The FDA Is Giving New Cancer Treatments a Break


For a variety of reasons, I’ve never spent much time on the internet reading or conversing about multiple myeloma. A few days ago, however, I had reason to think I should educate myself a bit more. Among other things, I discovered that within the space of two weeks in the second half of November, the FDA had approved no fewer than three new treatments. I suppose this can’t be anything but coincidence, but then another coincidence piled on top of that: a New York Times piece about Richard Pazdur, the oncology chief at the FDA. Three years ago, his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer:

In her struggle with cancer and ultimately her death in November, Ms. Pazdur had a part, her husband and a number of cancer specialists now say, in a profound change at the F.D.A.: a speeding up of the drug approval process. Ms. Pazdur’s three-year battle with cancer was a factor, they say, in Dr. Pazdur’s willingness to swiftly approve risky new treatments and passion to fight the disease that patient advocates thought he lacked.

….Since Ms. Pazdur learned she had ovarian cancer in 2012…the average decision time on drugs by Dr. Pazdur’s oncology group has come down to five months from six months….“I have a much greater sense of urgency these days,” Dr. Pazdur, 63, said in an interview. “I have been on a jihad to streamline the review process and get things out the door faster. I have evolved from regulator to regulator-advocate.”

Many factors are driving him, he continued. “Was Mary’s illness one of them? Yes,” he said. But in 2012, he added, Congress also passed a law that gave the F.D.A. more money and a new pathway to work more closely with drug makers when a medicine may save lives. Another important change in the same period, he said, was a surge in advances in genetic research that made some medications more effective and easier to test.

“The drugs simply got better,” Dr. Pazdur said.

Again, I suppose this is mostly coincidence. But I still wonder if Mary Pazdur’s cancer played a role in all these multiple myeloma treatments getting approved recently? If so, her death may eventually play a role in saving—or extending—my life. A butterfly flaps its wings….