This is a case study in how news is not made, and then is suddenly made.
Earlier this month at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, Mayo Clinic researchers presented a paper on an experimental drug therapy with an immunotherapeutic agent called MDX-010 or ipilimumab used in combination with standardized hormone treatment and radiation therapy for men with inoperable prostate cancer. They reported that two men had their tumors shrink to the point where they could have surgery.
CBS didn’t cover the story then. We’re not sure if any mainstream news organizations did.
But on Friday, June 19, the Mayo Clinic sent out a news release about the work.
And on Monday, June 22, the CBS Early Show had a segment on the work. In its rush to air, the segment actually never described what happened to the men – now described as "three men" (not the two men in the conference abstract).
The correspondent did go to great lengths to explain that the study was "very preliminary….early phase II…extraordinarily early.” "Normally we would not cover a study like this. … Why are we even reporting it? Because it’s just very interesting as a proof of concept."
OK, on the surface.
But if CBS now followed an editorial policy of reporting on all early phase II studies that pointed to "proof of concept" in 2 or 3 study subjects, they would never have time to report on Iran or the economy or anything else.
It’s an interesting piece of research – no question about that. But there is a list from here to the moon of early pieces of research progress in 2-3 people that didn’t pan out in the long run. And even at this point today there are many questions, such as, "What happened to the other men in the trial?"
Was this ready for network television, with the anchor saying "Wow. This is big time stuff." ???
Then the segment should have had at least one independent cancer expert on the air explaining why that is so, and putting the new research into the context of what else is being studied for prostate cancer.
Costs weren’t described but we can understand why with such an early stage of research.
This is where it gets tricky. The abstract of this work presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting earlier this month described 85 men in the trial – of whom 5 showed "robust treatment response" of whom 2 showed "dramatic and indisputable down-staging of their disease." But this TV segment talked about 108 men in a trial. It suddenly started talking about "three patients" but we were never really told what happened to them.
This is one of the problems with reporting on non-published work. Which data at which point are we supposed to follow?
The segment only briefly stated "there are some side effects" and thenmentioned auto-immune colitis in two patients. We wish we were given more details, but will give the story the benefit of the doubt on this criterion.
While the correspondent emphasized that the work was "extraordinarily early," he didn’t explain that the latest work hadn’t been published nor peer reviewed. He actually also neglected to explain what actually happened to the three men briefly mentioned in the segment. We know something happened to them – presumably good – but we don’t know what. In fact, the anchor leads in with, "What is the big news from this study?" What study? We’re never told. Not where it was done or anything. The producers could have at least put that information in a graphic while the anchor and correspondent were talking.
No overt disease mongering. Segment said the research was "especially applicable for people who have inoperable prostate cancer."
The segment included no interviews with independent cancer experts, prostate cancer specialists, or immunology researchers.
The segment didn’t put the new experimental approach into the context of existing treatments or of alternative experimental approaches for prostate cancer.
The correspondent appropriately described the study as "very preliminary….early phase II…extraordinarily early."
Not too extraordinarily early to put on the network TV, but……
For a television report, this segment went to great strides to try to explain what was novel about this experimental approach.
We wish it had put the new work into the context of other immunologic approaches that have been or are being researched.
CBS pretty clearly followed a Mayo Clinic news release and/or a Mayo Clinic publication. There is no other reason this is in the news now. It was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting weeks ago and CBS didn’t cover it then. Mayo sent out a news release on Friday. This aired Monday morning.