By John Salak –
The oncology drug market is big business, accounting for perhaps 60 percent of the total cancer treatment spend worldwide, according to Managed Health Care. The global market is not only big, approaching $250 billion, it is growing fast. By 2031 it could reach about $450 billion.
The industry’s growth is fueled by several factors, but one of the prime reasons is the rush to place new cancer drugs on the market. Now, however, a study out of Sweden is challenging whether many of these drugs are effective—at least under the European approval processes.
The University of Gothenburg’s research indicates that new cancer drugs are being launched at a rapid pace before their long-term effectiveness can be evaluated. Even after several years on the market, the university’s research claims most of these drugs still lack scientific evidence that they actually increase life expectancy or improve the quality of life for patients.
The study’s results may not precisely challenge the effectiveness of new cancer drugs released in the U.S. because of the different approach processes involved. But it does at least raise alarms or questions about new drugs given the speed at which many of these new treatments are hitting the market.
The pharmaceutical industry is constantly developing and launching new treatments, which in Europe are centrally approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). They are often subsequently launched in European countries after national reimbursement processes.
The Gothenburg research team pointed out that to reach the market more quickly it has become increasingly common for cancer drugs to be approved based on studies that show an effect on biomarkers, but without clear evidence that they extend life or improve patients’ quality of life.
This is where the information gap occurs because even several years after their launch many cancer drugs still lack evidence that they are fundamentally beneficial.
Swedish researchers focused their multi-year study on data for 22 cancer drug indications approved for reimbursement in Sweden during the last ten years. The average follow-up time for these drug indications was 6.6 years.
A minimal number of the 22 drug indications reviewed clearly showed the treatments either improved quality of life or increased life expectancy. Most failed to show any impact and only one drug was backed by scientific evidence that it both increased life expectancy and improved quality of life.
“We have shown that the majority of the drugs launched with limited evidence still lack clear evidence of how they actually affect survival and quality of life in patients,” reported lead author Gabriella Chauca Strand, a doctoral student at the university.
The researchers also noted that since cancer treatment is absorbing limited resources within health systems, more effort needs to be focused on which drugs should be approved for reimbursement.
“The lack of confirmatory evidence for important patient outcomes is problematic and creates uncertainty about how these drugs contribute to meaningful patient benefit, and ultimately how effectively resources are being used within healthcare,” Strand said.