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Portland cancer center among those offering experimental immune therapy ipilimumab


5 Star

Portland cancer center among those offering experimental immune therapy ipilimumab

Our Review Summary

It’s really refreshing to see a local newspaper localize a national story and to do so in a responsible way.  Sure, the story led with its personal anecdote.  But the personal trials of being in a trial came through in that anecdote.  And sure, there were company predictions of how quickly this might be approved and on the market (something we think could have been handled better).  But there wasn’t hype. 


Why This Matters

After a week’s worth of news out of the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, and some published concerns about how that news was covered by bigger national news organizations, it was good to see this local paper’s measured efforts.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No discussion of costs.  Is this OK because this is still experimental?  We don’t think so, not when the drug company is allowed to project possible approval within a year.  Much better to say, as a Wall Street Journal story did, that the company said it was too early to set pricing.  But to ignore costs entirely is a mistake in our view.

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


good job providing absolute benefit data from the trial.

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


Good job on harms as well – "Serious side effects also became clear. Nearly two-thirds of patients on ipilimumab experienced side effects caused by over-active immunity, such as severe itching, intestinal irritation and diarrhea. Researchers linked 14 deaths to the study drugs, half caused by immune-system reactions."

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


Good job explaining the nationwide study and the local participation.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease mongering in this story.

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


Story quoted one independent source in addition to one of the study co-authors.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story explained that "Other drug companies are at work on competing versions of the immune-enhancing antibody therapy."

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


It’s clear from the story that the approach is experimental.  The story also states:

  • "Drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb told investors the drug could gain regulatory approval as early as next year and become available to cancer patients in 2012."

Minor quibble:  perhaps the story should have reminded readers that a drug company’s timetable predictions may not be the most reliable.

For local readers it explained:

  • For now, federal regulators have authorized "compassionate use" distribution of ipilimumab to people who have serious or immediately life-threatening, inoperable melanoma that has spread, who have no alternative treatment options, and whose physicians believe the drug is appropriate. Providence Cancer Center is the only site in Oregon offering compassionate use of the drug. The Northwest’s other participating centers are the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, Providence Cancer Center in Spokane, and Multicare Health System in Tacoma.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The relative novelty of the approach is clear in the story – "one of the first antibody-based therapies that use the body’s immune defenses to destroy cancer cells" and "Drug companies are racing to develop competing versions of the immune-enhancing therapy, an antibody produced through genetic engineering."

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


It’s clear that the story did not rely solely on a news release.

Total Score: 9 of 10 Satisfactory


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