Read Original Release

Kudos for several cautions, but college announcement sidesteps other key details on new class of cancer drug

New class of drugs could help tackle treatment-resistant cancers

Our Review Summary

This news release touts a “new class of drug” that is being tested to treat cancers that are resistant to other therapies. The news release says the initial research was funded by the charity Cancer Research UK and the drug was licensed to Irish biotechnology firm Carrick Therapeutics, which is has begun conducting a safety study.

Laudably, the headline and the body of the news release caution that this isn’t a proven treatment. But there’s far more hype here than substance. The news release lauds researchers for quick action and offers a quote about how “exciting” it is that academia and industry “are bringing urgently needed new tests and treatments to patients.” But there’s no mention that Imperial College London has a patent on this drug. There’s also no discussion of how many patients might benefit from this, or acknowledgement of the extremely high prices for new cancer drugs.

 

Why This Matters

The high cost of new cancer drugs, some of which offer only marginal benefits, is strangling healthcare budgets around the world even though initial research is often funded by government agencies and charities. New releases and news stories should not only describe clinical benefits, but also explore the financial deals under which these drugs are developed, and tell the public which companies, institutions, and clinicians stand to profit from them.

Criteria

Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There’s no discussion of costs here, either of initial research funded by the charity Cancer Research UK or of the potential cost to patients and payers if this drug ever goes on the market. While an exact price isn’t something we’d expect, the news release could have described the financial arrangement under which Carrick obtained the license to this therapy and mentioned the high costs that new cancer drugs typically command.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

We like the cautious language in this quote:

Professor Charles Coombes, from the Department of Surgery & Cancer, said: “Treatment-resistant tumours represent a significant threat for patients, as once a cancer stops responding to treatments there is increasingly little clinicians can do.

“Drugs such as these could help to shift the balance back in favour of the patients, potentially providing a new option to patients for who existing treatments no longer work.”

However, there’s no data yet on how much this drug could help patients. The tantalizing story of one patient getting the drug but there being no results of their therapy at this time is a bit too speculative.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There’s no mention of potential harms that might preclude this treatment from coming to market.

From other examples of cancer drugs, it is most likely that there would be some undesirable effects and the release could have at least acknowledged that harms are unknown. 

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

The news release is upfront about the early nature of this research:

The first patient was given the drug in November 2017 as part of Carrick’s a Phase I clinical trial to assess its safety and how well it can be tolerated. The trial is still ongoing, so results are not available yet.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The news release offers this quote:

Professor Charles Coombes, from the Department of Surgery & Cancer, said: “Treatment-resistant tumours represent a significant threat for patients, as once a cancer stops responding to treatments there is increasingly little clinicians can do.

But there’s no data on how frequent treatment-resistant cancers occur.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The news release states:

Early funding for the study came from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and a major contribution of whole-project funding was from Cancer Research UK. Licensing of the technology to Carrick Therapeutics was led by Cancer Research UK’s Commercial Partnerships Team and Imperial Innovations, the Technology Transfer Office of Imperial, with support from Emory University.

However, the news release doesn’t offer specifics on these financial relationships.

A look at the manuscript describing this molecule shows the authors are inventors on a patent owned by Imperial College London and that one researcher acted as a consultant for Carrick. Do Imperial College London and Emory University stand to profit from this drug?

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There’s no mention of competing projects to develop better therapies for hard-to-treat cancers.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

We applaud the news release for stating in the second paragraph that the “drug may not become available to patients for a number of years yet.” Of course, the “yet” is optimistic; it remains to be seen whether this will ever become available.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The news release states that researchers “have discovered a new class of drug that has the potential to help cancer patients who no longer respond to existing therapies.” We could not find evidence other research into this particular molecule.

Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?

Satisfactory

Overall, the language is restrained, although one quote applauds researchers for bringing “a new treatment from discovery to clinical testing in record time.” It remains to be seen whether this is an effective treatment.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments

We Welcome Comments. But please note: We will delete comments left by anyone who doesn’t leave an actual first and last name and an actual email address.

We will delete comments that include personal attacks, unfounded allegations, unverified facts, product pitches, or profanity. We will also end any thread of repetitive comments. Comments should primarily discuss the quality (or lack thereof) in journalism or other media messages about health and medicine. This is not intended to be a forum for definitive discussions about medicine or science. Nor is it a forum to share your personal story about a disease or treatment -- your comment must relate to media messages about health care. If your comment doesn't adhere to these policies, we won't post it. Questions? Please see more on our comments policy.