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Erbitux may help fight breast cancer, claims study


4 Star

Erbitux may help fight breast cancer, claims study

Our Review Summary

Results from a Phase II clinical trial presented at a medical meeting suggest that the drug Erbitux may be useful for treating a type of breast cancer that does not respond to hormone therapy or other targeted treatments. The fact that these data were presented at a medical meeting suggests that the results have not been published in a journal and therefore, have not undergone a rigourous review process. Additionally, a Phase II trial only enrolls a small number of participants to evaluate the efficacy and safey of a treatment before initiating a more robust Phase III trial. Unfortunately, the story did not report any of the safety data.


Why This Matters

Although triple negative breast cancer is very difficult to treat, this drug does not seem all that impressive. Erbitux does not seem to be effective in lung or bowel cancer. Is this a drug searching for another cancer market? 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

According to the story, sales for this drug were $1.7 billion last year; however, we don’t know how much an individual person can expect to pay – information it would have been easy for Reuters to find and to include in the story. 

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

The story presents the tumor response rate of people who received chemotherapy alone (10%) versus those who received chemotherapy and Erbitux (20%). The story also points out that the study “did not meet its primary objective of proving a greater than 20 percent response rate.” In addition, the story tells us that Erbitux increased the time before a patient’s disease progressed from 1.5 months to 3.7 months. It would have been good if the story emphasized that this does not mean there will be any impact on survival.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory
This story failed to discuss whether there were harms associated with this drug. Without a discussion of potential harms associated with Erbitux, it is difficult to determine if the benefits of living an additional two months without the disease getting worse would outweigh the potential side effects. 

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory
While the story rightly points out that additional research is needed to verify the findings, it still falls short in presenting important details. While it’s clear from the story that this is a Phase II clinical trial, more information on the purpose of a Phase II trial and why its findings are preliminary would have been helpful. It may have also been useful to note that study participants could switch treatment if their disease progressed. In addition, it would be helpful to know the age range of the women in the trial. 
A major shortcoming of this piece is that it did not indicate that this research has yet to be published in a journal and therefore, has not undergone a formal peer review process. In fact, it’s misleading to readers to say that the results were “published” at the conference. To most people, we’re quite sure, that would imply journal publication, which did not occur.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

The story does not exaggerative the prevalence or seriousness of triple negative breast cancer. 

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

In addition to providing a quote from a Merck representative, the story interviewed an independent source not affiliated with the study or a pharmaceutical company. 

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Applicable
Not applicable. Since the women in the this study were heavily pre-treated and this drug is used in combination with other chemotherapy, it’s difficult to compare it to other drugs used to treat metastatic breast cancer. 

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

The story makes it clear that Erbitux is not yet approved for treating patients with breast cancer.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

It’s clear from the story that Erbitux is not a new therapy for the treatment of cancer and other studies are also evaluating its efficacy in breast cancer patients.  

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

It’s clear that the story does not rely on a press release.

Total Score: 6 of 9 Satisfactory


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