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Experimental diet pill shows promise, little risk


3 Star

Experimental diet pill shows promise, little risk

Our Review Summary

So, yes, it mentioned the drop out rate but then said it wasn’t unusual.  But didn’t ever explain why so many dropped out.  Yes, it said the drug hadn’t been priced yet, but we don’t find that sufficient (details given below). Yes, it had one external perspective, but that was someone who works for another diet drug company (a fact that at least the story notes). 

In cheerleading fashion, the story let unnamed experts predict FDA approval.  Yet the story never evaluated the quality of the evidence sufficiently enough to let readers know whether a study like this could be trusted. 


Why This Matters

This story matters because obesity is an incredibly common problem in the US, with major impacts on morbidity, mortality, quality of life, and costs. People, doctors, health plans, and drug companies all want treatment options that help people lose weight and keep it off safely. This story reports on several new drugs that are likely to gain market approval by the FDA, which would effectively double the number of drug treatment options currentlly available to patients and providers. The biggest problem with weight loss drugs in the past has been that the side effects seemed to greatly overshadow their impact on body weight, and all weight loss drugs deserve close scrutiny on their side effect profile. Given the high prevalence of obesity in our country (1/3 of all adults), close attention should be paid to the cost of any new interventions, which if applied broadly could dramatically impact national health care expenditures.

There is so much hype right now about this coming wave of diet drugs, and reporters need to dial the company claims back a notch (at least) and examine how much better these drugs work than lifestyle changes or existing therapies.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

At least this story thought about the cost issue, when it stated: "San Diego-based Arena hasn’t put a price on lorcaserin."  But we don’t think that’s good enough. At the very least, the story could have mentioned what the other currently-available drugs cost for some frame of reference.  And we also know that SOME estimate of cost is possible when a drug has advanced to this stage where it’s up for approval by the FDA.  As stated above, given the high prevalence of obesity in our country (1/3 of all adults), close attention should be paid to the cost of any new interventions, which if applied broadly could dramatically impact national health care expenditures.

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


The story presents the % losing 5% (and what that means in terms of pounds) and it presents the % who maintained that weight loss. They also present the drop out rate in the study.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story says, "Some experts described the drug’s effectiveness as moderately good, and its safety as apparently very good. The findings are probably sufficient to meet FDA benchmarks and win approval, they predicted." What exactly does this mean? Who are these experts? These unattributed comments are vague and cheerleading.

At least the story noted that the current study is insufficient to rule out heart vale problems. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The lead makes it sound as if we are looking at an incredibly promising drug, but as the story wades into the evidence, it doesn’t provide enough details to back that claim up. The story doesn’t give a hard nosed critique of whether we should trust this study — is it rigorous enough? We appreciated their comment about the valve disease issues – that "larger studies are needed to conclusively rule out this risk." But the story should have made this point stronger — this ONE study ISN’T ENOUGH EVIDENCE to know that the drug is truly SAFE!

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No overt disease-mongering, although the story could have done a better job addressing some of the foundational problems that are preventing people from eating healthy and getting the exercise that they need to maintain a reasonable weight.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story gives no perspective from an independent expert.  The "external" perspective comes from someone who advises a company making another experimental diet drug.  Why not someone without such ties?

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

As noted above, this story does place the drug into the broader context of existing drugs. But there’s no direct comparison with exercise or diet. That’s a big flaw in most of the reporting on this new drug.

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


The story makes it clear that this is a trial on the way to FDA approval.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


This one does the best job of placing this new drug into the broader scope of current drugs and up and coming competitors. This graph about some of the other drugs was particularly helpful and should have made the reporter ask tougher questions about lorcaserin:

  • "They are all problematic. Phentermine has been linked to heart palpitations and higher blood pressure. Sibutramine has been tied to heart risks and has been removed from the market in Europe; the FDA will review its risks and benefits later this year. And orlistat can cause stomach pains, gas, and bowel leakage."

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


It does not appear that the story relied solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 5 of 10 Satisfactory


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