Key quote found too late in the story: “Until the vaccine is linked to an actual survival benefit or improvement in tumor status, no one can say if it helps patients in a meaningful way.”
The current article discussed some very preliminary results of an experimental vaccine for HER-2 breast cancer.
Our key concerns:
A better explanation of what type of response the subjects in the study experienced may have helped to better frame the findings.
There are several breast cancer vaccine trials underway with a significant amount of time and money invested. Before stories start to appear hinting that any of these vaccines “might work,” more concrete evidence on more meaningful endpoints needs to be found.
Costs weren’t discussed, but since this was an early report on an experimental vaccine, that is understandable.
The article was vague in describing the results and did not elaborate on what the response was that those in the vaccinated group exhibited:
“The investigators found that in the vaccinated group, 86 percent of patients showed a significant response, compared with 27 percent of those in the “control” group who did not get the injection.”
To its credit, the story included important caveats: the subhead of the story said “true significance unknown” and later in the story was this independent expert’s quote, “Whether it actually has an increase in survival remains to be seen.”
But the vagueness on the main finding of the study leads us to give this an unsatisfactory score. What does “significant response” mean?
The study did not discuss any potential side effects of the current vaccine.
The saving grace in the article was the quote from a researcher at City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center who cautioned about drawing conclusions from the preliminary results:
“But until the vaccine is linked to an actual survival benefit or improvement in tumor status, Diamond said, no one can say if it helps the patients in a meaningful way.”
This is an important point since, according to the article, the significant finding is that those who received the vaccine had a “response” and a decrease in cells that suppress the immune system. Neither of these points really shows that the vaccine may actually work.
There was no disease-mongering of HER2-positive breast cancers.
The article contained quotes from a different researcher who was very cautious about drawing conclusions from the current study’s findings.
We do wonder, though, what it means when the story says that the independent expert “reviewed the findings.” What did he review? Since the researcher’s findings hadn’t even been presented yet when the story was written, did the independent observer review the short abstract that appeared in the conference program? Did he have access to a more complete data set or a more complete description of the work?
Barely satisfactory – the story at least mentioned that “Numerous vaccines to prevent breast cancer recurrence are currently under study.”
The story stated ” it will take at least five years before the vaccine could conceivably be available if ongoing studies bear out.”
The story stated that “Numerous vaccines to prevent breast cancer recurrence are currently under study” but didn’t explain how the vaccine in question is different than any of those other approaches.
The article does not appear to be based solely on a press release.