Thursday, April 13, 2006

Herceptin - Cause for Concern

The news that a woman has won the right to be treated with Herceptin has been celebrated in many sections of the media. Cancer charities and patients are ecstatic about the court's judgement. I for one, however, am deeply troubled by the verdict and the interference of our health secretary. My concerns are many but before I explain them, I accept that many women are desperate for some light at the end of the tunnel. It is a very difficult situation, and one that cannot be solved easily. Of course, I sympathise with these women, but I fear their fight will have massive repercussions.

First of all, Herceptin is only licensed for use in advanced stage cancer. It is not licensed to be used for early stage cancer. Not enough testing has been to confirm its suitability for the early stages of the disease. The Lancet, a highly regarded medical journal, was concerned about the lack of data and the way the trials were conducted. It is arguable that it is being rushed through as the manufacturer is well aware of the impact of this product in the health service. This is, of course, the case with many drugs now. They are rushed through trials, so they are available on the marketplace quicker, before being approved of a license. If this is the case with licensed drugs, imagine the problems with unlicensed drugs. People cannot be allowed to demand the right to use drugs when they are unlicensed. If we do, drugs will not be properly tested and who knows what the implications might be.

Another factor to take into account, is the manufacturer of this product. Roche are well known for controversy. This would not be the first time that they have been accused of rushing a product through trials before applying for a license. Their involvement is troubling. It also calls into question why the Health Secretary got involved. Nothing to do with any pressure being applied by a corporation by any chance??

Finally, I do have a problem with many of the charities that support cancer research. They tend to campaign on behalf of the drug companies, as they cannot advertise directly. Of course, if some drug companies make large donations to a cancer charity, is the charity really going to refuse to support the drug company?? Especially now, when people are giving less, and less to charity. The problem is, this gives misleading information to the public. Charities are all proclaiming what a victory this is, but how many of them receive funding from the big drug companies? If they do, then there is clearly a conflict of interest and the charities are not working in the interests of cancer sufferers. I see little for cancer patients to be joyful about. In my opinion, their representatives in the cancer charities are doing their cause serious harm.