Health News Review

Readers of this AP report are more likely than those who see only the WebMD story to understand the slight difference in memory loss and cognitive decline between the treatment and placebo groups in these Alzheimer’s disease trials.

Our Review Summary

Starting with a lead sentence that describes the potential effect of this experimental drug for Alzheimer’s disease as modest, to a basic description of the measurement scale used by the researchers that makes clear that the differences were probably too small to be noticed by patients or family members, this AP story sets an appropriately cautious tone. The story uses independent sources to damp down any unwarranted enthusiasm about the trial results.


Why This Matters

Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating and devastating disease for patients, families and for society in general.  No adequate treatment exist to either stem the progressive decline in memory and cognitive function or to treat the symptoms.  Reporting on the results of clinical trails must then be done with great care.

The study “results” reported by the manufacturer and the Alzheimer Disease Cooperative Study are not from a single well controlled clinical trial.  Two randomized clinical trials of solanezumab (Expedition 1 and 2) failed to demonstrate an advantage of the beta amyloid antibody over placebo.  These discouraging results were reported late this summer.

A subsequent secondary analysis of data generated by combining the two studies also failed to demonstrate an advantage for the drug in subjects with mild to moderate symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  On further examination, the data suggest a modest improvement in the rate of decline in cognitive function and memory in subjects with mild symptoms who received the drug as compared to placebo in these 80 week trials.  In fact the differences were very modest.

It is unclear if these results are replicable, will provide meaningful improvements in patient’s lives or are durable.  Subsequent studies will be needed.


Criteria

Satisfactory

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

Even though it is too early in the research process to have a firm price, the story notes that that this sort of drug is likely to be expensive.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

This story does a better job of defining the effects seen in these trials than the WebMD story, but readers have to dig down to find the most useful information. The top of the story refer to modestly slowing mental decline and 34 percent less mental decline. The best description comes later in the story when the story specifically describes how patients’ thinking abilities were scored on a 90-point scale, and that while the trials showed a 2-point difference, previous studies suggest that it takes a change of 3 or 4 points to produce noticeable changes, such as a patient’s ability to care for himself or herself.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

The story reports that 1% of study participants taking the experimental drug reported chest pain. It also noted that there were a few cases of brain swelling and small brain bleeding. The WebMD story added the rate of chest pain in the placebo group, but didn’t mention the cases of brain swelling or bleeding.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

The story describes the basics of the trials, including the duration, number and type of participants. As noted above, this story did a better job than the WebMD story describing what was measured. By contrast, the WebMD story had a better explanation of why presentations at medical meetings should be considered preliminary.

Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease mongering here. The story adequately described the type of person for whom this research might be relevant.

 

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

This story includes more than one independent source. It notes that the Alzheimer’s Association (and the expert from that organization) was not involved in this research project.

This story does a better job than the WebMD story of using independent experts to describe the context of this research, characterize the meaning the results and describe what’s next.

Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

In contrast to the WebMD story, this one names some current drugs and notes that existing treatments address symptoms, while this experimental drug is intended to alter the course of the disease.

A good bit of context is provided by an expert who is quoted as saying the results of these trials are “less than what some other once-promising treatments showed.”

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

The story reports that the drug is still being tested.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

This story does a better job than the WebMD story of putting this drug in context, explaining that it is intended to alter the course of Alzheimer’s disease, while existing treatments treat symptoms.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

The story does not appear to be based on a news release.

Total Score: 10 of 10 Satisfactory


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