For Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Failure Is The New Winning

“But with no clinical validation, surrogate measures can waste a lot of time,” Dr. Kesselheim added.

Setting standards, while benefitting financially

Another factor in lurbinectedin’s success thus far is tied to the role of the nonprofit National Comprehensive Cancer Network. While most Americans might be unaware of this organization, its work has possibly touched them in some way. As an alliance of 31 cancer treatment hospitals, the network has stated its mission is to develop “evidence-based guidelines” for the screening and treatment of 59 different types of cancer.

Although adoption of the network’s guidelines is voluntary, health care providers broadly accept its opinions for setting the standard of care for these cancer types. The network’s appeal lies in the fact that its 60 panels of experts include not only experienced oncologists but also pharmacists, research scientists, and nurses. The panels investigate the minutiae of treatment details and even make their own assessments of various medicines and dosage levels.

Nonetheless, what health care professionals may not clearly see is how responsive to corporate interests the network’s small cell lung cancer panel has been.

On April 29, Francois Di Trapani, Jazz’s vice president for global scientific affairs, wrote the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s small cell lung cancer panel to request that its clinical guidelines include lurbinectedin as a treatment option. He then followed up on June 15 to alert the panel to lurbinectedin’s selection for the accelerated access program.

By July 7, the nonprofit network’s small cell lung cancer panel had added lurbinectedin to its clinical practice guidelines.

Yet six doctors among the 30 physicians on this small cell lung cancer panel have disclosed that they have received payment from Jazz: five for serving as a Jazz scientific advisory board member, consultant or expert witness, and one other for participating as a Jazz promotional advisory board or speakers’ bureau member or consultant.

Because the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will not update its Open Payments database of corporate payments to physicians to reflect 2020’s totals until sometime this June, the amounts are not yet publicly available.

One of the network’s six small cell lung cancer panelists who received a Jazz payment gave an enthusiastic November interview to a trade publication, touting lurbinectedin’s prospects: Dr. Apar Ganti, an oncologist and hematologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, declared to the American Journal of Managed Care that his panel had swiftly acted to recommend lurbinectedin’s use since few drugs are available to treat small cell lung cancer. His interview did not disclose his acceptance of money from Jazz, the very company marketing the drug in the States.

The Foundation for Financial Journalism reached out for comment to Dr. Ganti and the five other physician panelists paid by Jazz, Drs. Anne Chiang, Afshin Dowlati, Jonathan Goldman, Wade Iams, and Jacob Sands but did not hear back.

Asked for comment, the network’s CEO, Dr. Robert Carlson, said the panel chose to recommend lurbinectedin’s use in its clinical guidelines based on a Lancet Oncology study published in May. Carlson added that the panel members make guideline updates “as supported by scientific evidence.” Nonetheless, the Lancet study was funded by PharmaMar and one of its authors, Dr. Sands, is among the six physician panelists who received money from Jazz.

Multiple attempts to obtain comment from Jazz’s management were unsuccessful.

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