Trouble Behind the Scenes

Mike Hennessy
Published: Thursday, Apr 21, 2016
Mike Hennessy

OncLive Chairman,
Mike Hennessy

The cascade of news about cancer research—whether it’s about a new drug, biomarker, or treatment approach—has become an ever-present feature of the oncology landscape. Perhaps that is to be expected given the billions of dollars invested in the field, but it doesn’t make it any easier to sort what will truly make a difference for patients from what might be an interesting blind alley.

That’s just one reason why it is vitally important that the scientific research that forms the underpinnings for the potential advances we hear about daily must be as accurate and ethical as possible. Why should we bother funding or paying attention to a purported discovery that collapses under later scrutiny?

In this issue of OncologyLive, Editor-in-Chief Maurie Markman, MD, delves into an arcane but important underlying research issue not only in the oncology field but throughout medicine in his column, “Let’s Not Compromise on the Need to Strengthen Preclinical Research.”

The question concerns how to ensure that a laboratory finding is accurate, even before it is reported in a peer-reviewed journal. Dr Markman points out that there is no independent review of findings at this preclinical level, so how do we know whether that laboratory discovery can be verified? That is, can the findings be reproduced?

Shockingly, pharmaceutical companies have attempted to replicate laboratory-based findings in several survey studies and found that very few could be reproduced. Certainly, the nature of modern laboratory research makes reproducing preclinical findings a difficult and complex undertaking. Yet it is important that the research establishment figure out a way to ensure that the process has as much integrity as possible.

It might seem as though an issue like this one is far removed from the clinical matters that oncology specialists confront in their daily practices. It is not, though. More than ever, oncologists are being asked to absorb and implement novel information into their thinking and ultimately their practices.

If we can’t rely on the work, the healthy skepticism with which many practicing oncologists eye new research can easily turn into a jaundiced view.

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