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Devil is in details – not the headlines – of stories on new colorectal test

The story:  A company, Exact Sciences, announces (but doesn’t publish) results of a study of its experimental Colo-guard colon cancer screening test that looks for changes in DNA in stool samples.

The New York Times splashes: “Noninvasive Cancer Test Is Effective, Study Finds.”

  • But the 2nd sentence reads: “Still, the results fell short of investor expectations and even those of the company that developed the test, the Exact Sciences Corporation, sending its shares down about 20 percent in afternoon trading on Thursday. “

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News headlined, “Noninvasive Colorectal Cancer Test Proves True.”  (Guess that depends on how you define “true.”)

  • Near the end of the story: “Exact Sciences said it will submit data from DeeP-C to the FDA as part of its pre-market approval submission, though the company’s announcement gave no hint of when that might occur. The company also said it will submit later this year the study’s complete data set for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, presentation at a major medical meeting or both.

That is almost the polar opposite of what MedPage Today reported in its story headline, “DNA-Based Colon Cancer Screen Gets Mixed Review.

  • Its first sentence: “An investigational colorectal cancer screening test that detects tumor-associated DNA snippets showed good sensitivity in identifying patients with overt cancers, but not precancerous polyps, its manufacturer said.”
  • And its last sentence: “The company did not indicate whether or when it would seek approval for the test, nor did it indicate plans to publish or present full study results in a scientific forum.”

And Reuters reported, “Exact Sciences stock drops as cancer test disappoints.

All of these stories were based largely on a company announcement – a news release – plus whatever journalists could milk out of the company.

Most of the optimism came from the company reps. The CEO told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

“I think it’s a hiccup. The overall results are a huge win over the battle against colon cancer. We achieved basically the same level of cancer detection as the colonoscopy, and the same level of pre-cancer detection as the Pap smear.”

Most of the pessimism was attributed to Wall Street analysts, or to an occasional independent physician expert.

Lesson for readers:  don’t over-react to any story based primarily on a company’s announcement.

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