Faculty of 1000

Post-publication peer review

Is it a cancer drug or not?

Posted by stevepog on 16 March, 2010

The media faces constant criticism from medical specialists and  advocacy groups whenever it trumpets the latest new wonder drug to cure any form of cancer.

Many spurious claims have over the years been splashed across the UK Daily Mail’s front page, prompting backlash from organisations such as the National Health Service, Cancer Research UK and even the appearance of a Facebook group with more than 40,000 members criticising the Mail’s cancer cure/cause agenda.

But the recent news that pharma giant Roche was revising its position on Avastin after the drug failed in a late-stage study, evaluating the blockbuster as a treatment for advanced stomach cancer, was an example of where the stock market, media expectations of a miracle cure and a pharma giant collided.

The Wall Street Journal said the announcement had the effect of:

‘undermining market expectations the drug could reach annual peak sales of more than eight billion Swiss francs ($7.48 billion)’

Roche’s PR team has had the very difficult job of trying to push the share price back up and regain investors confidence. One of their newest stabs at this crisis communications was a release today stating that

‘the eyesight of two patients with a rare condition was saved through the groundbreaking use of the drug Avastin’

At the time of writing, the news is only 20 minutes old so and there is little detail contained on how many people have been involved in trials by Southampton ophthalmologist Dr Andrew Lotery, only to state that his research on treating Sorsby’s Fundus Dystrophy (SFD) has been accepted by US journal Retinal Cases & Brief Reports. The release goes on:

He (Lotery) said it was the first time the drug had been used to treat the rare genetic condition(SFD) which caused the two patients, both in their 30s, to suffer blurred vision and a general deterioration of sight.
Avastin halts the growth of blood vessels and stems bleeding and is commonly injected with good results into the eyes of patients with “wet” age related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of blindness in the western world in people over 50

Avastin has already been trialled successfully in conjunction with chemotherapy in ovarian cancer sufferers so the prospect of another potential target would be welcomed by the shareholders but more importantly, by sufferers of the targeted conditions. But this is a situation where the media needs to tread carefully and wait for stronger research to appear before latching onto another cure-all drug.

New antibiotic treatments for gastric cancer

On another cancer story, Yoshio Yamaoka, an F1000 Medicine faculty Member from Japan, has looked recently at the use of various drugs to treat Helicobacter pylori infection, which often leads to gastroduodenal ulcers, gastric cancer and associated diseases.

While there are positive signs from a large multicenter trial in Japan of H. pylori antibiotics on patients with gastric cancer, Yamaoka warned that practitioners should exercise caution with regard to widespread antibiotic treatment saying,

‘if all infected persons are to be treated, we should consider the increase in frequency of antibiotic resistance and unexpected consequences such as esophageal adenocarcinoma, asthma, and autoimmune disease’

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