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Drug for Immune Disorders Helps Alzheimer’s


4 Star

Drug for Immune Disorders Helps Alzheimer’s

Our Review Summary

The biggest weakness was its failure to put the study results into any meaningful context for readers.  It describes points on a symptom scale without telling us the significance of these changes.  And it describes slowing the rate of brain shrinkage in what sound like impressive terms but without giving any context for readers to fully grasp whether it’s truly impressive or not.


Why This Matters

We applaud the independent perspective sought from the Mayo Alzheimer’s expert and its reminder – "In the past few years alone, several Alzheimer’s drugs that made it to this stage failed to pan out in further testing."


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The approach is described as "expensive — about $2,000 to $3,000 per treatment. And patients in the study received infusions up to twice a month, depending on the dose, for 18 months."

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

Not Satisfactory

For reasons described in the Evidence criterion above, we don’t think the story adequately explained what the study found.

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


The story states: 

  • Since IVIG has been around for years, its side effects in the general population are well known: headaches, rashes, and blood pressure elevation. "By and by, it’s well tolerated," Relkin says. "But we don’t yet know the side effect profile in an elderly, Alzheimer’s disease population."

We wonder how well patients tolerate side effects of headaches, rashes and higher blood pressure.

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

Not Satisfactory

Problems here. The whole story of benefit is framed around two data points that are not explained in any meaningful context: 

  • A symptom score that dropped 5 points in the treated group vs. 15 points in the placebo group.  But how meaningful is that?  How many points are there in the scale?  20?  100?  1,000?  
  • The story also stated that "The IVIG treatment also appeared to slow the rate of brain shrinkage by about 45%."  Again, 45% of what starting point?  No context nor perspective is given. And, while we can assume this was measured by MRI, that was never explicitly stated. The underlying problem is that we’re not told enough about who was in the trial and in what stage of the disease they were at.

So readers are supposed to take – on faith – that these are impressive changes, but they are never explained adequately.

At least there was a somewhat-balancing comment at the end of the story from an independent expert.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No overt disease-mongering of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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


The story explained that the study was funded by the drug company that makes the drug being studied.  And it did seek opinions from two independent experts.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


There was no comparison between these results and other Alzheimer’s research, except for the Mayo expert’s reminder that "In the past few years alone, several Alzheimer’s drugs that made it to this stage failed to pan out in further testing."  However, because of the importance of that reminder at the very end of the story, we’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt on this criterion.

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


We’re told that IVIG is a decades-old drug.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


No extraordinary claims of novelty were made.

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


There’s no evidence that the story relied solely on a news release.

Total Score: 8 of 10 Satisfactory


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