Too Many Cancer Drugs???

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  • 07/10/2006

Es ist nichts schrecklicher als eine thatige Unwissenheit…That’s Goethe for “There is nothing scarier than an active ignorance.” Case in point, the most recent post on The Health Care Blog by someone named Maggie Mahar who managed to write over 800 words arguing that there too many cancer drugs in development. How does she come to this conclusion? By ignoring medical science and simply applying the old attacks on big Pharma to cancer research:namely that every single one of those drugs is simply a me-too medicine that offers no real survival benefit (note no mention of quality of life) Here’s what Maggie concludes about cancer drugs:

“As each drug company races to fill its own pipeline, a fragmented industry spawns a dizzying array of half-way cures. Too many drugs shrink tumors-but don’t bring any mortality benefit. Meanwhile, too much competition and too little collaboration makes it difficult for oncologists to sort out which drugs are most effective alone, which should be used together-and in what sequence. “

So in otherwords the explosion of targeted cancer drugs — which may or may not be used in combination — is causing too much choice and opportunity. And if the drug does not provide an everage survival benefit based on randomized clinical trials — regardless of whether subpopulations are helped or whether quality of life is enhanced — get rid of them. So the right response is to just cut down the number of drugs in development?

Let’s be clear, the rate limiting factor here is not that too many drugs for cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or infectious disease in development (is 100 too many? 50? What about phase III failures?) but the need to better understand underlying disease mechanisms and pathophysiology and link it to dose and drug response. Do you get the sense that Maggie understands any of this? She has written a book that makes the earth shattering discovery that medicine is fraught with….uncertainty!!!! Well ,targeted therapies are a direct result of how science provides the tools to do so, particular by eliminating the one size fits all approach to evidence based medicine that Maggie swoons over. A dizzying array of drugs? Only to those who fail to use new tools of analysis and are too lazy to advance the state of care. Or to journalists who think that average response to drugs is good enough or the only measure of well-being.

I am so sick and tired of health policy wannabes recycling the same old accusations about drug development and health care without even paying attention at the impact technological transformation plays in shaping the future. You can see that there have come to a conclusion shaped by ideological biases and then work backward.. Maggie Mahar is just one more uninformed health care conspiracy theorist who trashes medical progress without knowing of what it consists….


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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