would have gone a long way to putting the
information in context.  Still, what do I know?  I'm much too old
school for inappropriate, tacky and racy tag lines and sound bites in
the news media. 

What do you think?

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7 Responses to “New cancer treatments – promise or false hope?”

  1. OBTN

    I think that is an excellent point. I was particularly surprised with the media attention the Mayo study received. If the recent changes in colorectal cancer due to KRAS status demonstrate anything, it is the importance of determining the reason for the response. What if these two patients coincidentally have a rare mutation that resulted in terrific response but it will not translate to practice?

  2. julie childers

    I am wondering if anyone can help me. My Mom was diagnosed with Primary Peritoneal tumors and she is not a candidate for surgery. The doctors want to do chemo. My Mom is 80 and the only option that she received was chemo. Is there ANYTHING else out there that may be of benifit to her, if so, how do we get the treatment for her????
    thanks in advance for any help.

  3. MaverickNY

    Hi Julie,
    I’m really sorry to hear about your Mom. I’m not a medical doctor so not able to give you advice on treating cancer, but I can recommend you call one of the best experts in this field, Dr Paul Sugarbaker of Sugarbaker Associates in Washington DC. He is very kind and helpful and may be able to suggest a good approach for your Mom.
    His website is
    and his telephone number is 202-877-3908.

  4. MaverickNY

    Ouch, that is a great observation, Christin.
    I do worry about exactly that sort of scenario, because many drugs show rare, early promise, but in the aggregate over a large number of patients, the results may not be sustainable at all, especially in the oncology field.

  5. very sick me

    I wouldn’t have guessed that a ketoconazole family member could be effective in cancer treatments…I know the stuff can be useful in a variety of skin conditions, but thought it pretty much ended there.
    Anyway, I do wish sensationalist “cure” stories would take on a bit more ethical professionalism, instead of sending so many people in need chasing after medical “miracles.” Reality is a much better friend for sick people than false hope.

  6. Anonymous

    Does this look suspicious to you?

    The cancer cure conspiracy:

    Because the Fitzgerald Report discusses the
    AMA’s effort to block effective cancer treatments. Benedict Fitzgerald wrote:
    “We should determine whether existing agencies, both public and private,
    are engaged and have pursued a policy of harassment, ridicule, slander,
    and libelous attacks on others sincerely engaged in stamping out this curse
    of mankind. Have medical associations, through their officers, agents,
    servants and employees, engaged in this practice? My investigation to date
    should convince this committee that a conspiracy does exist to stop the
    free flow and use of drugs in interstate commerce which allegedly has
    solid therapeutic value. Public and private funds have been thrown around
    like confetti at a country fair to close up and destroy clinics, hospitals, and
    scientific research laboratories which do not conform to the viewpoint of
    medical associations.” [8]
    The Fitzgerald Report has been suppressed for 53 years. I suggest you read the
    enclosed report, then try to obtain a copy through regular channels.
    Bertrand Russell was a prominent member of the Brotherhood of Darkness (my
    term) at that time. He wrote:
    “I do not pretend that birth control is the only way in which population can
    be kept from increasing. There are others…. War . . . has hitherto been
    disappointing in this respect, but perhaps bacteriological war may prove
    more effective. If a Black Death could be spread throughout the world
    once in every generation, survivors could procreate freely without making
    the world too full…. The state of affairs might be somewhat unpleasant,
    but what of that? Really high- minded people are indifferent to happiness,
    especially other people’s.” [9]
    Why did the Brotherhood of Darkness suppress effective cancer treatments? Dr. Lawrence Dunegan attended a medical meeting on March 20, 1969, and heard Dr. Richard Day, the former medical director of Planned Parenthood, explain their goal. According to Dr. Dunegan, Dr. Day stated:
    “We can cure almost every cancer right now. Information is on file in the
    Rockefeller Institute, if it’s ever decided that it should be released. But
    consider – if people stop dying of cancer, how rapidly we would become
    overpopulated. You may as well die of cancer as something else.” [10]

    The Cancer survivors:

    There is today an unprecedented openness about breast cancer. Along with strides in diagnosis and treatment have come long overdue changes in attitudes and awareness about the disease. Happy Rockefeller, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Jill Eikenberry, Shirley Temple Black, Gloria Steinem, and many other public figures have come forward in recent years to tell about their experiences, bringing breast cancer out of the closet and offering women hope and encouragement. But it’s certainly not just because of the celebrities that breast cancer has captured the public’s attention. For a disease that strikes 1 in about 10 American women (the American Cancer Society puts the figure at 1 in 9) it’s almost become a rarity not to know someone who has had breast cancer.

    The Illuminati members: -see Rockefeller, Ford, Reagan

    1963-1969 Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th. President of the United States (D) Confirmed Mason. (New World Order: The Ancient Plan of Secret Societies, William T. Still, pg. 21) Was also a member of the Anti-American organization known as the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR). Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, 1965-1969. Confirmed Mason. McGeorge Bundy (b.1919- )–MJ-12, Skull & Bones (init. 1940), C.F.R., President Ford Foundation, Bilderberger, Special Assistant to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on National Security Affairs–National Security Advisor. Confirmed Illuminati. Orville Freeman (Illuminati) was appointed as a cabinet member for Kennedy’s and then Johnson’s administration.

    1981-1989 Ronald Reagan, 40th. President of the United States (R) Confirmed Mason. (New World Order: The Ancient Plan of Secret Societies, William T. Still, pg. 21) Vice President George Bush,1981-1989. Confirmed Mason. The President of the United States of America, under the ‘Emigration Control Act of 1986’, Section 100, has the authority to deem whatever type of identification is necessary — whether it be an invisible tattoo or electronic media under the skin. The Microchip and the Mark of the Beast Writer Roger Morris (author of “Partners In Power”) and Sally Denton wrote a well-researched article entitled The Crimes of Mena This story, based on Barry Seal’s surviving records, had been fact checked and cleared for publication by the legal staff of the Washington Post, when it was suddenly spiked without explanation by Managing Editor Bob Kaiser, a fellow Skull & Bones alumni with ex CIA chief George Bush. Note: Eleanor Roosevelt (who was involved in numerous communist organizations and was an actual card carrying member of the American communist party) was a close friend and confidant to Ronald Reagan’s mother. (Fritz Springmeier, The Illuminati Bloodlines) Reagan was also a member of the all-male ultra-exclusive Bohemian Club to which every Republican President since Herbert Hoover has belonged.

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