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Cancer Drug Has Potential To Treat Chronic Ear Infections

I read with astonishment that a class of cancer drugs known as VEGF Inhibitors (ie, Avastin and Erbitux) used to treat colorectal, lung, breast, and kidney cancers can also be used to potentially treat a type of chronic ear infection known as glue ear… at least in theory and in mice. Glue ear is when an individual suffers from repetitive ear infections or upper respiratory infections to the point where the fluid in the ear turns into a maple syrup consistency. It’s thick, sticky and tough to get rid of with standard antibiotic medications. Standard treatment to address glue ear is placement of ear tubes to allow ventilation and drainage of the ear as well as antibiotic/steroid ear drops.

British researchers using the mouse model have determined that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Fauquier ENT Blog*

A TV Physician Is Not Your “Doctor” Or “Coach”

A German physician wrote me about this, so while CNN may have an international reach, it’s not always with an adoring audience.

The physician was reacting to the weekend “Paging Dr. Gupta” program, which Dr. Gupta referred to once as “SG, MD.” The first thing that struck me was his introduction, in which he said:

“I’m your doctor. I’m also your coach.”

Later in the program he said:

“Think of this as your appointment. No waiting. No insurance necessary.”

I find this very troubling. He’s not my doctor. He’s not my coach. When I watch a “news” program, it’s NOT my medical appointment. It’s supposed to be news, not medical advice.

But that’s not what the German physician wrote to me about, so I kept watching (the segment in question appears about 5 minutes and 30 seconds deep, and after the 30-second commercial you have to watch to get there):

Gupta reacted to a viewer’s message on Twitter in which the tweep asked: “Does anyone know a ‘miracle’ treatment for ovarian cancer?” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Should The FDA Deny Access To Promising Cancer Drugs Under All Circumstances?

I was reading a good blog post about ethics violations in clinical trials in India, and was reminded of an interesting case in the U.S.  Several years ago a 21-year-old woman (Abigail Burroughs) with terminal cancer (who had exhausted all treatment options) was denied the option of purchasing a drug that was in the final process of receiving FDA approval. The FDA ruled that terminally ill patients should not be permitted to purchase drugs until the drugs have completed the approval process, citing safety concerns. Their arguments also included that:

1. Patients cannot make a truly informed decision regarding whether or not to try a medicine that has not yet been fully tested.

2. Allowing access to drugs before they are FDA approved would undermine the clinical trial process.

3. If terminally ill patients could buy treatments, others would soon expect health plans to cover these costs for others.

4. Allowing access to drugs before they were proven effective would add to the public’s general confusion about evidence-based medicine and promote magical thinking.

I don’t know how you feel about this, but it makes me squirm a little bit. Although I appreciate the FDA’s position (and my colleague Dr. Jim Sabin has blogged about his support for the ruling) it just seems a little heavy-handed, especially in light of the details of the Abigail case. Here’s what I wrote to Dr. Sabin:

About the Abigail case… I think they were trying to get access to Erbitux for Abigail, and it was in phase III trials at the time (so there was mounting evidence for its efficacy – their request to purchase it wasn’t scientifically unreasonable.)

I have very mixed feelings about the FDA ruling. I understand that we don’t want to 1) set a precedent that would lead to insurers having to pay for expensive experimental therapies 2) discourage people from entering clinical trials 3) allow drug makers to profit from “false hopes” in terminal cases. However, couldn’t we add enough caveats to make it reasonable to allow patients who have exhausted all other options to purchase (with their own money) drugs that have shown promise but are not yet FDA approved?

What if we said that the drugs had to be in phase III trials, with enough evidence to suggest a plausible benefit for the patient? Terminal patients are rarely good candidates for clinical trials (I don’t think we’d be poaching from the CT pool), few can afford to buy monoclonal antibodies (and the like) on their own so if there were trials for terminal patients, they’d still have great incentive to join, and I’m not sure that just because a patient can buy a treatment that insurance will HAVE TO follow suit.

Something about limiting personal choices (for those who have the means to make them) seems un-American to me. There are very low risks of harm in monoclonal antibody treatments (so the argument that the FDA must err on the side of patient safety doesn’t really fit the Abigail case). Yes, it’s sad for those who can’t afford to buy every possible therapy – but why should we deny access for those who can? With the right caveats, I think we could allow people like Abigail to try every remaining option. But of course I agree that phase I drugs are just not far enough along the research pipeline to make educated choices about them.

Maybe Abigail was a casualty of the one-size-fits-all, population-based rules that are appropriate most of the time, but fail in exceptional cases. I predict that this sort of thinking (where evidence-based protocols are applied in a cook book manner to all patients with a given disease) will dominate the healthcare landscape in the coming years as we seek to reign in costs and do the best thing for most. I just wish there were a way to bend rules on the edges a bit. What do you think?

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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