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Monday 26th August 2019

Should research results be released early?

1st June 2010

Writing in The Times, Dr Mark Porter asks whether details of breakthrough treatments are often released too early.


Breakthroughs in medicine seem to be so frequent now.

But rather than reflecting an “inexorable march towards a cure for major killers”, the reality is quite different.

Often, a breakthrough discovered in mice is extrapolated out to being a potential new vaccine for human beings, as in the latest research released into breast cancer.

While this new research is exciting, human trials have not even started yet and it will probably be a decade or more before anything useful comes out of them.

But it will raise expectations because of the recent success of other cancer vaccines - the HPV vaccine for cancer of the cervix, and the HBV vaccine in liver cancer.

However, these are very different as they use proven technology to bolster immunity against viral infections responsible for the cancer, rather than target the cancers themselves.

Even with the new development, it may also only benefit a small number of woman patients, as illustrated by the 20% per cent or so of women who respond to one of the current breast cancer drugs Herceptin.

Or, while it works in mice, it may not work in humans.

If you ask most cancer specialists when they expect a cure for cancer, they concede there may never be one.

I hope that this vaccine makes it to the finishing line, but past experience has taught me that such stories are far more complicated than the sound bites used in media reports.


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