To determine the availability of data on overall survival and quality of life benefits of cancer drugs approved in Europe.Design
Retrospective cohort study.Setting
Publicly accessible regulatory and scientific reports on cancer approvals by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from 2009 to 2013.Main outcome measures
Pivotal and postmarketing trials of cancer drugs according to their design features (randomisation, crossover, blinding), comparators, and endpoints. Availability and magnitude of benefit on overall survival or quality of life determined at time of approval and after market entry. Validated European Society for Medical Oncology Magnitude of Clinical Benefit Scale (ESMO-MCBS) used to assess the clinical value of the reported gains in published studies of cancer drugs.Results
From 2009 to 2013, the EMA approved the use of 48 cancer drugs for 68 indications. Of these, eight indications (12%) were approved on the basis of a single arm study. At the time of market approval, there was significant prolongation of survival in 24 of the 68 (35%). The magnitude of the benefit on overall survival ranged from 1.0 to 5.8 months (median 2.7 months). At the time of market approval, there was an improvement in quality of life in seven of 68 indications (10%). Out of 44 indications for which there was no evidence of a survival gain at the time of market authorisation, in the subsequent postmarketing period there was evidence for extension of life in three (7%) and reported benefit on quality of life in five (11%). Of the 68 cancer indications with EMA approval, and with a median of 5.4 years’ follow-up (minimum 3.3 years, maximum 8.1 years), only 35 (51%) had shown a significant improvement in survival or quality of life, while 33 (49%) remained uncertain. Of 23 indications associated with a survival benefit that could be scored with the ESMO-MCBS tool, the benefit was judged to be clinically meaningful in less than half (11/23, 48%).Conclusions
This systematic evaluation of oncology approvals by the EMA in 2009-13 shows that most drugs entered the market without evidence of benefit on survival or quality of life. At a minimum of 3.3 years after market entry, there was still no conclusive evidence that these drugs either extended or improved life for most cancer indications. When there were survival gains over existing treatment options or placebo, they were often marginal.