Abraxane™ The New Marketable Cancer Cure

The parent of someone close to me was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer last fall.  At first, the parent, citing her age, determined that she would not do chemotherapy.  Her husband, older than she, became very upset.  So she agreed to see an Oncologist.  The Oncologist, a young, energetic, positive individual suggested that the parent do chemotherapy to shrink the cancer and when it was small enough, surgery could be done and the cancer removed.

Thus, the parent entered the medical system.  She was to do chemotherapy for five months and then be scheduled to have surgery.  Fortunately, side effects to the chemo were not so intense that she could not continue to maintain her day to day activities.  She did loose her hair.

Somewhere along the way, those she was relying on for medical care, decided they would not try to do surgery, yet.  Instead, they suggested that she add a new drug, Abraxane ™,  to the chemo regimen.  This is a new drug that claims to improve the chances of survival for a person with Pancreatic Cancer.

According to an article in MNT (Medical News Today):

Results from the study revealed that 35% people on the combination of Abraxane™ and chemotherapy were alive at the end of the first year compared to only 22% who just underwent chemotherapy. This translates into a 59% increase in one-year survival as well as double the rate of survival in two years for the patients on Abraxane™ versus those who only received the chemotherapy. Those who were solely on chemotherapy survived for only 6.7 months compared to a median of 8.5 months among those who also took Abraxane™.

Breaking this paragraph down, I see a claim that somehow the percentage of people alive at the end of the first year who were taking a combination of Abraxane™ and chemotherapy was 35% as compared to only 22% of people alive after a year of taking just chemotherapy.  Those percentages are not very high.  But through the magic of playing around with numbers, this 13% differential “translates into a 59% increase in one-year survival”  Sounds phenomenal!  But is it really?  Not only that, but if we take these numbers, as the researchers have done (there is no indication that there were any tests done to actually prove this to be fact), this doubles the survival rate in two years.  Hunh?

The last line in the paragraph totally contradicts the claims above it by stating that (without qualifiers) those using solely chemotherapy “only survived 6.7 months” and those who did chemo in combination with Abraxane™ survived “a median of 8.5 months.”  Hard to imagine all those individuals who had Pancreatic Cancer and were solely doing chemotherapy keeling over at 6.7 months from start of chemo regimen.  Even if this were the case, the claims that adding Abraxane™ to the chemotherapy increases survival rates by an amount that is exciting seem a bit exaggerated if the median survival rate with this addition is only 8.5 months.

I would not be so offended by all of this if it in fact reflected an industry desperately wanting to find a cure for cancer and dedicating all their waking hours to that end.  BUT, unfortunately, the facts do not demonstrate this.  What the facts demonstrate is that this new drug,  a bit short on its healing claims, is doing incredibly well in the area of generating income.  From the same article:

Abraxane™ made sales of close to $386 million in 2011 for it’s use as breast cancer treatment. It is expected to generate close to $2.1 billion as a treatment for pancreatic cancer. Abraxis BioScience was the original company to develop the drug, they were bought out by Celegene in 2010 for $2.9 billion. Celegene can expect to see good sales of the drug [emphasis by author], although it might see strong competition from the drug Folfirinox™ which was found to similarly improve survival among pancreatic cancer patients.

In the meanwhile, debilitating side effects have increased quite a bit in our 89 year old patient since the incorporation of Abraxane™ into her chemotherapy regimen.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013