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





Sally Ride, RIP

Last week, we learned that Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut, died at the age of 61, after a 17 month battle with Pancreatic Cancer — a cancer that I am intimately familiar with and one that seems to be striking more frequently.

Apparently, Dr. Ride was a very private person and most people did not know that she was fighting this battle.  Another fact that most people did not know until her death was that Dr. Ride had been in a relationship with another woman for the previous 27 years.

I had the honor of meeting Sally Ride at the opening of a solar farm in Nevada.  She was one of the keynote speakers at the event.  I don’t remember what we said to each other and I didn’t even ask her for her autograph.  But I really did want to shake her hand because I felt that she had done so much for paving the way for women in Science.

I was dismayed to read that some people felt that Dr. Ride had done a disservice to the cause of securing equal rights to same sex partners by not coming out while she was still alive.  In my opinion, Dr. Ride took the most intelligent and most effective route for both the cause of providing accessibility in the sciences for women and forging a deeper path in providing equality for same sex couples.  While she was alive, she focused on being a role model for other women who might want to enter into the field of Science.  With her death and the divulgence of her sexual orientation, she became another instrument, among many, of working at shattering that glass ceiling.

I have to ask those who criticized her decision to wait until after she had passed away to “come out” —  if one were to weight the positive impact with the widest reach — whether Sally Ride would have done better to represent herself as a gay Scientist?  Would anyone believe, in our sex-obsessed society, that  this would have furthered the cause of making the field of Science more accessible for women in general, regardless of sexual orientation?  Rather, I believe, it would have closed doors.  And who better to know that than Dr. Ride?

It is one thing to have Ellen DeGeneres, a Comedian, an entertainer, come out — and remember the flap that occurred around that and how negatively her life was impacted by taking this stand — and quite another for a Scientist of Dr. Ride’s re-known to come out.  What would have become the focus?  Could she have continued to pursue her career in the way she felt best if she was always being put forth as the poster child of the gay community?  Probably not.  And one can only conjecture what would have become of her career had she publicly taken a stance for gay rights as a gay woman.

We are certainly closer, as a society, in tolerating same sex relationships, although we still have further to go.  But to criticize Dr. Ride’s decision to keep her sexual orientation private while alive, well, hm, I don’t think that does anything for furthering the cause.

© Yvonne Behrens 2012