This is a story reporting on a study which reported on the potential harms associated with the addition of the drug Avastin in patients with an advanced form of a specific type of lung cancer. What the study showed and was reported in this story was that there were several individuals who experienced bleeding complications with Avastin added to their treatment. The piece fails to indicate what benefit patients might hope to expect from the addition of this drug to their other treatment regimens. Although the story was clear about the potential harms associated with this drug, it seems a little odd not to more fully explain that it is not yet known whether the drug will be helpful to patients with metastatic non-squamous cell non-small cell lung cancer – especially since the FDA announced this week that this drug does not demonstrate benefit when used to treat breast cancer. In the absence of information about the benefits, it is not possible to weigh the risk of harm against the potential for benefit. This is an issue that should have been addressed in this story.
The timing of this story is curious but probably coincidental – to a degree. The big news about the drug Avastin is that the FDA has decided not to approve it for use in treating breast cancer because it does not improve survival or delay disease progression. While this did receive one line in the story, instead of hyping the potential for use of this particular in lung cancer, the space might have better used to examine what are the expectations for a drug used to treat a metastatic cancer. Drugs need to be not only safe, but also affective in order to add value to a treatment regimen. So while we know the story was based on a journal article released this week, it is the editorial decision to report on this rather mixed bag finding that is curious. And while we applaud news coverage of Phase 4 trials, are all Phase 4 trials (or the relative paucity of same?) going to be reported consistently?
There was no discussion about the cost estimates for adding Avastin to treatment, nor any mention of the route of administration.
The story failed to report that the study reported on examined whether the use of this drug in this clinical situation was safe but did not look at the question of whether it was of benefit to the patients. The story mentioned that a previous study has indicated that this drug has benefit but did not provide information about the type of benefit that was observed.
The story reported on the potential harms associated with the addition of this drug to a treatment regimen. Without information about what a patient might gain – it is hard to know whether the risk of these harms is worth the potential benefit. And the story could have provided more details about the severity and impact of the harms. Nonetheless, we give it a satisfactory on this criterion.
The story leads with a line that the drug is "is safe and can effectively treat…" But it then delivers no data on effective treatment.
The story did not engage in disease mongering though it did include an estimate for the number of people who die from advanced non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer per year. The story should have been clear from the beginning that the study reported on the use of Avastin as a potential addition to treatment for metastatic non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer.
Several sources were quoted who did not have a direct connection to the study reported on or to the company. The story indicated clearly that the study reported on was funded by the maker of the drug studied.
There was no discussion about whether there are other drugs that may be used in conjunction with the standard treatment for metastatic non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer to improve patient outcomes. And since the story did not discuss how the use of Avastin changes outcomes, it failed to report on how this new approach compared with existing treatment.
This piece correctly indicated that this drug is currently available for use. The story used the trade-name Avastin (as opposed to its generic name bevacizumab) nearly exclusively throughout and, at the end, mentioned that this drug has already received FDA approval for use in the treatment of other types of cancer.
The story could have clarified that the use of Avastin in the treatment of metastic non-squamous cell lung cancer is still an off-label indication for this drug, which is more common in cancer treatment than in other diseases.
The story was clear to indicate that Avastin is used to treat several other types of cancer and to mention in passing that at least for one type, breast cancer, the drug has failed to demonstrate that it has any benefit to patients. However – the story included no insight about any novel mechanism for this drug or why this drug is being examined for use in combination with standard chemotherapy.
Does not appear to rely on a news release.