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Journalism or marketing? Reuters promotes results of drug study no one has seen yet

Rating

3 Star

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Amgen cholesterol drug succeeds in cutting serious heart problems: study

Our Review Summary

This Reuters story looks at the results of a clinical trial for Repatha, and claims that the drug “significantly reduced the risk of heart attacks, strokes and death in patients with heart disease.” 

Fortunately, the story touched on the high cost of the drug and concerns over insurance coverage. Other than that, though, it falls short, offering no data to back up the claims about the benefit of this drug. The story did tell us why there’s no data– “because the result of the trial will only be released next month at a scientific conference”–yet because of the lack of specifics, it reads more like marketing copy than journalism. We’d argue it’s more responsible to readers to wait for the actual data to be released–so it can be vetted by outside experts–than publicizing unverified results. At the very least, any story reporting on these results should be clear that they need to be consumed with a healthy side of caution and skepticism, given the company’s obvious incentive to frame the data positively.

Not surprisingly, some of these same problems were noted in our review of the news release from Amgen, Repatha’s manufacturer.

 

Why This Matters

This story is targeted at a financial/investor audience, yet is widely available online to anyone with internet access, so it will likely be read by patients and others interested in heart disease.

All of these audiences deserve news coverage that’s solid–and not merely unverified hype from the drug company’s news release–since both investors and ordinary readers have something to lose if Amgen’s data, once released, doesn’t deliver on these initial claims.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

To its credit, the story mentions the high cost of the drug Repatha — $14,000 per year — and cites reluctance on the part of some insurers to cover that cost without more substantive data on its efficacy.  The news release issued by the drug’s manufacturer, Amgen, didn’t include either point.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story says that the drug “significantly reduced the risk of heart attacks, strokes and death in patients with heart disease” and quotes an Amgen officer as saying, “These results show unequivocally the connection between lowering LDL cholesterol with Repatha and cardiovascular risk reduction.”  Unfortunately, the story fails to provide any actual data that would support those claims. It does at least explain that this is because Amgen hasn’t released any details yet on the magnitude of benefit. We’d argue that it’s better journalism to wait until that data is in hand, and can be assessed by independent experts.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story says that “No new safety problems cropped up in the 27,500 patient study.” The news release issued by the drug manufacturer Amgen about the same clinical trial revealed what was not known about potential harms for the use of the drug, as well as a number of contraindications, adverse events and harms that arose during the trial. The story would have done well to reference these. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The story provides no evidence other than the number of people enrolled in the trial. Without factual data, this story seems to be playing into the marketing wishes of the drug’s manufacturer.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story doesn’t appear to be disease mongering. We do wish it had included some statistics on the prevalence of heart disease, which is something the news release did.

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

Not Satisfactory

The only source mentioned in the story is an official from Amgen, the drugmaker.  Therefore, there is an assumed conflict of interest since the company is touting the success of their product, even without any substantive data to back that up.  No independent source is included in the story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There are no alternatives to the use of Repatha mentioned in the story although it does mention that patients in the clinical trial already were being treated with “optimized statin therapy.”  That’s not enough to give readers any firm sense of what the alternatives are and how well they work. There is no mention of diet or exercise or any other treatment approach.

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

Satisfactory

The story makes clear that the drug Repatha is already on the market and available for use.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story attempts to explain the novelty of the research several times; for example, when it states that the study possibly offers “concrete proof that the drug could actually reduce the risk of heart attacks and death.” The story should have explained that this is unverified until the data is released.

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

Satisfactory

The story contained some information not found in the news release, such as the cost of the drug, so some original reporting was done. See our review of the news release.

Total Score: 5 of 10 Satisfactory

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