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Study finds early potential in GSK leukaemia drug

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Study finds early potential in GSK leukaemia drug

Our Review Summary

There are no independent experts quoted.

This is not sound journalistic practice, turning the platform over to conflicted sources with no evidence of any critical analysis or independent vetting of claims.

 

Why This Matters

The treatment of childhood leukemias has improved considerably in the past several decades. Despite the improvements however, some childhood forms remain difficult. A story about a potential new treatment option is important but it must be presented in a way that does not provide inflated claims and false hope to parents.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Given the extremely early stage of research, we can understand why cost was not discussed.

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

Not Satisfactory

Inadequate explanation.  See “evidence” criterion above. While the story does provide several qualifications, it fails to place this very early research into perspective. Given the tortuous road to a drug’s demonstration of effectiveness and eventual approval any suggestion of patient benefit (such as “early potential…could treat…could halt the disease”) is excessive.

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

Not Satisfactory

If a news story can speculate about “early potential” benefits in a headline from such early laboratory results, it can also speculate about potential harms from the pathway this proposed intervention takes.

What could go wrong with this approach?

What will scientists be concerned about as they move into clinical trials?

The story talks only about potential benefits.  There are always potential harms on the horizon.

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

Not Satisfactory

There was no critical journalistic analysis of the evidence.  In fact, we’re never told exactly how well the experimntal approach worked in the mice and cancer cells tested in the lab – only that “the chemical could halt the disease.”  That simply doesn’t tell readers – investors or patients – anything useful about how it performed.

Did it work in each experiment attempted?
Half the time?
Ten percent of the time?
Equally well in the mice and in the human cancer cells?
What differences in response?

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story suggests (as did the news release upon which it was based) that up to 80% of leukemia cases in patients under the age of 2 years involve the MLL fusion protein. Important as this is, it is a bit misleading to the average reader.

According to the National Cancer Institute the variant is present in up to 5% of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia cases

The decision to focus on the 80% number can be viewed as disease mongering because it has the clear potential to inflate the importance of the findings.

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

Not Satisfactory

There are no independent sources quoted in the story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There is no meaningful comparison between this experimental approach and other research or treatment approaches – only a statement that “most patients don’t respond well to standard leukemia treatments and often the cancer comes back.”

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

Satisfactory

The story had several reminders for readers of the early stage of this research.  The reminder that “it will probably be many years before the drug could potentially reach the market” is almost premature in itself given that this is something that hasn’t even been tested outside the lab yet – with not one human experiment having been conducted.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t put this research into the context of what else is being investigated in this field.

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

Not Satisfactory

The following entire phrases/sentences of the Reuters story are lifted verbatim from a Cancer Research UK news release:

“MLL leukaemia is thought to account for up to 80 per cent of children below two years of age diagnosed with acute leukaemia, and up to one in 10 cases in adults. Most patients don’t respond well to standard leukaemia treatments and often the cancer comes back.

The disease is caused when a gene called MLL gets fused to another gene. This disrupts the normal function of MLL by creating a new ‘fusion protein’ that behaves inappropriately, switching on genes that drive the development of leukaemia.

MLL-fusion proteins are targeted to leukaemia-causing genes by proteins from the BET family, which recognise certain chemical ‘tags’ on chromatin, the scaffold on which DNA is organised.”

And this quote from Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, was also used verbatim in the Reuters story:

“we urgently need better ways to treat children with more aggressive forms of leukaemia, such as MLL. Although this research is only in the lab at the moment, we hope it will move quickly towards clinical trials in patients.”

Total Score: 1 of 9 Satisfactory

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