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Study: Pfizer lung cancer pill may double survival


2 Star

Study: Pfizer lung cancer pill may double survival

Our Review Summary

  • No discussion of costs.
  • Inadequate evaluation of the evidence.
  • Incomplete description of harms.
  • Allowed the company to predict FDA approval.
  • No independent expert perspective provided.
  • Inaccurate statement about lack of treatment alternatives.


Why This Matters

Reporting on studies presented at the big American Society of Clinical Oncology requires journalists to offer context – not just what was presented in a short scientific presentation.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story allows analysts to predict “crizotinib will build to peak sales of about $2.5 billion in about a decade” or “bring in $600 million a year by 2015.”

But there is no estimate of cost.

Certainly these analysts projections are based on some cost figures.

How can this not be a part of such a story?

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

Not Satisfactory

As stated above, the story, while noting that the study had no comparison group, allowed a researcher to compare her findings with “similar patients getting standard cancer drugs in other research.”

There should have been at least a line about the inherent weaknesses in making such a comparison.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story stated about one arm of the study: “Most patients had mild side effects, but two of the nine patient deaths during that study were considered treatment-related.”

But it didn’t define “most” or “mild.”

And it didn’t say anything about harms reported in the primary analysis being reported.

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

Not Satisfactory

Several inadequacies in this category.

The story allowed the researchers to make a stretch of a comparison when it stated: “The early-phase study did not include a direct comparison group. But among similar patients getting standard cancer drugs in other research, 44 percent survived for a year and just 12 percent were alive after two years, said lead researcher Dr. Alice Shaw.”  The story didn’t challenge this leap.

It also described a subset of patients whose “tumors shrink at least somewhat over nearly a year follow-up.”  What does that mean?  How significant is that?  



Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease mongering of lung cancer.

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

Not Satisfactory

Besides the lead researcher, only stock analysts and a company spokesman were quoted; no independent expert was quoted.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story stated: “There are no treatments specifically for patients with this type of lung cancer, although some others are in much earlier stages of testing.” But there ARE treatment alternatives, especially for stage IIIa and b.  So we must rule this unsatisfactory.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story polishes its crystal ball when it allows a Pfizer spokesman to predict “the FDA is expected to conditionally approve crizotinib based on results of the earlier studies rather than wait until the latest ones are completed.”

That may turn out to be so, but, wow, haven’t we learned anything about the path to approval being more treacherous than what company spokesmen spin?

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story explained, “Crizotinib, part of the new wave of personalized medicine in which drugs are being matched to patients according to genetics, would be the first drug in a new class called ALK inhibitors.”

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

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure of the extent to which the story relied on a news release.

The story supposedly came out of the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.

But it was datelined Trenton, NJ – a Pfizer location.

Total Score: 2 of 9 Satisfactory


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