The latest result on Roche’s new combo therapy for breast cancer occurs as a disappointment to investors, though it is one that’s unsurprising to medical researchers. This Bloomberg article receives high marks for reporting the cost, harms and perhaps negligible benefit of the new treatment which combines a newer drug (Perjeta) with an older drug (Herceptin). The story is balanced with its inclusion of the more optimistic side of the news.
Roche plans to track the new therapy for years to come to determine if the currently observed small improvement will accentuate over time. This is a notable endeavor since the long-term effect and safety of a cancer treatment is nearly as important as its immediate potency.
For more of our analysis on how the news media covered the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting where this drug combo and other new research was showcased, see:
The article suggests that though Herceptin has been a potent treatment for women with aggressive HER2-positive breast cancer for decades, apparently one in four women will eventually relapse. Thus, new therapies that reduce the risk of relapsing are desirable.
We are told the new combo treatment will double the monthly costs of just Herceptin from $6,100 to $12,200.
Though the benefit of the combo treatment is more pronounced for high-risk patients than low-risk patients, the article correctly points out that the 1 percentage point of improvement in the proportion of women who had no recurrence of their cancer within three years is hardly earth-shattering.
The article writes that patients treated with the combination therapy suffered from severe diarrhea at a much higher rate than the conventional treatment. It also briefly mentions that Perjeta’s effect on the heart was not thoroughly analyzed in the trial suggesting there may be further side effects beside diarrhea.
The article describes the randomized controlled trial in a straightforward fashion. The clinical endpoint of interest appears to be relapse-free status at three years. The article reports two sets of results — one for the overall patient population:
94.1 percent of the patients on the new combo hadn’t developed invasive breast cancer, compared with 93.2 percent of the Herceptin-only patients.
and another for more high-risk patients whose cancer had spread to lymph nodes:
92 percent of those who got Perjeta were free of invasive disease at the three-year mark, compared with 90.2 percent of those who received only Herceptin.
There is no evidence of disease mongering.
It appears several sources are interviewed and the article includes comments from an NEJM editorial on the research. These experts offer helpful insight into the results of the study.
As this is a study comparing a new treatment (Herceptin plus Perjeta) versus a current gold-standard treatment (Herceptin alone), the article easily satisfies this criterion.
It’s clear from the story that Herceptin is an old drug, but it’s not clearly stated that the new drug is available. Perjeta was approved by the FDA in 2012 to treat metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer.
The article suggests the novelty of the study is testing a new combination therapy for breast-cancer patients.
The story does not rely solely on a news release.