Herceptin report is challenged as `misleading'

November 10, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Just three weeks after an editorial in a prestigious American medical journal declared an expensive new cancer drug to be revolutionary and a possible cure for some hard-to-treat breast cancers, its conclusions were challenged by a prominent medical journal in Britain.

"The available evidence is insufficient to make reliable judgments," wrote the editors of the British journal Lancet in an online editorial dated today. "It is profoundly misleading to suggest, even rhetorically, that the published data may be indicative of a cure for breast cancer."

In a phone interview, Lancet's chief editor, Dr. Richard Horton, said he was "quite angry" that Herceptin had been portrayed as such a wonder drug in the American journal, The New England Journal of Medicine.

The drug, Herceptin, is intended to treat women with breast tumors that bear a protein marker associated with aggressive disease and that respond poorly to conventional treatments. About 20 percent of tumors that have spread beyond the breast have the marker.

Expectations surrounding Herceptin have led patient groups worldwide to demand it from governments and insurers, even though the drug is not licensed for treatment of early stage breast cancer. It is approved for use only in more advanced cancers that have spread beyond the lymph nodes.

Those expectations intensified last month, when The New England Journal published two preliminary studies concluding that the drug seemed to be extremely effective.

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