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Missing the Target

Oncologists are beginning to use genomic information to guide cancer patients' treatment, but a new study suggests that such off-label use of targeted drugs might not be beneficial just yet, Nature News reports.

A team of researchers in France screened 741 cancer patients, uncovering 293 patients whose tumor had at least one molecular change that matched available regimens. They randomized nearly 200 of those patients to receive either the matched molecularly targeted drug or treatment at physician's discretion. As they report in the Lancet Oncology, the researchers did not observe an increase in progression-free survival in the group treated with molecularly targeted agents as compared to the control group.

Lead author Christophe Le Tourneau from the Curie Institute says that such off-label treatments occur often. "I understand why it happens: patients want to live and physicians want to offer help," he tells Nature News. He adds, though, that such patients should instead enroll in a clinical trial.

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center's Apostolia Tsimberidou, however, tells Nature News that the study wasn't well designed as it drew upon patients with advanced disease who were unlikely to benefit from treatment and didn't evaluate the best possible drugs.

Le Tourneau concedes those points, Nature News notes, though says that when the study began in 2011 better drugs weren't yet commercially available.

Nature News adds that a number of trials aimed at evaluating such targeted treatments are underway.