February 24, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 95—Breast cancer, and auto recalls

Triple negative breast cancer accounts for about 15 percent of all breast cancer cases. When a patient tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and has low levels of a protein called HER2, the patient is considered to have “triple negative” breast cancer. Patients with triple negative breast cancer typically have the poorest prognosis because there are not very many treatment options. But now there is hope for those diagnosed with this cancer. A team of Indiana University School of Medicine researchers is developing a new drug for treating triple negative breast cancer. Researchers say the aim is to find a new drug that can efficiently kill cancer cells and also enhance the immune response of tumors to cancer immunotherapy. Researchers at IU combined a targeted cancer drug for HER2-positive breast cancer patients with a small-molecule inhibitor originally isolated from a toxic mushroom to create a novel drug called T-Ama. The research team found that T-Ama was effective at killing breast cancer cells with low HER2 levels in animal models during their study. Researchers say the drug would be able to be used alone or in combination with current immune checkpoint inhibitors. It will be a game changer for the field of triple negative breast cancer therapy, they say.

In other news, automotive recalls are occurring at record levels, but seem to be announced after inexplicable delays. An IU study of auto recalls announced in the United States over 48 years finds carmakers frequently wait to make their announcements until after a competitor issues a recall - even if it is unrelated to similar defects. Researchers say this suggests that recall announcements may not be triggered solely by individual firms' product quality defect awareness or concern for the public interest, but may also be influenced by competitor recalls, a phenomenon that no prior research has investigated. The IU researchers analyzed 3,117 auto recalls, from 1966 to 2013. They found that 73 percent of recalls occurred in clusters that lasted 34 days and had 7.6 following recalls on average. On average, a cluster formed after a 16-day gap in which no recalls were announced. They found 266 such clusters over the period studied. Professor George Ball says the implication is that auto firms are either consciously or unconsciously delaying recall announcements until they are able to hide in the herd. By doing this, he says, they experience a significantly reduced stock penalty from their recall. Researchers found as much as a 67 percent stock market penalty difference between leading recalls, which initiate a cluster, and following recalls, who follow recalls and hide in the herd to experience a lower stock penalty. Researchers say this indicates a meaningful financial incentive for auto firms to cluster recalls behind a leading recall announcement. Additionally, across clusters, the stock market penalty faced by the leading recall amplifies as the time since the last cluster increases. The authors also found that firms with the highest quality reputation, in particular Toyota, triggered the most recall followers. The researchers recommend that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration require auto firms to report the specific defect awareness date for each recall, and to make this defect awareness date a searchable and publicly available data field in the auto recall dataset provided online. Researchers say making the defect awareness date a transparent, searchable and publicly available data field may discourage firms from hiding in the herd and prompt them to make more timely and transparent recall decisions.