Even after several years on the market, only about half of cancer drug indications recently approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had conclusive evidence that they can extend or improve quality of life, according to results of a retrospective cohort study.
With a median of 5.4 years of follow-up, significant improvements in overall survival or quality of life had been published for 35 of 68 (51%) cancer drug indications approved by the EMA, according to the report by Courtney Davis, MD, senior lecturer in the department of global health and social medicine, King’s College London, United Kingdom, and colleagues.
Furthermore, not all survival benefits were clinically meaningful, according to an analysis published in the report.
The dearth of evidence for survival or quality-of-life benefits has “negative implications” for both patients and public health, Dr. Davis and colleagues said in their article (BMJ 2017 Oct 5. ).
“When expensive drugs that lack clinically meaningful benefits are approved and paid for within publicly funded healthcare systems, individual patients can be harmed, important societal resources wasted, and the delivery of equitable and affordable care undermined,” they wrote.
Dr. Davis and associates systematically evaluated the evidence base for regulatory and scientific reports on 48 cancer drugs approved for 68 indications by the EMA between 2009-2013. Of those indications, 17 were for hematologic malignancies and 51 were for solid tumors.
Only 18 of 68 indications (26%) were supported by pivotal studies that had a primary outcome of overall survival, according to the investigators. That was an important finding for the investigators, who wrote that that EMA commonly accepts use of surrogate measures of drug benefit despite their own statements that in studies of new oncology drugs.
“To a large extent, regulatory evidence standards determine the clinical value of … new oncology drugs,” Dr. Davis and co-authors wrote. “Our study suggests these standards are failing to incentivize drug development that best meets the needs of patients, clinicians, and healthcare systems.”
The investigators also assessed the clinical value of reported improvements using the European Society for Medical Oncology-Magnitude of Clinical Benefit Scale (ESMO-MCBS). According to investigators, only 11 of the 23 drugs used to treat solid tumors (48%) reached the threshold for a meaningful survival benefit.
This report in BMJ echoes findings of an looking at cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2008 and 2012 ( ).
Dr. Kim, of the medical oncology service, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., and colleagues found that 36 of 54 FDA approvals (67%) occurred with no evidence of survival or quality of life benefit. After a median of 4.4 years of follow-up, only 5 of those 36 (14%) had additional randomized study data that showed an improvement in overall survival, according to the published report.
The study was supported by Health Action International, which did not have a role in study design or data collection, analysis, or interpretation. The authors did not give financial disclosures.