This story reports on preliminary results suggesting that the protease inhibitor, boceprevir, reduced viral loads in hepatitis C patients who were previously unresponsive to other drug therapies. However, this piece does not tell the reader much about the study methods, specifically, that boceprevir was administered along with standard drugs, nor do we know much about the study population. The story should have also highlighted that the results were modest and have not yet been published in a medical journal. So we’re hearing company results that haven’t undergone rigorous peer review.
Also, rather than accepting "scientist-speak," why didn’t the story explain what difference a change in “sustained virologic response” meant in peoples’ lives? Furthermore, the principal investigator is not challenged when he says the drug results in a "cure of up to 55%." Cure? What does that mean to him and what does it mean to readers?
If the story had included any independent perspective, perhaps some of these questions could have been answered. Instead, it read like a Schering-Plough/Merck news release. It may have been intended as a business story, but that’s irrelevant the way people encounter stories on the web, as we did in this case. And who says that shareholders don’t need the above questions answered as badly as patients/consumers?
Since this drug is not yet available, we can understand that cost information was not included. But since the story points out that Merck is acquiring boceprevir for $41.1 billion, couldn’t it at least have mentioned the high cost of current hepatitis C treatment, as well as the high cost of its complications?
The story stated that after 28 weeks of treatment, 25 percent had a "sustained virologic response" (SVR) and after 48 weeks 55 percent did.
But why not use absolute numbers – how many out of how many? It tends to gloss over the fact that was mentioned but not emphasized – that this was only in 50 patients.
There was also no attempt made to explain what a change in virologic response actually meant in peoples’ lives.
Finally, the story doesn’t challenge the researcher’s use of the term "cure." What does that mean to him? And what does it mean to readers?
The study points out the potential adverse effects associated with this drug.
While the story indicates that these data were presented at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases conference, it does not explicitly state that the results are preliminary and have not been published in a medical journal. Unlike published articles, this study has not gone through a rigorous review process. It would have been helpful for the story to mention the details of the main study and also to acknowledge that this is a report of a subgroup analysis. The story should have also emphasized that such a retrospective study with such a small population (n=50) should be interpreted with caution.
The story provides no background on hepatitis C, so this criterion is not applicable.
This story only includes a quote from the principle investigator, Paul Kwo (not Quo, as written erroneously in the story).
This story compared boceprevir with another investigational drug called telaprevir. A discussion of other treatments for hepatitis C is not warranted given that this subset of patients did not respond to the standard drug therapies. However, the story failed to make it clear that boceprevir is used in conjuction with two standard drugs.
This story makes it clear that boceprevir is an experimental drug currently in development.
The story makes it clear that this is an experimental drug and not the only one of its kind in development.
We can’t be sure of the extent to which the story was influenced by a news release. We do know that no independent source was quoted.