Vinay Prasad: Precision oncology is not about the patient but all about the Benjamin

  • by: Robert Goldberg |
  • 05/08/2019
Vinay Prasad is an associate professor of medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine. As his Wikipedia page states: “Prasad is a noted critic on the direction of cancer research. He has developed a following using Twitter as his platform.”  More to the point, Prasad has is adored by a group of journalists, policy types and cranks who believe that drug companies use shoddy clinical studies to market expensive medicines that are marginally effective.  
In particular, Prasad has singled out targeted cancer drugs as a waste of time and money, a position for which he has been praised and quoted by health care journalists who, like Prasad, publish this perspective with funding from Arnold Ventures.
In a recent episode (1.57) of his podcast called Plenary Session (which deserves all the neglect and inattention it receives) Prasad personally attacked University of California at San Diego cancer researchers Razelle Kurzrock and Jason Sicklick, the authors of a study published in Nature showing that attacking multiple genetic and non-genetic drives of tumor growth with combinations of targeted cancer drugs improve survival and reduces toxic side effects.
Before explaining why he believes precision oncology -- and the Nature study -- is largely a fraud, Prasad accused Kurzrock and Sicklick of grabbing $200 million for producing what he calls negative results about targeted cancer treatment.  (Around 3:28 into the podcast)
He then goes on to claim that Kurzrock and Sicklick effectively silence critics of their methods with “retribution” in the form of denying them funding for their own studies or the opportunity to publish responses.  He implies that he has experienced such retribution from Kurzrock in particular. (Around 4 minutes into the podcast.)
Prasad concludes that the researchers can only demonstrate clinical benefit by treating only people they know they can respond and denying others that don’t access to standard of care or by delaying the process of sequencing tumors that people die waiting. (21 minutes into the podcast)
Both Kurzrock and Sicklick are Jewish and both live near the Chabad synagogue in California recently targeted by an anti-Semitic animal who killed and maimed congregants during Passover services. Prasad’s personal attack intentionally or not invoked the trope about Jewish control over banking, media, manufacturing, etc. Indeed, by asserting that the researchers let people die in order to make more money through the expansion of personalized combination cancer therapy, I believe Prasad implicitly invokes the blood libel.  
Prasad has crossed two red lines. He has alleged, without any evidence, that the principal investigators have grabbed hundreds of millions of dollars for negative results, threaten those who dare to challenge them, covered up the deficiencies of targeted oncology and designed trials that harmed the sickest in order to enrich themselves. And he tells whoever is listening or following him on Twitter that Kurzrock and Sicklick that they did so to make as much money as possible by escalating the use of their junk science.  In other words, Vinay Prasad claims that precision oncology is not about the patient but all about the Benjamins.

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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