Tag: oncology

Recon takes an analytical look behind select developments in healthcare

An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for March 2019

Target assessment with genetic polymorphisms Please bear with me for a long (but interesting!) story. Bempedoic acid (Esperion) is an inhibitor of ATP citrate lyase (ACLY), an enzyme in the cholesterol synthesis pathway (upstream of HMG-CoA reductase, the target of statins). In a study of 2,230 patients at high risk for cardiovascular events, on maximum statin therapy, and LDL > 70 (basically the PCSK9 target population), bempedoic acid was well tolerated and lowered the LDL by around 16% – a substantial effect. This would potentially position bempedoic acid, an oral

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February was short and cold: An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for February 2019

Targeted conjugated cancer therapeutics – so few, but may be more soon The idea that one could combine the precision of a targeted biologic with the potency of a traditional cytotoxic to demolish a tumor has been around for decades, but with very rare exceptions, has not had the level of traction one would have expected.  But this month, the journal has two studies reporting on these types of therapies, both in breast cancer. One shows that in a group of heavily pre-treated triple-negative breast cancer patients, sacituzumab govitecan-hziy (Immunomedics)

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On the uses of genetic information in disease: An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for December 2018

Genetic trade secrets In 2012, the US Supreme Court decided a case known as “Prometheus” establishing that therapeutic methods based on biomarkers were not patentable – this essentially blocked one of the two main avenues to monetizing intellectual property from the very hard clinical work of figuring out personalized medicine, i.e. what works for whom. The other avenue that would remain is that of trade secrets, and I for one, have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  A hint comes from a study on ovarian cancer just published

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Eating your way out of disease: An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for November 2018

Peanut medicine that won’t cost peanuts Allergy to peanuts is a major issue and though prevention is now possible in infants there is a huge population for whom actual survival is connected to vigilance in what they consume and availability of epi-pens. Desensitization to allergens is a well-established method to overcome an allergy, but it is typically done through injections, and it requires well calibrated micro-doses of the allergen.  Aimmune has been pursuing an oral approach with progressive dosing with peanut protein (AR101) and in a phase 3 trial, two

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for August 2018

Transthyretin heats up Last month saw a couple landmark papers about the use of parenteral RNA drugs (from Alnylam and Ionis) in hereditary transthyretin amyloidosis with a focus mainly on mitigating the progression of polyneuropathy. But what matters most for the survival of these patients is cardiomyopathy and although the Alnylam paper did show some impact on that pathology, this was based on exploratory analyses of biomarkers, not pre-specified hard outcomes.  A few weeks later, Pfizer comes out with their oral Tafamidis with clear improved cardiac outcomes including survival, in

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for June 2018

It’s hard to quit (and E-cigs don’t help) A large trial (6000 participants) comparing free cessation support, e-cigarettes, and a $600 cash incentive for sustained abstinence shows that none of these approaches are particularly effective with 1-3% overall success rates depending on the arm.  Prevention is where it’s at. A Pragmatic Trial of E-Cigarettes, Incentives, and Drugs for Smoking Cessation (free access)   NPs and PAs numbers are growing fast A look back at the last 15 years and forward to the next 15 shows that the physician workforce is

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for April 2018

Are we nearing an asymptote with implantable cardiac pumps? Severe heart failure is common, and spare hearts for transplant are rare, which has led to the development of implantable mechanical alternatives. In the last few decades, progress has been immense, and in the latest installment of a 3rd (4th?) generation pump, outcomes have reached a level where survival of several years is the rule. Still, at every iteration incremental improvement is less, and performance remains well behind what happens with transplant in terms of complications such as infection, stroke, or

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for February 2018

A-fib in heart failure – time to be aggressive Over the last 15 years, there has been a growing body of evidence for the effectiveness of catheter ablation to treat atrial fibrillation (a-fib), a condition for which the standard of care has been anti-arrhythmic medications. A-fib commonly coexists with heart failure but until now it has not been clear whether medication or catheter ablation would be the preferred treatment – we now have the answer, at least for patients with a substantially reduced ejection fraction. In a randomized trial of

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Two steps forward, one step back: an opinionated take on NEJM highlights for January 2018

Playing chess against cancer Tumors are not intelligent, but, because they have escaped mutational control, they constantly probe for mutations that will allow them to escape chemotherapeutic suppression. The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a frequent driver of malignancy in the lung and as such, a target for EGFR inhibitors such as erlotinib (Tarceva, Roche) or gefitinib (Iressa, Astra Zeneca); unfortunately, tumors initially responsive to these agents quickly develop mutations which make them resistant. Osimertinib (Tagrisso, Astra Zeneca) was designed to overcome the most common resistance mutations and has

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A golden age for gene therapy: an opinionated take on NEJM highlights for December 2017

Successes in gene therapy for hemophilia B and A Hemophilia A and B are X-linked genetic diseases which prevents the formation of functional coagulant factors VII and IX respectively and cause a propensity to bleeding in about 20,000 people in just the US. The standard of care of intravenous administration of recombinant factors is effective but also burdensome, expensive, and does not fully prevent the disabling sequellae of the disease caused by repeated bleeding in the joints. A possible cure is to deliver a functional copy of the defective gene

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for July 2017

Taking stock: two decades of progress in heart failure: Here comes a clever study using existing clinical trial data to assess progress in standard of care over time for heart failure. For each trial, the authors assessed the rate of sudden cardiac death during the early part of the study (excluding patients with ICDs), and it appears that between 1995 and 2014, it decreased by nearly half.  As always, in observational retrospective studies, one has to worry about systematic biases around the population that are included (i.e. are they really

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A strong close to a banner year for progress against cancer: an opinionated take on NEJM highlights for December 2016

Successful use of CAR-T therapy in a solid tumor Chimeric Antigen Reception T-cells (CAR-T) are immune cells molecularly engineered to seek out and destroy cancer cells; the push to develop them into a scalable generally usable treatment is likely the most exciting challenge in cancer right now.  Successful CAR-T use has so far been generally confined to hematological tumors.  In a brief report, a group from City of Hope reports on the use of CAR-T in a patient who was dying from an advanced, aggressive form of brain cancer, which

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We may figure out cancer before we figure out the healthcare system: an opinionated take on NEJM highlights for November 2016

“My name is T-Cell…, James T-Cell” Immune T-cells are licensed to kill other cells through a quick molecular kiss of death, and as such are potentially powerful allies in controlling a tumor. For obvious reasons this killing power is under strict regulatory control and in particular T-cells display PD-1 proteins on their surface, which when engaged by the ligand PD-L1 on another cell, protects that cell from being killed. Tumors often display high levels of PD-L1 so that disrupting the interaction between PD-L1 and PD-1 can enhance the effectiveness of

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An ad page in the NEJM and the future of cancer care

I am not sure how many docs continue to do this, but I still read the actual hard copy of my NEJM, and that means I flip past ad pages with smiling grandfathers playing with grandchildren thanks to supercalifragilistic products on my way to scholarly papers with tables and figures.  But this time, I stopped in puzzlement when I came across exhibit 1; Intermountain is a health system based in Utah, very highly respected for its sound approach to quality and cost control[1], but not broadly well known for cancer care

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for October 2016

Continued progress in multiple myeloma About 25,000 patients are diagnosed with multiple myeloma yearly in the US. Despite being initially treatable, typically this disease is ultimately lethal. Following a highly successful phase 1-2 study a monoclonal antibody against a marker of myeloma cells (daratumumab, Janssen) underwent phase 3 studies in combinations with established mainstays of therapy (the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib and the immune modulator lenalinomide) in a patient population several years out from their initial diagnosis.  Results were stellar, with the inclusion of daratumumab decreasing the disease progression rate by

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for August 2016: cleanliness is not next to healthiness, testing before thinking, a long slog for precision medicine

There is such a thing as too much hygiene The prevalence of asthma in children has increased dramatically over the last few decades. Observational studies have shown that children in “dirty” environments such as farms seem to be relatively protected from asthma.  A theory is that the lack of exposure to microbes leads to higher sensitivity to allergens, but this causality has been hard to show. Amish and Hutterite farm communities are genetically similar, but Amish rely on animals instead of machinery, and Amish children have much lower incidence of

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The future of cancer care: A bird’s-eye view

The recent World Medical Innovation Forum on Cancer convened by Partners Healthcare in Boston was attended by leaders in oncology from around the world including top: clinicians, bench scientists, policy leaders, and executives from hospitals and life-science companies.  Two plus days of intense discussion and sharing of perspectives ably curated by Partners Innovation head Chris Coburn covered a range of topics from technology developments, to the healthcare system, and the patient/ doctor perspectives. The mind-map below is an attempt to organize the key themes that I heard through the conference and to try to convey why I came away

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NEJM Highlights December 2015: providing effective healthcare is hard and expensive – but ineffective care can be even more expensive – and defining what expensive means in healthcare is hard

A new focus on the diagnostic reliability of clinicians Two perspectives highlighting the recent report from the National Academy of Medicine (formerly IOM) entitled “Improving Diagnosis in Health Care”.  Diagnostic error has long been the invisible side of poor medicine compared to medication errors, or a towel forgotten inside the patient and the like.  But the growth of health IT is both exposing diagnostic error and bearing the seeds of a solution, initially through rule-based automated checks and reminders, but likely eventually through a much more guideline driven practice of

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NEJM Highlights November 2015: systems biology, RSV progress, a first in diabetes, hypertension goals, the case of Maryland

Systems biology finally gets real: an unexpected use for a diabetes drug Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) has been the poster child first for a disease with a precise genetic cause (the Philadelphia chromosome), and then for targeted drug design (with imatinib – Gleevec). Unfortunately, few patients achieve a complete response to therapy which means that they have to stay on drug indefinitely. This commentary highlights recent research which shows that pioglitazone (Actos), an approved diabetes drug that activates a specific cellular pathway (STAT5) can synergistically enhance treatment with Gleevec to

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NEJM Highlights October 2015: what to do, how to do it, and to whom

What are annual physicals for? Annual physicals are costly (~$10 billion annually) and have never been shown to improve outcomes, but people value them. In this dichotomy lies a lot of the inner tensions of medical care: between delivery of technical care, and nurturing of human relationships, and those are illuminated by two articles in counterpoint.  In the end though both sides come to a point of view that is not altogether dissimilar – that what is needed is not an annual physical, but some sort of preventive care/health review

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