Consider the FDA’s handling of Genasense, a new drug for melanoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), two often terminal forms of cancer. The drug is being developed by Genta, a small, innovative company with only one approved drug and limited financial resources. Despite compelling evidence that Genasense is making progress in fighting both diseases, the FDA appears determined to kill the drug.
In the case of the melanoma application, instead of reviewing the clinical-trial data in accordance with usual methods (which showed positive results), the FDA chose a nonstandard statistical approach aimed at discrediting the results. The agency used this analysis in its briefing to its advisory committee, claiming that the drug might not be effective. The committee then relied on that information to vote against approval.
Now, Genta has found a serious mathematical error in the FDA’s analysis, rendering its results meaningless. Genta is filing a complaint under the Federal Data Quality Act to correct the record. But in the meantime, the drug remains unapproved and melanoma patients continue to wait.
…Less than 48 hours later, the FDA rejected Genasense. Within days Genta made a “business decision,” laying off a third of its staff in a cost cutting move aimed at keeping the doors open long enough to appeal the FDA’s decision. The appeal was filed in early April. Genta’s announcement of the filing included a statement from one of the expert physicians: “It is puzzling that they would deny approval to a drug that met its primary and key secondary endpoint, especially since these findings were observed in the only randomized controlled trial that has ever been conducted in patients with relapsed CLL.”
The FDA’s handling of Genasense lays bare the all too common, aggressive incompetence of the FDA’s cancer-drug division and should lead to an immediate examination of its policies and leadership, followed by swift corrective action.
As for the FDA’s belief that their power to control us and even deny us the pursuit of life itself is unlimited under the Constitution, we can only hope the appeals court disagrees. An agency that blocks progress against deadly diseases — while arguing that its power to do so is above challenge — is in dire need of a court supervised review.
Mr. Walker is co-founder and chief adviser for the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs . He receives no compensation for his work as an advocate, nor has he ever received compensation from any private or public-sector entity involved in drug development, approval or marketing.