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April 18, 2005
The Price of Desperation
Another step down into oblivion: AstraZeneca's Iressa, which was a great hope for them a few years ago, was approved contingent on more studies being completed. As everyone who's been following the story knows, those studies came in a few months ago with terrible news for A-Z and the patients who had been hoping that the drug would help them: no effect on survival, none at all. They pulled the drug from European consideration, and have stopped marketing it here.
Now it appears that another ongoing Iressa trial, a National Cancer Institute study on patients with stable disease after treatment for lung cancer, might be halted based on the negative results of the earlier one. I can see their point, because the data were pretty convincing, in a way that no drug company likes to see. What are the chances that this one will make any difference? Is it ethical, at this point, to continue giving patients the drug?
By the way, does anyone remember, back when Iressa looked like a promising therapy, that the Wall Street Journal (among others) had fits about the FDA's delay in approving it? Here's a piece I wrote about the situation at the time. As it turns out, the less-than-convincing data available back then was about the best that Iressa ever had to offer. If the Journal has offered a follow-up editorial to apologize for pointlessly raising the hopes of cancer patients and wasting their time and money, I've missed it.
And that's the problem that I have, still, with the idea that we should just allow drugs on the market after they've proven safety in Phase I. People get their hopes up. They'll throw their life savings at something if they think that it could help, and it wouldn't surprise me if some folks threw theirs at Iressa. To what end?
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