FDA Report: Cancer Drug Websites Skimp on Safety Data

Doctors and consumers may overestimate benefits

Cancer drug websites are loaded with information about treatment benefits but skimp on details about their risks, an FDA-commissioned study has found. It’s the latest analysis to identify weaknesses in drug-makers’ cancer drug advertising and promotions, according to an article from FiercePharma.

After analyzing 65 sites for branded cancer medications, researchers at the FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion and at RTI International found that the amount of information on efficacy and adverse events was far from equal. In addition, websites were more likely than print ads to cite relative numbers on benefits versus risks, the researchers said, which could lead consumers and doctors to “overestimate the benefits of a drug.”

In 2013, academic researchers surveyed doctors in three countries about information they received from pharma sales reps. Most of the doctors said they heard little to no information about adverse effects during sales calls, and serious risks were mentioned only 6% of the time. For 59% of rep visits, salespeople failed to offer information about adverse effects or contraindications to a drug’s use.

For cancer drug websites oriented toward consumers, 38.5% included quantitative information about the drugs’ full complement of benefits, but only 3.1% offered a numerical rundown on all the risks. For doctors, the split was even more dramatic: More than 86% of professional sites included quantitative data on the range of benefits, whereas just 6.2% offered similar information about the full list of risks.

The disparity is worrisome, the researchers said. Studies show that “adding quantitative information about drug benefits and risks” helps consumers understand both better.

If consumers and doctors “overestimate the benefits of a drug,” as the researchers suggest, that could backfire on drug-makers. And direct-to-consumer ads, as now used, already are problematic, some doctors say.

Sources: FiercePharma; September 13, 2016; and FDA; September 2, 2016.