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Anemia Drugs May Make Cancer Itself Worse

PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2007 4:18 pm
by gdpawel
New studies have raised questions whether these drugs might actually be harming them. Those study results suggest the drugs may make the cancer worse.

Dr. Eric Winer, director of the breast oncology center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute feels that these drugs are presumed to be entirely safe, given for supportive care and to improve quality of life, but not actually used to treat cancer. But the drugs may have been used in ways not approved on the labels.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last November found that patients treated aggressively with Procrit had a higher risk of heart problems or death than those treated less aggressively.

Amgen, the maker of Aranesp, announced late January that in one of its clinical trials, patients were more likely to die than those getting a placebo. The trial was testing the drug in patients whose anemia was caused by the cancer itself, not by chemotherapy. While a Danish study in patients with head and neck cancer had to be stopped early because the cancer seemed to recur more in patients being treated with Aranesp.

In February, the Journal of Clinical Oncology published a paper describing a small Canadian trial in lung cancer patients had also been stopped early because those getting Eprex were dying sooner. While Roche suspended patient enrollment in a lung cancer trial comparing its Cera against Amgen's Aranesp because of greater than expected number of deaths in at least some of the arms of the trial.

It is not known why the drugs may cause these problems. It is known that raising hemoglobin levels too high increases the risk of blood clots. While most of these trials did aim to increase hemoglobin above the levels recommended in the drugs' labels, that was not the case with Amgen's own trial.

There is some evidence that clots were not the problem in the trials, but that Epo may spur tumor growth. Some studies suggest that certain tumor cells, such as those in head and neck cancer, have proteins on their surface that bind to Epo. When that happens, it sets off a cascade of reactions spurring growth.

Studies done by Dr. Jennifer R. Grandis, professor at the University of Pittsburgh, found enough biologic possibility that they can serve as a growth factor for the cancer cell.

Concerns about the safety of the drugs for cancer were first raised in 2003 by two studies that showed patients getting Epo had worse outcomes. Until then, these drugs had shown signs that they could improve the quality of life for cancer patients, even though their safety labeling has already been revised three times since 1997.

In panel discussion that highlighted the 12th annual conference of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Lee Newcomer, former chief medical officer and currently an executive with Minneapolis-based United Health Group, pointed out that in reviewing records of patients who were prescribed the drug erythropoietin -- an expensive agent that boosts blood supply in patients with anemia -- said that 44 percent of those patients had blood work-ups that would indicate they were not anemic.

Whiz bang therapies often get a pass on toxicities because they are just so darn cool. The problem is that few drugs work the way we think and few physicians/scientists take the time to think through what it is they are using them for.

Source: TherapeuticsDaily

Growth Factor of Anemia Drugs

PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2007 4:20 pm
by gdpawel
EPO is a natural substance made by the kidney. It stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells (it is literally a "growth factor"). Healthy adults are usually at about 15 grams a deciliter. When normal people take it, their blood gets too "thick" and they die of heart attacks and strokes.

But it now looks as if increasing the hemoglobin level above 12 is very risky with pharmaceutical EPO. Pharmaceutical EPO makes sludgy blood.

The anemia drugs, which boosts patients' counts of hemoglobin (a protein that carries oxygen in the blood), raise the danger of heart attacks, strokes and death at "high" doses. The FDA has said there is "serious" cardiovascular risks for patients who took "higher than recommended" doses of these drugs. Also, patients who don't respond well to initial anemia therapy (hyporesponders) are exposed to the highest heart risks.

These anemia drugs are approved to treat patients whose weakness and fatigue is caused by chronic kidney disease or by the side effects of cancer chemotherapy. They stimulate production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which can boost patients' energy and strength. The issue is over the drugs' safety on how big a dose to use to boost concentrations of hemoglobin. The FDA-approved level is doses sufficient to increase hemoglobin to a maximum of 12 grams a deciliter.

Blood transfusions are generally needed when patients slip to less than 8 grams. The adage of some physicians was that if some improvement in hemoglobin was good, higher levels of hemoglobin would even be better. However, clinical trials have shown the drugs can reduce the need for blood transfusions and improve the quality of life when used within the "original" dosing range.

New studies have raised questions whether these drugs might be harming patients. Those study results suggest the drugs may make the cancer worse. One such study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that patients treated aggressively with Procrit had a higher risk of heart problems or death than those treated less aggressively.

As reported in OncoLink, patients and clinicians must understand that no data exists to support claims of improvement in quality of life or fatigue. The manufacturers of these agents frequently used direct consumer marketing to promote these unsupported claims, a fact that concerns many patient advocacy groups.

And now there is emerging evidence that pharmaceutical EPO can feed the growth of tumors in cancer patients (it IS a "growth factor" afterall).

A “growth factor” is about twenty small proteins that attach to specific receptors on the surface of stem cells in bone marrow and promote differentiation and maturation of these cells into morphotic constituents of blood. And blood is a circulating tissue composed of fluid plasma and cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets). Problems with blood composition or circulation can lead to downstream tissue (which is made up of cells) dysfunction. If pharmaceutical EPO stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells, it could feed the growth of tumors in cancer patients.

The problem is that few drugs work the way oncologists think and few of them take the time to think through what it is they are using them for. Take medical oncologists out of the retail pharmacy business and force them to be cancer "doctors" again!

Source: Cell Function Analysis

FDA Sides With CMS in EPO Battle

PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2007 4:21 pm
by gdpawel
The FDA backed CMS' National Coverage Decision (NCD), which limited use of the drugs because they have been shown to spur tumor growth.

The FDA has stated that the health risks associated with the use of pharmaceutical EPO (ESAs) for cancer patients include: Promotion of tumor growth in patients with advanced breast, head and neck, lymphoid, and non-small cell lung malignancies in studies adminstered EPO to target a hemoglobin of >12 g/dL, and have not been excluded with lower target hemoglobin levels.

The FDA believes that the approved labeling and CMS's National Coverage Decision are generally consistent in their recommendations regarding the use of pharmaceutical EPO in patients with cancer undergoing chemotherapy.

FDA's approved labeling recommends use of the lowest dose necessary to avoid the need for blood transfusions and transfusions are not normally given to patients whose hemoglobin is 10 g/dL or higher. The recommendation in the approved labeling that the hemoglobin not exceed 12 g/dL in cancer patients "is intended as an upper safety limit, not a target for therapy."

If ASCO has a complaint about CMS payment policy, it should provide evidence to the physicians at that agency who made the decision. There is no evidence that pharmaceutical EPO results in improved survival, "TUMOR CONTROL," health-related quality of life at any hemoglobin level in cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy.

Federal laws bar drug companies from paying doctors to prescribe medicines that are given in pill form and purchased by patients from pharmacies. But companies can rebate part of the price that doctors pay for drugs, like the anemia medicines, which they dispense in their offices as part of treatment.

The anemia drugs are injected or given intravenously in physicians’ offices or dialysis centers. Doctors receive the rebates after they buy the drugs from the companies. But they also receive reimbursement from Medicare or private insurers for the drugs, often at a markup over the doctors’ purchase price.

It's still your mother's chemotherapy concession. Although the new Medicare bill tried to curtail the drug concession, private insurers still go along with it. What needs to be done is to remove the profit incentive from the choice of drug treatments. Let's take physicians out of the retail pharmacy business and force them to be doctors again!!! ... 12-esa.pdf ... ref=slogin

More Anemia Drug Issues

PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 10:43 pm
by gdpawel
EPO manufacturers and cancer societies have at least two lawmakers in their pocket in reference to anemia drugs. Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) introduced legislation that would overturn a decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to limit the circumstances under which Medicare will pay for anti-anemia treatments of cancer patients using pharmaceutical EPO. Legislation takes the form of a Congressional Review Act joint resolution, a rarely used tool that allows Congress to overturn regulatory decisions made by federal agencies.

The lawmakers allies in Congress, the American Society for Clinical Oncology, the American Society of Hematology and the cancer treatment center company US Oncology also are participating in the effort. The CMS policy affects the use of the drugs only for cancer patients, hence the fraternal organizations' involvement. The resolution is meant to serve as a reminder that special interests with a stake in Medicare coverage have friends in Congress.

Congress has been intensifying its scrutiny of Medicare spending on pharmaceutical EPO, which represents the single largest drug expense for the program. Some other key lawmakers view the manufacturers of EPO skeptically, citing Medicare's rising spending on the drugs. Earlier in the year, U.S. Oncology reported in their first quarter SEC Form 10-K report that cancer patients are suddenly using a lot less anemia drugs and as a result U.S. Oncology will bank $8-10 million a year less than expected.

CMS Wants More Proof Before Reconsidering ESA Decision ... ceid=45568

Groups Ask Congress Not To Intervene In CMS Decision On Anemia Drugs

Anemia Drugs Carry More Warnings

PostPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2007 9:28 pm
by gdpawel
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved revised boxed warnings and other safety-related product labeling changes for erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), which treat certain types of anemia.

For patients with cancer, the new boxed warnings emphasize that ESAs caused tumor growth and shortened survival in patients with advanced breast, head and neck, lymphoid and non-small cell lung cancer when they received a dose that attempted to achieve a hemoglobin level of 12 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or greater.

The boxed warnings also emphasize that no clinical data are available to determine whether there is a similar risk of shortened survival or increased tumor growth for patients with cancer who receive an ESA dose that attempts to achieve a hemoglobin level of less than 12 g/dL. This is the hemoglobin level commonly achieved in clinical practice.

Health care providers determine whether a patient is anemic and decide on ESA dosing by measuring how much of the protein known as hemoglobin is present in a patient's red blood cells.

An earlier boxed warning, approved in March, described the results of six studies demonstrating that survival was shorter and tumors progressed faster when ESAs were used to achieve hemoglobin levels of 12 g/dL or greater in cancer patients.

Today's new boxed warning also clarifies that ESAs should only be used in patients with cancer when treating anemia specifically caused by chemotherapy and not for other causes of anemia. Moreover, it states that ESAs should be discontinued once the patient's chemotherapy course has been completed.

Health care professionals need to consider the risks of increased tumor progression and decreased survival in patients with cancer when prescribing ESAs. ESAs should be used in patients with cancer only when their anemia is due to chemotherapy and only at the lowest dose necessary to avoid the need for blood transfusions.

Anemia may be adaptive to the human body

PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2008 7:04 pm
by gdpawel
Some cautionary information about being "overtreated" with anemia drugs. A study, published in the Canadian Medial Association Journal, suggests patients with anemia due to chronic disease are being dangerously overtreated. Anemia may actually help heal the body rather than harm it, says the new study.

Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, the study's co-author and a scientist at the Ottawa Health Research Institute, feels that doctors have been taught for generations that anemia is bad and they want to help their patients by treating it. However, they failed to consider that anemia may be adaptive and may be exactly the response that the body needs at that time.

Tired blood (anemia) involves a shortage of healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body tissues. In the past, blood transfusions were the only way to treat anemia, until a drug derived from erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that stimulates bone-marrow cells to produce red-blood cells.

Dr. Zarychanski pointed to evidence that suggests anemia is an evolutionary response to illness occuring in humans. The body has adapted over thousands of years to be anemic at times of stress because it needs to conserve energy. It needs help to fight infection. And when you're anemic, bacteria doesn't grow so well in the blood (an evolutionary response to infection before antibiotics).

In general, healthy adults have red blood cell levels of 14 grams or more per 100 millilitres of blood, while patients are considered to need treatment if their levels are below 10 grams. Patients with mild to moderate anemia (those with levels between 10 and 14 grams) would be better off not being treated.

What Dr. Zarychanski argues is that we should exercise some caution when thinking the best treatment is to automatically transfuse or give drugs to correct anemia.

Source: Ottawa Health Research Institute

Anemia Drugs' Mortality Risk Supported in Cancer Patients

PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2008 8:26 pm
by gdpawel
Increased death rates among cancer patients taking erythropoiesis-stimulating agents were supported in a large meta-analysis.

Among nearly 14,000 patients in 53 studies, those taking the anemia drugs were 17% (95% CI 6% to 30%) more likely to die during the study, and their overall survival chances were reduced by 6% (95% CI 0% to 12%), reported Julia Bohlius, M.D., M.Sc.P.H., of the University of Bern in Switzerland.

The findings, disclosed at the American Society of Hematology meeting, confirmed results reported earlier in individual studies.

The trials included Epogen, Procrit, NeoRecormon and Aranesp. The analysis was notable for relying on full data on each patient, contributed by the trial sponsors and individual investigators, not on outcome data as published.

And in fact, the on-study mortality results were higher than previously published. On-study mortality was defined as death from any cause occurring from randomization to four weeks after the active study's end. Overall survival was measured from randomization to the end of available follow-up.

When the patient pool was limited to about 10,000 patients treated with chemotherapy, the relationship between erythropoiesis-stimulating agents and mortality fell just short of statistical significance.

On-study mortality in the chemotherapy population was increased by 10% for those taking the anemia drugs (95% CI -2% to 24%), and the overall death rate was increased by 4% (95% CI -3% to 11%), the researchers found.

The results changed little when the researchers controlled for known risk factors.

Age, sex, hemoglobin, hematocrit at baseline, type and stage of tumor, and type of study were among the factors researchers took into account.

Patients getting no cancer treatment showed a 33% increase in on-study mortality if they were receiving erythropoiesis agents (95% CI 7% to 67%).

There were even higher increases in patients receiving other forms of cancer treatment (52% for chemoradiation, 52% for radiation alone, and 53% for "other" non-chemotherapies), but these did not reach statistical significance.

Moreover, a test for interaction among all the non-chemotherapy patient groups yielded a P value of 0.42.

Co-author Andreas Engert, M.D., of the University of Cologne in Germany, said the specific reasons for the increased deaths associated with erythropoiesis agents remained unclear, but on the basis of more recent studies, most of the excess deaths are probably from thromboembolic events.

The American Society of Hematology and the American Society of Clinical Oncology would convene a new guideline panel early in 2009 to consider revisions derived from these findings and other developments since the existing version was published.

Since the current guideline was produced, the FDA had required a boxed warning on epoetin and darbopoetin about increased mortality risks for cancer patients.


Bohlius J, et al., "Recombinant human erythropoiesis stimulating agents in cancer patients: individual patient data meta-analysis on behalf of the EPO IPD Meta-Analysis Collaborative Group" Blood 2008; abstract LBA-6.

Re: Anemia Drugs May Make Cancer Itself Worse

PostPosted: Fri Jul 10, 2009 7:42 am
by gdpawel
Using EPO in Cancer Is Harmful, Review Confirms

A new review of data confirms that erythropoietin - a drug to treat anemia in many cancer patients - might be harmful. The review found that patients with head and neck cancers who received erythropoietin in combination with radiation had poorer outcomes than those who received radiation treatment alone.

The review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

Severe anemia in cancer patients can lead to decreased oxygen supply to tumor cells. A lower level of oxygen in tumor cells is associated with more rapid tumor progression and a poorer response to therapy. Many use erythropoietin, or EPO, a hormone that controls red blood cell production, to correct anemia.

"It has therefore been thought logical that using erythropoietin to correct anemia before or during chemotherapy, radiotherapy or both would improve prognosis," the review authors write.

Dr. Philippe Lambin and colleagues at the MAASTRO (Maastricht Radiation Oncology) Clinic in the Netherlands conducted the review.

The investigators analyzed data from five published clinical trials that looked at whether combined radiation and EPO was better than standard radiation therapy alone in the treatment of head and neck cancers. Nearly 1,400 patients were included in the analysis. The researchers compared overall survival, the length of time during and after treatment in which the cancer did not progress, local tumor control and toxicity in the two different treatment groups.

Researchers found that patients who received EPO had significantly worse overall survival compared to patients who did not receive the drug. In addition, patients who took EPO had significantly shorter times before their cancers worsened.

Data included in the review suggest that decreased survival rates in cancer patients who took EPO were not due to some toxic effect of the drug itself, such as an increase in deaths due to blood clots. Instead, researchers have hypothesized that the drug might actually cause some types of tumors to grow.

Barbara Burtness, M.D., chief of the Head and Neck Medical Oncology division at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, commented on the use of erythropoietin in head and neck cancer.

"The primary use of erythropoietin in cancer patients is to raise hemoglobin when patients become anemic, either because of the cancer or because of a side effect of the cancer treatments," she said. "It's been a part of practice for a long time."

Burtness said that there has been a specific reason for studying EPO in head and neck cancers. "When radiation treatments are given for bulky cancers in the head and neck area, it's thought that cancer cells that don't have a high oxygen content are less susceptible to being killed by radiation. The hypothesis has been that if you could correct a patient's anemia, there would be more red blood cells traveling to the area of cancer. This would lead to correction of the low oxygen content in the tumors - and the patient would be more likely to respond to the radiation treatment," she said.

"But what we've been hearing for some time is that erythropoietin is actually making cancer outcomes worse," she said.

She said the United States has tightened guidelines EPO use in response to data from recent studies. "Giving erythropoietin can have a negative impact on survival. We certainly are not using it here [at Fox Chase Cancer Center]. Among our patients who've received radiation elsewhere, its use does not appear to be common."

Manufacturers promoted EPO to improve anemia, and to help anemic patients to feel better overall. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued several public health advisories underscoring the possible risks of using EPO in cancer, including faster tumor growth and early death. The FDA warnings also say that EPO does not improve symptoms associated with anemia, such as fatigue. Nor does EPO improve a patient's quality of life or sense of well-being, the advisories say.

The authors of the review conclude that patients with head and neck cancer should not receive EPO as an addition to radiation therapy.

Source: Health Behavior News Service and GoozNews on Health

Drug therapy for the management of cancer related fatigue ... gDocID=527

FDA Unveils Risk Management Plan for ESAs

PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2011 9:28 pm
by gdpawel
Nearly two years after a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee called for restrictions on the use of red blood cell-stimulating drugs in cancer patients (erythropoiesis-stimulating agents or ESAs), the agency unveiled a stringent risk management plan that should further lower use of the drugs, which are already in freefall in cancer patients. The plan, which affects Amgen's Aranesp and Epogen and Johnson & Johnson's Procrit (manufactured by Amgen and identical to Epogen), requires the companies:

Register oncologists who prescribe the drugs;

Educate them about their risks, which include tumor progression and earlier death; and

Fully inform patients about the risks with an updated medication information guide, both at the time they are initially treated and every time treatment is given; and

Obtain signatures from patients that they've been apprised of the risks.
The updated medication guide will contain information for chronic and end-stage renal disease patients, who also get ESAs for anemia. But renal physicians will not be facing the same registration and education requirements.

The company was given a year to come into full compliance. Officials at a press briefing yesterday were uncertain what would happen to oncologists or the companies if they prescribe or use the drugs without giving the proper warnings.

The program is called, appropriately enough, APPRISE. And while it's tough, it's not unprecedented. The FDA adopted a similar registration program for some opioids.

When pressed by a reporter on why it took so long to come up with the program, Richard Pazdur, head of the oncology office at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at FDA, said "this took many many months of discussion. It's a delicate balance. We don't want to interfere in a draconian fashion with the practice of medicine."

Pazdur distinguished between patients undergoing therapy where there is a chance of cure, and those receiving palliative care for incurable cancers. In the latter case, patients may opt for the greater energy that comes from alleviating cancer- and chemo-related anemia, even if it results in a shorter end game.

"The risks-benefit balance is a delicate one," Pazdur said. The goal of the program wasn't to restrict use of the drugs, but "to help patients make the best choice given their individual situation."

The failure to simultaneously force the companies to reeducate the renal physician community was disappointing. There's mounting evidence that high doses of ESAs in renal disease patients is associated with increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and earlier mortality. Many of these patients are poor and unaware of the quality of care they receive at dialysis centers. They, just as much as cancer patients, need to be informed about the risks posed by overuse of ESAs.

Source: Gooznews on Health

Chemo Induced Anemia

PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2011 9:30 pm
by gdpawel
The most recent study of erythropoiesis-stimulting agents (ESAs) in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced anemia was a meta-analysis conducted by Glaspy and colleagues and was published in the British Journal of Cancer in 2010. The study showed very few safety signals when the ESAs are used on label. The label now says that these drugs must be used in the treatment of patients with cancer, who are receiving active chemotherapy, and who are anemic, with a hemoglobin level of 10g/dL, or less.

More importantly, when treatment is started, the patient must be given 6 to 8 weeks to respond. A response is defined as elimination of transfusion requirements or improvement in the hemoglobin level, or, when hemoglobin that was falling, stops falling. So, if in 6 to 8 weeks the patient is a responder, the safety signal that we have all worried about, which is tumor progression or shorter survival, does not occur.

The analysis conducted by Ludwig et al, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in June 2009, showed that if treatment is not stopped in 6 to 8 weeks and the patient is not responding, the worst possible thing that can be done is to continue ESAs and/or increase the dose of ESAs. The patients who did the worst were those who then received a transfusion. In other words, if the drug is not working and the dose is increased, and if the patient now needs to be transfused and ESAs are continued, that patient is being harmed by ESAs.

Dr. David Henry, Clinical Professor of Medicine and Vice Chair, Department of Medicine at Pennsylvania Hospital, in an interview with OncologySTAT, says to make ESAs more efficient, to make them work, we finally have come to the realization that we are asking a patient who has iron to make some more blood. We are assuming that the hemotologist/oncologist thinks that patient is getting anemic, they've already got cancer, they're on chemotherapy, and they are going to give the patient ESAs. They've checked the iron level, usually a ferritin level, and say it's okay, so they're going to start to treat.

By giving ESAs, the physician starts churning bone marrow and asking it to move the iron along and make new red cells. In the context of the patient with cancer and on chemotherapy, the bone marrow cannot respond fast enough and the patient gets what is called iron-restricted erythropoiesis, even though there is iron available.

An analogy is if someone is driving a car, and the diameter of the fuel line is only so large, when the driver steps on the peddle (the ESA), although the gas tank is full, that gas (the iron) can get to the engine (the bone marrow), only so fast. We have seen this over and over again, by special studies of iron-restricted parameters.


Glaspy J, Crawford J, Vansteenkiste J, et al. Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents in oncology: a study-level meta-analysis of survival and other safety outcomes. Br J Cancer. 2010;102:301-305.

Ludwig H, Crawford J, Österborg A, et al. Pooled Analysis of Individual Patient-Level Data From All Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trials of Darbepoetin Alfa in the Treatment of Patients With Chemotherapy-Induced Anemia. J Clin Oncol. June 10, 2009;27(17):2838-2847.