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Let’s Not Get Too Excited Over Pancreatic Cancer Drug Trial Results

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 3:50pm
Mike Auerbach, Editor in Chief

Last week there was much excitement and press coverage regarding the results of a Phase III drug study for pancreatic cancer. The company that developed the drug issued a press release, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network issued a press release – both extolling the new drug’s ability to increase the life expectancy of those with pancreatic cancer.

Now I know how hard it is to develop a new drug, how much it costs, and how difficult it is to get a new drug approved by the FDA; and I also know how insidious pancreatic cancer is (more on that in a bit), but let’s take a moment to really look at exactly what’s been accomplished and how that plays out in the real world.

One of the highlights of the study results was that the new drug in combination with two others increased overall survival to 6.1 months compared to just the two drug’s survival time of 4.2 months – a 1.9 month increase.

To get nerdy let’s figure out exactly how long that is – if you figure most months are 30 days – and use a little creative math – you come to this number: 57. 57 extra days of life. But here’s the problem: those 57 days don’t come at the beginning, they come at the end. This is the time when the patient and the family are completely wrung out and exhausted both mentally and physically from the toll this disease takes on both.

I know this because July 17th of this year will mark five years since my father passed from this horrible cancer.

Would I have wanted my father alive for 57 more days? Of course; if it was quality time with him – but it wasn’t meant to be. Nor could I imagine 57 more days of my mother having to drive back and forth to the care facility to spend most of her time sitting with him in silence, because he was just too far along to talk. My father knew the end was near as well – for the few times that he did talk he said so. 57 more days would have just extended his suffering.

I’m applaud organizations such as the Pancreatic Action Network and others who are pushing pancreatic cancer research. I’m also grateful for pharmaceutical companies who have taken it upon themselves to research and develop new treatments for pancreatic cancer – because it’s not easy, and it’s not potentially as lucrative as say ED drugs or a new diabetes treatment.

But all of this time, money and effort for 57 days? Is it progress? Is it worth it?

What do you think?

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