Headlines matter. When a story begins under the banner, "Alternative to Statin Shows Promise," it leads readers to immediately believe that an alternative exists. This drug isn’t even on the market yet. Does it hold promise? How much promise can be established in a small, 12-week trial? Why is the hyperbolic language necessary? At the same time, important data – such as how big was the effect size – was missing.
It’s way too early to draw any conclusions about the drug eprotirome. The strong cautionary comments from an independent expert at the end of the story are important, but will readers be swayed by the "promise" before they get to those comments?
There was no discussion of costs – not even a projection. If you can label something as an "alternative to statins" in the headline, then you can certainly at least project for readers what this "alternative" might cost.
A major weakness of the story: it did not quantify the effects seen in the study in any way.
The story says that the drug " did not cause the feared side effects on the heart and other organs that have plagued similar thyroid-based treatments." But can these side effects be expected to show up in a small, short-term trial?
Nonetheless, because of the strength of the concluding comments by the independent expert – "But if there is one thing we’ve learned about drugs in this arena, it’s that we need large trials to see how they measure up in terms of risk and benefit…I’m not sure I’d want to sign up for that one before I had longer-term results. Being impotent is no fun."- we’ll give this story the benefit of the doubt.
Overall, while there was some discussion of the need for more study to track possible long-term effects, there still was not enough emphasis on how limited are the conclusions that can be drawn from such a small, short-term (12 weeks) study.
There was no overt disease mongering in the story.
Important caveats were included in the independent expert’s views at the end of the story.
Since results were not quantified in the story, we really don’t even learn how the drug compared with statins alone.
We really never learn the status of the drug eprotirome. Is it approved? Is it used for anything else now? Readers may assume that it is because the headline already labels it as an "alternative to statins."
The story didn’t put this study into the context of other research on alternatives to statins.
It’s clear that the story did not rely solely on a news release.