Observations Medicine and the media

Cancer drugs: swallowing big pharma's line?

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39217.457569.59 (Published 17 May 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:1034
  1. Rebecca Coombes, journalist, London
  1. rcoombes{at}bmjgroup.com

    The media lapped up a report last week criticising the UK's record on cancer treatment. Rebecca Coombes unpicks the latest round of NICE bashing

    When a report last week put the United Kingdom near the bottom of a league of developed nations for giving patients access to new cancer drugs, the press were more than happy to spread the bad news.

    The drug company funded report from the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, received a largely uncritical reception by UK newspapers, broadsheet and tabloids alike. “Cancer survival rates are worst in western Europe,” splashed the Daily Telegraph on its front page. The UK was the “sick man of Europe” for providing cancer drugs, said the Independent.

    The report, paid for by Roche and published in the Annals of Oncology (volume 18, supplement 3, 2007), covers 25 countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States, as well as 19 European countries, and looks at access to 67 “innovative” cancer drugs. In its final verdict, the UK was yoked with Poland and the Czech Republic, as being “low and slow” in the uptake of new cancer drugs. The most stark “inequalities” in access to cancer treatment, according to the report, were for the new colorectal and lung cancer drugs, bevacizumab, cetuximab, eroltinib, and pemetrexed. In all cases UK uptake was said to be low or very low.

    Access to these new drugs directly related to improved cancer survival rates, claimed …

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