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Experimental Drug May Treat Hepatitis C


4 Star

Experimental Drug May Treat Hepatitis C

Our Review Summary

While still needing some improvement, this WebMD story does a better job than a competing HealthDay piece of covering an experimental new treatment for hepatitis-C. The major difference is that this story stayed focused on the study at hand, while the HealthDay piece got sidetracked into making unsupported claims about other experimental drugs mentioned by an expert source. 


Why This Matters

Considering how few experimental drugs make it all the way from phase I testing to FDA approval, it’s debatable whether it is even appropriate to cover a new drug in this early stage of testing in a consumer publication.  If you’re going to cover stories like this, it is important to maintain a consistently cautious tone throughout, which this story mostly manages to do. The competing piece from HealthDay alternated between skepticism and cheerleading. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

SInce the test drug is in the very early stages of development, this criterion is technically not applicable. However, the present treatment regimen of an interferon and ribavirin costs thousands of dollars monthly for 6-12 months and it is likely that any newer antivirals will be additive and not replacements. A comment on the potential for significant additional costs would have been desirable. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The story got a little carried away here. It said participants treated with the experimental drug had a "dramatic" reduction in viral load. While this may be true, it would have been helpful to point out, as the HealthDay story did, that the study lasted only a few days. We don’t know whether this benefit can be maintained over a longer period of time, especially considering that the hepatitis C virus has proven to be quite capable of developing resistance to antivirals over time. 

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


The story says study participants who took the drug exhibited "few side effects." But what were those side effects and how serious were they? The story doesn’t say. While the implication here is that the drug seems to be safe — a conclusion that we can’t really draw based on a small, early phase test — the story does include a cautionary quote from an expert about the need for additional testing to demonstrate safety. It also noted that patients taking this drug might still need to be treated with interferon, which many individuals can’t tolerate because of side effects. A close one, but we’ll call it satisfactory.  

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


This story includes appropriate caveats about the early nature of this research and includes a restraining quote from an expert who warns that the drug might not make it out of phase II tests. Unlike the competing HealthDay piece, this story resisted getting too worked up about the other experimental drugs for hepatitis-C that are closer to potential FDA approval.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


This story does not exaggerate the prevalence or severity of hepatitis C.

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

Not Satisfactory

According to disclosure statements from a 2008 CME program, Dr. Bruce Bacon, an expert source for this story, received research funding from Bristol Myers Squibb, which is developing the experimental drug being discussed. He also is a consultant to drug companies developing competing drugs for hepatitis C. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest it is desirable to identify relationships such as these clearly.  This story fails to do so.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story compares the new drug with intravenously administered peg-interferon and ribavirin — the current standard of care for hepatitis C.  

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


The story called the research on BMS-790052 "preliminary" and made it clear that the drug was not close to approval. It also was more cautious than the competing HealthDay piece in its description of two other antiviral drugs that are nearing FDA approval.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story notes that there are many other drugs being developed to treat hepatitis C. It explained that a potentially novel advantage of the new compound is that it seems to be effective against all genotypes.

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

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure whether this story relied on a news release. 

Total Score: 6 of 8 Satisfactory


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