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New Drug Shows Promise Against Huntington’s Disease

Rating

3 Star

Categories

New Drug Shows Promise Against Huntington’s Disease

Our Review Summary

The HealthDay story covers a phase III drug study that was recently published in The Lancet Neurology.

  • The main problem with this story is its contradictory statements regarding the drug’s benefits. The article states that a higher dose of pridopidine showed a “significant benefit,” but how significant? Later in the story, an independent source comments that the “benefit is modest.”
  • The story did not mention anything about the researchers’ inability to meet their primary endpoint. The apparent benefits of the drug were found in the tertiary endpoint – a sign that the magnitude of the drug’s effects may be smaller.
  • The article did not detail any research methods from the study. For example, how did researchers measure improvements in motor function?

 

Why This Matters

The story highlights the difficulty in deciphering ambiguous medical evidence for the general public. On one hand, the researchers were not able to prove their main hypothesis. But they uncovered benefits in another endpoint that may prove to be promising. The article could have differentiated this evidence and provide a more cautious interpretation of the study’s findings, which could have made for a more thorough and more accurate story.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There is no mention of costs in the story. Although pridopidine is an experimental drug, it may have been useful for the reader to know whether pridopidine could be at least a cheaper alternative to tetrabenazine, the only drug currently approved for Huntington’s disease.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story did not detail the potential benefits of pridopidine. Specifically, how did the patients improve their motor function? The only number provided was that 70% of patients improved. We need to know how this function was measured and to what degree they improved (it is not clear whether the story was talking about statistical significance or clinical significance).

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

Satisfactory

The story notes, “Side effects among patients taking the drug were similar to the placebo group.” Dr. Alessandro Di Rocco also agrees with this statement, since the “compound is apparently well tolerated without significant side effects.” However, the story could have been more thorough in letting the reader know exactly what those side effects are.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story makes contradictory statements on the study’s results. At one point, the article reports, “…the drug showed a significant benefit,” while further down in the article, Dr. Alessandro Di Rocco is quoted as saying, “the benefit is modest and limited to the motor symptoms of the disease.” The story could have expanded on Di Rocco’s comment and also could have included some of the study’s limitations. For example, the researchers could not prove their primary hypothesis, for which they wrote in The Lancet: “This study did not provide evidence of efficacy.” The apparent benefits came from the tertiary endpoint, which merits a more cautious interpretation of the results.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There is not any disease mongering, but the article does not provide much background information on Huntington’s disease, regarding its epidemiology, risk factors and treatments. However, the story does mention dopamine and its role in movement and coordination.

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

Satisfactory

Dr. Alessandro Di Rocco from NYU Langone Medical Center is used as an independent source. The story also adds that the study was funded by European pharmaceuticals company NeuroSearch A/S.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The article mentions tetrabenazine – the only drug on the market for Huntington’s disease – and adds that it can “cause serious side effects.”

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

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions that study results are from a phase III clinical trial, but it does not clearly comment on the availability of pridopidine, or the class of dopidine drugs in general. The story could have simply said that this drug is investigational and is not available yet.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

Pridopidine is an experimental drug candidate for Huntington’s disease and has been in clinical trials for the past several years.

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

Satisfactory

The same quotation in the news release is used in the HealthDay story, suggesting that the article was somewhat based off the news release. However, there is some evidence of original reporting, with the inclusion of Dr. Alessandro Di Rocco’s comments.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory

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