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Psoriasis drug stories: a little case study in story framing/emphasis

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Whether it would be psoriasis patients looking for new answers or investors looking for new prospects, news readers might have a difficult time making sense of a story about a trial of an experimental drug for psoriasis.  It might depend on which story they read.

Reuters reported:  Celgene drug shown to be effective, safe in psoriasis trial. The opening sentence:

Celgene Corp’s experimental drug apremilast proved to be more effective than a dummy pill for psoriasis patients in a late-stage study, clearing the way for the company to file for U.S. regulatory approval in the second half of 2013.

The Wall Street Journal reports:  Celgene Drug Results Fall Short of Earlier Trial. The story leads with:

Celgene Corp. said its experimental anti-inflammatory treatment for psoriasis significantly helped a smaller proportion of patients than in an earlier study, a result that could damp hopes for the drug’s market potential.

Where should the emphasis be?

Clearing the way to file for approval?

Or dampening hopes for market potential?

The Reuters story quoted only one source, and it was a conflicted source:

“From a physician’s perspective, this can definitely be a first-line therapy because of the excellent risk/benefit profile,” said Dr. Richard Langley, director of dermatology research at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and one of the study’s lead investigators. “I think the patient acceptance of this drug and the physician acceptance is going to be extremely high.”

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, cited what unnamed sources told them:

“But even before the data were announced Saturday, some analysts had expressed skepticism about Celgene’s ambitious revenue estimates for the drug.”

And it provided comparative context:

“Despite their safety risks, however, existing drugs such as Enbrel and Humira are generally thought to be more effective than Apremilast.”

Using unnamed analyst sources isn’t the best approach, and neither is the vague and unattributed “generally thought to be more effective” in the second quote.  But at least the effort was there to include other perspectives besides those of the drug company and the researcher it supported.

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