During replication attempts, too many studies fail to pass muster
R. Allan Mufson remembers the alarming letters from physicians. They were testing a drug intended to help cancer patients by boosting levels of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in their blood.
In animal studies and early clinical trials, the drug known as Epo (for erythropoietin) appeared to counteract anemia caused by radiation and chemotherapy. It had the potential to spare patients from the need for blood transfusions. Researchers also had evidence that Epo might increase radiation’s tumor-killing power.
But when doctors started giving Epo or related drugs, called erythropoietic-stimulating agents, to large numbers of cancer patients in clinical trials, it looked like deaths increased. Physicians were concerned, and some stopped their studies early.
At the same time, laboratory researchers were collecting evidence that Epo might be feeding rather than fighting tumors. When other