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Read Original Story

Pfizer data on failed cholesterol drug offers hope

Rating

3 Star

Pfizer data on failed cholesterol drug offers hope

Our Review Summary

The idea that high levels of HDL (or good cholesterol) are associated with decreased risk of heart disease is well established. Much less clear, however, is whether targeting the HDL component alone with a drug could reduce the risk of heart diseae. In December 2006, The ILLUMINATE study, a large clinical trial of an HDL-targeted drug was terminated early due to increased deaths, cardiovascular events and elevated blood pressure among the participants. Published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine, to coincide with the American Heart Association meeting, is the full report of the results of this trial. This story reports on these results, however, rather than focusing on what is known about what went wrong in this study, the story instead overhypes the hypothetical idea that other more "clean" versions of the drug could avoid the downsides of the failed drug.

The story could have done more to point out that many researchers are now questioning the HDL/heart disease hypothesis.

But the story does a good job of presenting the harms of the failed drug in terms of natural frequencies (actual numbers) instead of relative rates.

Although the story accurately describes the ILLUMINATE study presented at the meeting, the story repeatedly exaggerates the claims that there is a future for HDL-targeted therapeutics. Starting with the headline and throughout the story, the possibility that other drugs targeting HDL could be viable is consistently overhyped in this story. At this point there is no evidence that targeting HDL will be an effective strategy and hopes that a more "clean" version of the drug will not have the harms of the failed drug is nothing but conjecture.

Finally, the story does not quote any independent experts or researchers, a major flaw of this story. Perhaps an indpendent expert could have put into perspective for the reader the fact that this story focuses on a small, theoretical part of the overall story at the expense of the facts.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention costs, or potential costs of the new drug. At least a general statement could have been made about costs of combination drugs.

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

Satisfactory

The story does a good job of presenting the harms of the failed drug in terms of natural frequencies (actual numbers) instead of relative rates.

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

Satisfactory

The story mentions the increased risk of death, heart disease and elevated blood pressure with the failed drug. However, in the absence of evidence, the story should not be suggesting that a more "clean" version of the drug would not have such harms.

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

Not Satisfactory

Although the story accurately describes the ILLUMINATE study presented at the meeting, the story repeatedly exaggerates the claims that there is a future for HDL-targeted therapeutics. Starting with the headline and throughout the story, the possibility that other drugs targeting HDL could be viable is consistently overhyped in this story. At this point there is no evidence that targeting HDL will be an effective strategy and hopes that a more "clean" version of the drug will not have the harms of the failed drug is nothing but conjecture.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story does not exaggerate the seriousness or prevalence of heart disease, the target of the new drug. However, the story could have done more to point out that many researchers are now questioning the HDL/heart disease hypothesis.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not quote any independent experts or researchers, a major flaw of this story. It’s not clear that anyone was actually interviewed, since only a study and an editorial were cited.  Perhaps an independent expert could have put into perspective for the reader the fact that this story focuses on a small, theoretical part of the overall story at the expense of the facts.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention other, established ways to raise HDL, such as exercise, statins, moderate alcohol consumption, etc., even though these have modest effects on HDL.

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

Satisfactory

The story clearly states that the HDL-targeting drugs are still in the early stages of development. The story does not make any claims about when a new drug would be available, however whether it will ever happen is still highly theoretical. However, atorvastatin was studied along with torcetrapib and a note that it is available commercialy and is the largest selling cholesterol lowering drug would have been useful to the readers.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story correctly categorizes the drug as the first of its kind in this class.

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

Not Applicable

There is no way to know if the story relied on a press release as the sole source of information.

Total Score: 5 of 9 Satisfactory

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