Cancer drugs are being approved by the FDA at an alarmingly fast rate after preliminary studies show encouraging results. However, after more careful follow-up trials were done, most of these drugs did not show any clear benefits.

Cancer drugs are usually granted accelerated approval in the hopes of providing patients faster access to medicine that could save their lives. This process, in turn, has the Food and Drug Administration requiring drug companies to conduct more research so as to confirm whether or not their medication truly works and if it is safe.

Back in 2018, the FDA did follow-up studies regarding 93 cancer drugs that had been granted accelerated approval and found that only 5 had been removed from the market in the span of 25 years. However, a research team at Harvard Medical School’s Program on Regulation, Therapeutics, and Law did follow-up studies of their own to see what happened to the rest of the cancer drugs on the list.

Their study found that out of the 93 cancer drugs, only 19 were found to extend the lives of the patients that are taking them.

Cancer Medicine

According to a follow-up study, out of 93 cancer drugs approved by FDA, only 19 were found to have improved quality of life. What of the people taking the other 74? Photo: Arek Socha / Pixabay

Take for example, Bevacizumab, better known as Avastin, produced by Genentech. This drug was granted accelerated approval in order to treat glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. However, according to a follow-up study, the drug did not extend the lives of patients who took it. This drug was supposed to improve the quality of life of patients dealing with this deadly disease but it didn’t, and yet it was left on the market by the FDA as an approved treatment for glioblastoma for so long.

Follow-up studies done on these drugs by the companies that developed them prove to be inaccurate as well. These studies use what is called “surrogate endpoints”. Surrogate endpoints are indicators that are used in place of other indicators in order to tell if a treatment works. Case in point, some studies used tumor shrinkage instead of overall survival and improved quality of life to measure the drug’s success. Surrogate endpoints are used so that the results of a trial can be measured sooner, and are not always true indicators that a treatment works.

These studies revealed that most cancer drugs on the market could possibly be ineffective in treating what they are supposed to treat. This is unfair to those suffering who are prescribed these drugs and are under the impression that it is going to treat them when it’s not.

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