Will combining two or more drugs to combat a specific cancer produce a more desirable outcome for patients? Two study results released this week have indicated differing answers.
Results of a late-stage clinical trial conducted on non-small cell lung cancer patients indicate that a combination of Genentech and OSI Pharmaceuticals’ Avastin and Tarceva drugs could delay the advancement of the disease.
Another study, however, conducted using Avastin combined with Eli Lilly/ImClone’s Erbitux to combat colon cancer indicated the opposite – that using the two drugs together could worsen the patients’ condition, despite earlier indications that the combination might be helpful.
The moral of the story is that despite the progress that’s been made in cancer treatment, especially using new biotech treatments (on top of traditional chemotherapy treatments), doctors and patients shouldn’t be too hasty in mixing and matching drugs when those combinations, or ‘cocktails,’ haven’t been fully tested and approved. The success of one cocktail does not indicate another’s effectiveness.
Combination therapies can be a profitable avenue for drug companies in areas outside of cancer treatment, but they can also backfire, like Schering-Plough and Merck’s failed attempt to combine Claritin and Singulair. Merck and Schering-Plough have also faced some scrutiny over the effectiveness of Vytorin, a combination of the companies’ Zocor and Zetia medications that has been on the market since 2004.
Overall, drug cocktails require the same level of testing for efficacy and side effects as single medications. This is especially true for biotechnology drugs, which are rapidly moving beyond the realms of traditional success in cancer treatment but which also need to be used with caution, as we do not yet know their historical implications.