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Pills Offer Easier Way to Treat MS


4 Star

Pills Offer Easier Way to Treat MS

Our Review Summary

While the headline makes it sound easy, the story gives useful context on just how different patients respond to different medications – both oral and injected. Managing multiple sclerosis is a complex balance in which each patient has to find the drugs that are the right “fit” for them. This story explains that balancing act.


Why This Matters

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease for a lifetime for the estimated 400,000 sufferers in the United States. As a chronic disease with no cure, the managment of it becomes key to helping patients minimize the disability they suffer. Accurate reporting about new drugs, which describe the pluses and minuses, helps patients make better decisions.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


This story lists both the costs of the newest drug – Gilenya – and the costs of existing injectable treatments. This is a great bonus for the reader.

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

Not Satisfactory

This is tricky. We had a couple of issues with the way in which the benefits are described. The use of relative changes (‘…reduced relapses among MS patients by 54%. Disability progression was reduced by 30%, using a standard measurement of this process.”) and comparisons to other drugs studied in other clinical trials without a bit more clarification was troubling. Patients with the most common form of MS suffer between 0.4 and 0.6 relapses a year (according to Up to Date). Although the story does note that, “ is difficult to directly compare two different clinical trials,” it does this anyway. Providing apparently comparative data from different studies does not educate the reader on the relative value of different treatment options. A few extra words would have clarified: “None of the available drugs to treat MS have been compared directly in a large enough clinical trial to identify true differences.”

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


We get some valuable description of how other oral medications have come into question (even after FDA approval) because of side effects, and this context allows the reader to judge that perhaps it is too soon to see the new drug – Gilenya – as a complete home run. Side effects mentioned for Gilenya include liver toxicity, infection risk and eye problems.


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

Not Satisfactory

We are given a diversity of voices talking about the overall question of pill vs. shot. But we aren’t told much about the quality of research on the particular oral medications grouped together in the story. Just “large clinical trials” showing they are “effective.” Direct comments on the strength of that data from an outside expert would have been better. The sentence about the “recent analysis by Novartis” troubled us on a number of fronts. Were these results published in a peer reviewed journal or just reporting from the manufacturer? We have more to say in the benefits section.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story does not resort to disease mongering.


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


We get three different physicians from New York University, Mayo Clinic and the MS Society. No conflicts are reported. In future stories, it is always better to state whether a patient who comments is someone whom the drug company provided to the reporter or whether he/she was independent of that. This story gives us a patient but does not explain whether she has ties to Novartis – makers of Gilenya.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story gives us the existing alternatives (shots) and puts the new oral drug in perspective. The comment from neurologist Mark Keegan about why a patient might choose not to switch is very telling and might have been put higher in the story.

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


Good job explaining which oral drugs are pending approval, and which is approved. The story says 6,000 patients are already taking Gilenya, the oral drug that is first in this family to win FDA approval.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


Gilenya belongs to a family of oral medications, which the story explains are novel in the method of administration for multiple sclerosis. (Oral instead of injectable.) It also outlines different dose forms, such as once-a-day or once-a-week injections.

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


No, the story quotes four people and does not appear to rely on a release.

Total Score: 8 of 10 Satisfactory


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