So Many Cancer Drug Trials, and Too Few Patients

The great hope for many cancer sufferers, immunotherapy, might be derailed, or at least slowed, by a problem few would have predicted several years ago. There are not enough patients available to conduct the trials, the New York Times reports, something the newspaper describes as possibly being “unprecedented” in medical research.

Part of the reason is that if two drug companies are working on immunotherapies for the same disease they both want to have their own clinical trials. As the Times reports “each ... wants to have its own proprietary version, seeing a potential windfall if it receives FDA approval.”

There are currently about 1,000 immunotherapy drug trials, and that number’s expected to grow—maybe. Daniel Chen, MD, a vice president at Genentech, tells the Times: “It’s hard to imagine we can support more than 1,000 studies.”

Peter Bach, MD, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is more blunt, telling the Times that “we are squandering our most precious resource—patients.”

Many of the immunotherapies being tested will work only on a subset of patients. Some companies comb the globe to find candidates for their clinical trials. “To test a two-drug combination against lung cancer, GlaxoSmithKline searched the United States, Japan, South Korea and Europe for 13 months just to find 59 patients whose tumors shared a rare mutation,” the Times reports.

Source: New York Times