Whatever happened to the miracle obesity pill?

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Earlier this week, I pointed out how – on one day – the Wall Street Journal appeared to favor positive drug news out of the American College of Cardiology meeting more than negative drug news. But day in and day out, the WSJ is one of the few news organizations to put negative drug news on page one. And today they should be praised for the spot they gave the story headlined, ” ‘Miracle’ Obesity Pill Looks Less Miraculous.” It begins:

“When Sanofi-Aventis SA reported data on a new obesity pill at a medical conference in March 2004, it generated instant buzz.

Hundreds of newspaper and television reports around the world the next day referred to the drug, Acomplia, as a “super pill” and a “miracle drug.” With a new approach to obesity, Acomplia promised not only to help people shed pounds but also to raise good cholesterol and cut diabetes risk. It even showed signs of working as an antismoking aid.

“That is amazing. People are going to want this drug today, I’m sure,” effused an anchor on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Three years later, Acomplia is looking less like a miracle. The drug still hasn’t hit the market in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration has asked for more data and repeatedly put off approval for the drug as an obesity treatment, while rejecting it for smoking cessation. Side effects associated with Acomplia — including depression and anxiety — are likely giving the FDA particular cause for concern, analysts and doctors say.”

This episode is repeated many times each year: journalists trumpeting preliminary unproven claims made by drug companies or pharma-funded researchers without exercising appropriate skepticism and caution.

Thanks to the WSJ for not only pointing this out, for doing so in its prominent page one position.

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