Health News Review

A classic case of a story cheerleading for a local company.  Where is the independent assessment of claims?

Our Review Summary

This business section article reports on results of a Phase III clinical trial of cethromycin, a new type of antibiotic designed to treat community acquired pneumonia. In this case, the news article is inferior to the company’s press release.

The article falls short of best practices in several ways:

  • It features the company president’s positive assessment of the study results but does not seek independent comment. 
  • It fails to make clear that the results of the trial have not been peer-reviewed or published and that results of a related trial have not been released at all. 
  • It fails to make clear that sometimes drugs with positive results in Phase III trials are later not approved by the FDA. It fails to mention this even when reporting the company’s predicted market availability.
  • It fails to include sufficient information about the study type, group and findings.
  • It includes the company’s assertions that the same drug may treat MRSA, anthrax and metastatic melanoma, none proven. The reference to MRSA is made in the article’s second paragraph. 

The article’s shortcomings as a health story weaken it as a business story as well. Independent reporting on the medical importance and likely application of this drug would have helped readers understand the company’s financial situation.

The company, which has no products on the market and is losing money, needs to put a positive spin on its recent news. By failing to explore the reality of the company’s own rosy forecast, the article does a disservice to observers in the business community as well. 


Criteria

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story didn’t discuss the cost of what it called the current "standard of treatment," Biaxin, nor the cost of the new drug, cethromycin. If a drugmaker says it is ready to file for new drug approval within a few months, as the story states, you can be assured they have some ballpark estimate of what they expect to charge.  The story should have probed for that information.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The article reports that the drug showed a 94 percent success rate in the current trial, but does not provide any more detail. 

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story said the new drug was found to be "safe and effective" but provided no details on its potential harms and no detailed safety comparison with the current standard of treatment.

If the trial was small, it may be premature to assume cethromycin is as safe as Biaxin. 

Not Satisfactory

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The article fails to state that the current trial is just one of two Phase III trials the company is running, and the second has not been reported yet. The article fails to clearly state that the test demonstrated only "non-inferiority" to Biaxin, not superiority. It also did not say anything about the size of the trial or include meaningful details about the findings.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The article does not exaggerate the risks or severity of community acquired pneumonia. By emphasizing MRSA as a cause, however, it does engage in disease-mongering. MRSA is an extremely rare cause of CAP.

It also would have been useful to report the percentage of cases of CAP caused by bacteria resistant to Biaxin. Given the fact that Biaxin’s success rate in treatment is around 95 percent, fears of CAP being resistant to it may be premature or exaggerated.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The article interviews only the president of the company that is developing the drug. The article includes no information from independent sources. 

Not Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The article states that Biaxin is the current standard of treatment for community acquired pneumonia; in fact, there are many others.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The article makes clear that cethromycin, the new antibiotic under development, is not yet approved for sale. 

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The article states that cethromycin works by a mechanism that is different from current antibiotics. It would have been useful to describe this mechanism.

Not Applicable

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

The article does not draw language or facts from the company’s press release.

However, the article does report the drug’s potential but uNPRoven uses against MRSA and metastatic melanoma, both of which are claimed by the company’s president in a press release issued the day before the article appeared.  Because only the president of the company is cited in the story, this feels like press release influence.  

Total Score: 2 of 9 Satisfactory


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