Trending in the Right Direction

Presently available medical technology is always crude when compared with what's presently taking shape in the laboratory. Take cancer therapies, for example: unpleasant and painful chemotherapy remains the state of the art in the field, but laboratories are turning out targeted therapies with next to no side-effects, or using the immune system to eliminate cancer.

This vast gap between lab and clinic is made particularly pronounced by the heavy burden of regulation that ensures commercial development of new therapies is expensive and slow, where it takes place at all. Yet even with this ball and chain, and even lacking the impressive technology still in trials, trends in results of therapy are still moving in the right direction. This is aptly illustrated by this data on cancer survival:

New data and analyses from a long-running study of cancer survival in Europe have shown that the number of people actually cured of cancer - rather than just surviving for at least five years after diagnosis - is rising steadily.

A special issue of the European Journal of Cancer [1] containing reports from the EUROCARE-4 Working Group, includes, for the first time, an estimate of the proportions of patients who are cured of their cancer in Europe and who, therefore, have a life expectancy equal to that of the rest of the population. The analysis divides patients into two groups - the proportion who may be considered cured of their disease and who are likely to die of something else, and those who will die of their cancer.

The study compared two periods - 1988-1990 and 1997-1999 - and found the proportion of patients estimated to be cured of lung, stomach and colorectal cancers increased from 6% to 8%, from 15% to 18% and from 42% to 49%, respectively.


"Geographic variation in the estimated proportion of patients diagnosed in 1988-1999 who were cured ranged from about 4% to 10% for lung cancer, from 9% to 27% for stomach cancer, from 25% to 49% for colon and rectum cancer, and from 55% to 73% for breast cancer."

There's a long way to go in terms of defeating cancer if you just project out that trend - but the work presently taking place in the laboratory goes far beyond trend continuation. The next generation of cancer therapies are completely new approaches and technologies that can be expected to greatly increase survival rates where they are deployed. This makes it all the more frustrating that we are saddled with a regulatory prison that prevents and discourages new medicine.

Regulatory bodies like the FDA have every incentive to stop the release of new medicine: the government employees involved suffer far more from bad press for an approved medical technology than they do from the largely unexamined consequences of heavy regulation. These consequences go far beyond the obvious and announced disapproval of specific medical technologies: the far greater cost lies in all the research, innovation and development that was never undertaken because regulatory burdens ensure there would be no profit for the developer. Personal gain for the regulator is thus to destroy the gains of people they will never meet, the exact opposite of what occurs in an open marketplace.

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