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New Breast Cancer Drug Found Deep In the Sea


4 Star

New Breast Cancer Drug Found Deep In the Sea

Our Review Summary

This story uses the recent FDA approval of Halaven, a drug derived from a sea sponge and used for treating late-state breast cancer, as an opportunity to discuss the industry of natural anticancer agents at large. We applaud the journalism involved in exploring this area of research. But there is very little information on Halaven itself.  And when a story is headlined, “New Breast Cancer Drug Found Deep in the Sea,” we think readers will want more details on that new drug.  In particular, the story should have mentioned the cost of the drug, its potential side effects, and the quality of the research on which the FDA approval is based. A comment or two from independent experts discussing the efficacy and implications of Halaven would have also been valuable.


Why This Matters

Halaven is approved to treat late-stage breast cancer that has not responded to other chemotherapy agents. While refractory breast cancer is very difficult to treat, this drug appears to have only a modest benefit. Furthermore, without a discussion of its potential harms, it’s difficult to determine if the benefits for living an additional 2.5 months would outweigh the side effects a woman may experience.   


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

While the drug manufacturer speculates that sales will top $1 billion, the story gives no indication of what the cost is for the individual.   

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

The story indicates that the efficacy of Halaven is modest, with patients only surviving 2.5 months longer than those receiving another chemotherapy agent.   

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

Not Satisfactory
The story alludes to the fact that the side effects associated with natural anticancer agents can be “nasty,” but there was no mention of the specific harms associated with Halaven. According to the FDA, common side effects include decreased white blood cells, anemia, hair loss, fatigue, nausea, weakness, nerve damage, and constipation.

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

Not Satisfactory
This story was lacking on details of the study on which the FDA approval is based. For example, it would have been helpful to know that 762 women with metastatic breast cancer were randomized to receive either Halaven or another agent selected by their doctor. In addition, all women were treated prior to the study with at least two chemotherapy regimens.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

The story does not exaggerative the prevalence or seriousness of late-stage breast cancer.

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

The story provides quotes from a number of experts in the field discussing natural anticancer agents in general, but it would have been helpful to include independent experts who could comment on Halaven directly.  

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

The story didn’t provide a comprehensive look at FDA-approved approaches to treat late-stage breast cancer. However, it did offer some discussion of Gleevec as a targeted therapy and did discuss rapamycin as another “natural” anticancer agent, while mentioning other agents in development.

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

The story clearly points out that the FDA recently approved the drug for treating late-stage breast cancer.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

It’s clear from the story that natural products used as anticancer agents, particularly those found in the ocean, are not novel and researchers have studied them for decades.

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

This piece does not rely on a press release.

Total Score: 7 of 10 Satisfactory


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