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Experimental Drug May Help Treat Psoriasis


3 Star



Experimental Drug May Help Treat Psoriasis

Our Review Summary

This story permitted self-interested parties to gush their enthusiasm with quotes such as:

  • “This is unheard of”
  • “With this drug, the word ‘remission’ is on the table.”
  • “We had amazing responses.”
  • “Many of us were disappointed it was withdrawn.”

A more balanced approach would be to seek independent perspectives about the cancers and cardiac events seen (the latter being the reason the drug company withdrew its application for approval earlier this year).


Why This Matters

Journalists should stick to the facts, seek independent perspectives to help evaluate the evidence, and leave the sensational quotes for the drug advertising.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

At this stage of development, the cost of briakinumab is impossible to determine. However if the costs will be anything like other biologics such as Stelara – which the story mentioned – then the cost could be as much as $1,500 to 2,000/month.  So some attempt could have been made to address the important cost issue in this field of drug development.

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


Adequate explanation of the potential benefits seen in the study.

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

Not Satisfactory

Weaker than the competing HealthDay story on this point.  This story only reported “patients taking briakinumab had more serious infections and more cancers than those taking methotrexate.”  Then, in the second last sentence of the story, it added that serious adverse events occured in 9/1% of briakinumab group and 6.1% of methotrexate group.  But HealthDay actually quantified what they were – the number of serious infections and the number of cancers.

It’s inadequate for WebMD to throw in a line “more cancers” while failing to provide any numbers or details.

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


Adequate explanation of the evidence. However, We were troubled by the inclusion of information from the study about the decline in effectiveness of methotrexate but not a word about the similar drop seen with briakinumab.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease-mongering of psoriasis here.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story included a second source, but he can’t be viewed as an independent source since he, too, has been involved in research of the drug and has been a paid consultant and investigator for Abbott.

The story also did not disclose what is clearly disclosed in the journal article – that the principal investigator:

  • has been employed by Abbott
  • has Abbott stock/stock options
  • is a paid member of Abbott’s scientific advisory board
  • is paid to be on Abbott’s speakers’ bureau
  • has been a paid Abbott consultant


It also didn’t disclose what the journal article disclosed, that Abbott personnel helped write the manuscript and helped with the statistical analyses.


Statement of Principles of the Association of Health Care Journalists includes these clauses: 

  • Be vigilant in selecting sources, asking about, weighing and disclosing relevant financial, advocacy, personal or other interests of those we interview as a routine part of story research and interviews.
  • Investigate and report possible links between sources of information (studies or experts) and those (such as the manufacturers) who promote a new idea or therapy.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

While mentioning the similar drug Stelara, the story didn’t wrap the new research into the context of other approaches to psoriasis – including some non-drug therapies.  It would take only another sentence to give some broader context about other therapeutic approaches.

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


The experimental nature of briakinumab was made clear in the story.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story at least explained that “a similar drug, Stelara, was approved by the FDA in 2009.”

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


It’s clear that the story did not rely solely on a news release.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory


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