Why do some news stories seem determined to help sell new uses for drugs?

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Somebody sent me this story because it made their skin crawl.

Reuters reported: “Overactive bladder next Botox frontier.”

“Next” Botox frontier implies that the drug has already conquered at least one formidable frontier. The story explains that half the drug’s sales are for wrinkle-reducing uses, the other half from a variety of other uses including migraines and spasticity.

Now this is a business story, so there’s lots of discussion about sales volume and stock performance. That’s fine. But there was no independent assessment of evidence. That’s not fine.

And it happens a lot with health business stories.

The story allows the CEO of the manufacturer to say that “Current drugs for overactive bladder just don’t work that well” and that “he expects U.S. regulators this year to approve Botox for those whose overactive bladder is caused by multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury.” Further: “(the CEO) declined to forecast sales of Botox for overactive bladder but said Wall Street analysts are projecting annual sales of up to $500 million.”

Letting the CEO get away with all of this without challenge – without any comment from an independent observer – is akin to free advertising. But it gets worse.

Several years later, Allergan hopes to win approval to market it to a broader population of patients with overactive bladder,” the story continued.

Sure they do!

Business reporters may say that our 10 criteria on HealthNewsReview.org shouldn’t be applied to business stories. But we have a difficult time seeing why an evaluation of the evidence and the use of independent perspectives to analyze claims isn’t just as important for shareholders as for health care consumers who read the news.

Botox doesn’t need any more free advertising from journalists. That’s an overactive disease that needs treatment.

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