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One reason why clinical trials don’t always yield new treatments

On Behalf of | Jul 19, 2022 | Mesothelioma/Asbestos-Related Illness

At this time, there is no proven cure for mesothelioma. Doctors sometimes catch the disease early enough that they can fight it with surgery and chemotherapy. In some cases, this may force the cancer into remission. In many cases, however, these are palliative measures.

Still, there are many researchers around the world who continue to look for a cure, or different forms of treatment. Over the years, their work has improved the prognosis for those who develop mesothelioma. They have helped new treatments that have led to longer life expectancy and greater quality of life.

Unfortunately, for those diagnosed with mesothelioma, the researchers’ work may seem maddeningly insufficient. Why don’t all the clinical trials result in more new treatments? Why isn’t progress moving faster? A recent report provides a glimpse of the truth.

What did the report say?

As the report notes, a handful of scientists recently expressed their concerns about the published findings of a mesothelioma trial. They shared these concerns in Lancet Oncology.

As they noted, the trial in question explored the effectiveness of a CDK inhibitor in certain mesothelioma patients. However, the scientists claimed that the published findings from the trial were biased and misleading. The findings may have offered a rosier picture of the trial than was warranted.

The scientists who wrote to Lancet Oncology pointed out several reasons the trial might not yield any real benefits for mesothelioma victims:

  • The trial group counted only 26 participants. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, and it can be hard to find people to participate in clinical trials. But 26 is still a very small sample size for a clinical trial.
  • The trial focused on the disease control rate (DCR) for its participants. However, it failed to address how the DCR varied among patients who entered the study at different stages of the disease.
  • Several participants began the trial at stages 1b and 2. Surgery is often an option for these earlier stages. Even so, the study did not address why these early-stage participants did not pursue surgery.
  • The trial’s DCR was not significantly different than the DCR for the standard, existing lines of treatment.
  • The trial appeared to downplay the negative effects of the drug’s toxicity. More than one-fifth of the participants experienced serious side effects. These included one death, and another participant who was forced to quit the trial.
  • Additionally, the trial used questionable controls. The researchers compared their participants’ progress to placebo results, rather than to a more appropriate control group.

As a result, the scientists who wrote to Lancet Oncology felt the trial’s findings were likely to mislead readers. They warned that publishing such findings online might promote bad medicine.

What does this mean for mesothelioma victims?

The article in Lancet Oncology offers a reasonable warning: It’s too easy to get swept away by the hype around new clinical trials and potential treatments. This is understandable. Researchers are constantly looking for new ways to treat mesothelioma and other diseases. Unfortunately, these trials don’t always lead to positive results. Instead, mesothelioma treatments tend to progress at a slow, steady pace.

That said, there’s still good reason to keep an eye toward new trials. Before researchers can begin a trial, they must first back their theories with initial tests, then animal testing. By the time they open a trial, they believe the science has real promise.

Ultimately, this discussion provides one valuable reminder: If you’re thinking of participating in a trial, it’s important to discuss your options with your doctor. Your doctor and other professionals can help you decide whether any of the available trials may be a good fit.

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