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Not another magic bullet

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7261.644 (Published 09 September 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:644
  1. Anne Kent, health writer
  1. Stowmarket, Suffolk

    Medical breakthroughs are rare, but the new breast cancer drug trastuzumab (Herceptin) was launched yesterday with all the buzz words we associate with a genuine breakthrough: “magic bullet,” “Holy Grail of cancer treatment,” “fast-tracked by US licensing authorities,” and, best of all, “free of side effects.” Even the cancer it treats has a high media profile.

    When a public relations company asked me to a press briefing in Milan to hear about this new drug, I hesitated. As a journalist, it is my job to search out news, and the launch of any drug that targets tumour cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed must surely be important. I also know how hungry patients are for any good news at all; as a former cancer patient I am anxious not to build up false hopes, but nor do I wish to withhold valuable information. The real question is, should you tell people about a drug that they probably can't have?

    Public relations companies provide vast amounts of information about new drugs, but they don't tell you the cost unless you make a point of asking. A 34 week course of trastuzumab costs £12 000, but this is just the starting price. Most of the evidence for its effectiveness comes from trials that combine it with other high cost drugs, such as the …

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