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Experimental cancer drug said to be “49 times more potent” than existing chemotherapy — yet never tested in humans

Cancer drug 49 times more potent than Cisplatin

Our Review Summary

petri dishesThis University of Warwick release promises much more than it should, considering the research was conducted not on humans or even mice but on cell lines in labs. The release headline claims that a new compound called FY26 is “49 times more potent” than an existing chemotherapy, and a subhead says, “Effectiveness shown in tests on ovarian and bowel cancer.” But it’s a bit misleading to claim increased potency for a drug that’s never even been tested in humans, because the compound may not work the same way in humans as it does in a petri dish. The drug certainly faces a very long and uncertain road before it might be approved for use in actual cancer patients — something the release never warned readers about. This is interesting research that’s worth writing about, but the release desperately needed a statement cluing readers in to the very preliminary nature of the study.

 

Why This Matters

Millions of people with cancer are hoping for new therapies, and this release could set them up for false hope. The release promises that FY26 could be “cheaper to produce, less harmful to healthy cells than existing treatments and has been shown to be active against cancer cells which have become resistant to platinum-based drugs.” The release does not say that results from lab work will need to be tested for years before the therapy is proven safe and effective.

Criteria

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

Not Satisfactory

The release speculates that FY26 could be cheaper to produce than platinum-based chemotherapy drugs. That may well be true, but the release didn’t provide any evidence or reasoning as to why this would be the case. Nor does it explain that cheaper “production” might not mean cheaper pricing for patients. We know that platinum is expensive, but then again new drugs are typically far more expensive than existing generic treatments. We’d need more than a general claim that the drug “could be cheaper” to award a Satisfactory rating here.

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

Not Satisfactory

The release claims that FY26 is “49 times more potent than Cisplatin” — a statement that strikes us as hyperbolic. There’s no explanation at all of how the researchers measured the “potency” of the drug, and we’re left wondering how they concluded that it was exactly “49 times” more potent. Rather than focus on this promotional-sounding claim, we’d have preferred some description of what the researchers actually did in the experiment and what their results showed.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story promises so much of this compound, including that it could be less harmful to healthy cells than existing treatments. But it’s hard to know what side effects might exist because the drug has apparently never been tested in animals or humans. The release does mention the many side effects associated with existing chemotherapies, but we wish there had been a caution: “There may be side effects with FY26 that remain to be discovered.”

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

Not Satisfactory

The release speculates that this research “could also lead to substantial improvements in cancer survival rates.” But the compound has only been administered to cell lines, not to any human subjects. The release does eventually get around to mentioning the fact that these were cell lines, but we would have welcomed a disclaimer – high up in the release – cautioning that any excitement surrounding this drug should be tempered by experience with past failures. Years of clinical research and many obstacles must be cleared before this is a practical alternative for patients.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There was no disease mongering.

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

Satisfactory

The funding sources were carefully noted in the release.

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

Satisfactory

One researcher does talk about a comparison with existing treatments and why new therapies are needed.

“Existing platinum-based cancer treatments often become less effective after the first course, as cancer cells learn how they are being attacked, but our new osmium compound with its different mechanism of action, remains active against cancer cells that have become resistant to drugs such as Cisplatin”.

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

Satisfactory

It is clear that the compounds are not available to human patients yet.

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

Satisfactory

The novelty of this compound and potential advantages over existing treatments are clear from the story. The release also notes that NIH is conducting similar studies.

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

Not Satisfactory

The claim of increased potency, based on cell line research and with no qualifications, is not justifiable. The release also states, “Effectiveness shown in tests on ovarian and bowel cancer.”

We think people reading will think the research showed the compound killed ovarian and bowel cancer IN PATIENTS not just in a petri dish.

Total Score: 5 of 10 Satisfactory

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