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Experimental flu treatment may help related virus


3 Star

Experimental flu treatment may help related virus

Our Review Summary

The study under consideration is a very early one in the potential life of a new drug and the results, while impressive to those in the field, do not warrant the enthusiasm of the story. The story fails to note that parainfluenza virus infections do not cause serious disease in the majority of people. The story does not provide any specifics of the study design or explicit information about the results. Only those involved in the study were quoted and while there were several attempts to tone down the enthusiasm, the overall tone of the story is strikingly positive for an early preclinical study.  The majority of the authors of the study are employees of the company making the drug and one of the authors is listed as the inventor of the drug for use in this setting.  This should have been clearly noted in the story.


Why This Matters

Parainfluenza viruses can cause both upper and lower respiratory tract infections especially in children. By the age of 5 years, almost all children will have been exposed to the virus. Symptoms range from mild cold-like syndromes to life-threatening pneumonias. The infections can be serious in very young children, the elderly, and in people with immune system deficiencies. There are no specific treatments available for parainfluenza infections. Identification of an antiviral drug that can reduce the viral load and presumably prevent symptoms from escalating would indeed be welcomed.  But a story on a study in rats can tell you only so much about the drug in question. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Since this drug is not on the market, a discussion of cost is not warranted.  

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

Not Satisfactory

The story did not provide any data and did not tell us anything about the cells used or the number of rats included in the study.

The story suggests that the test drug, “…could stop the virus from replicating….” In actuality, the study drug reduced the viral load as compared to animals treated with a placebo. The story fails to note the small sample (20 rats total) and the limited time of treatment (3 days) before the animals were euthanized. The story fails to place the study results in context potentially giving the reader a false interpretation of the study.

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

Not Satisfactory

The potential for harm is notably absent in the story. Now, the study design was such that toxicity could not be evaluated and as a result it was not addressed in the publication. However, the story should  have noted that the harms of the drug are unclear at the present time.

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


To its credit, this story states upfront that the drug was tested in Petri dishes and on cotton rats.  The story also includes the qualifier that “infection in rats does not follow the same disease course as in humans.” Another limitation mentioned by the writer is that the rats were given the drug an hour before they were infected with the parainfluenza, which is not likely to be the chain of events in the real world. 

Of course why this is newsworthy given all these caveats is another question.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story fails to note that parainfluenza virus infections do not cause serious disease in the majority of people. In doing so, it provides an overly disconcerting picture of the virus and its potential to cause serious illness. The failure to provide background information in combination with the initial quote of the lead author, “Therapies for parainfluenza are urgently needed," qualifies as disease-mongering.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story fails in just about every aspect of this criterion. No experts in the field other than those involved in the research study are quoted. Interestingly, 6 of the 9 authors of the study are employees of NexBio, the company that produces the drug. One of the authors is listed as the inventor of the drug in an approved patent for its use in the treatment of influenza and parainfluenza. While these facts do not necessarily impugn the study result, failure to note them in the story is a major omission.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story points out that there are no existing alternatives for preventing parainfluenza virus infections. In addition, the story briefly mentions other vaccines that have developed resistance to the flu virus.

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


The story makes it clear that this drug is not yet available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story mentioned that there is no existing vaccine or treatment for parainfluenza viruses. Furthermore, the story rightfully notes that the study drug works on the human cell and not directly on the virus and as such is a unique mechanism of action.

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

Not Applicable

Not applicable because we can’t be sure of the extent to which the story may have been influenced by a news release.  We do know that the researcher’s quote came from a statement, not from an interview. And the only other attributed comment came from a drug company spokesman.

Total Score: 4 of 8 Satisfactory


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