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Chinese herb may yield drug for AIDS

Rating

3 Star

Chinese herb may yield drug for AIDS

Our Review Summary

This story is about bevirimat, a new drug for late stage HIV. While there is interesting background on the current stage of HIV/AIDS drug development in the story, it has several important flaws. The story provides no evidence on the safety or efficacy of this drug, despite the drug company president’s comments that bevirimat “. . .looks potent and has a great safety profile”. What is the evidence?

The story does not discuss the potential side effects of this new drug, and it does not provide a caveat that the drug may not live up to its predicted effect in humans. The story mentions that this new drug would be taken in combination with current antiretroviral therapies. But there is no discussion of any possible negative interaction(s) with other HIV drugs, or with drugs for co-existing medical conditions.

Researchers and physicians who work with HIV/AIDS therapies are cited to provide perspective on this potential new treatment in the context of current therapies. Sources who are also paid consultants for Panacos Pharmaceuticals are appropriately noted. Some appropriate attempt at balance is provided by the concluding quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.

There is one error in the article: “People who started AIDS therapy in 2003 lived an estimated 13 years longer than people diagnosed with AIDS in 1988.” Presumably they meant that people starting treatment in 2003 are EXPECTED to live 13 yrs longer.

The story provides appropriate prevalence and incidence data on Americans living with HIV. If anything, the story under-reports HIV prevalence worldwide. The story might have aked the question: If this therapy is approved, would it be made available to the millions infected with HIV in developing countries?

Finally, the story does not provide any projections of what the drug might cost. But the story was able to estimate annual sales of the drug for Panacos Pharmaceuticals. If you can give the latter, you should be able to provide the former.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not provide any projections of what the drug might cost. But the story was able to estimate annual sales of the drug for Panacos Pharmaceuticals. If you can give the latter, you should be able to provide the former.

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

Not Satisfactory

If the story is even going to report on a drug that is three or more years away from FDA approval and still undergoing initial safety testing in humans, it should at least temper enthusiasm. The story did point out that the drug is at least three years away from being on the market and still being tested. And the story did end with a “proof of the pudding” comment from NIH’s Dr. Fauci. However what is missing is a comment that we do not know how much impact the drug would have on survival or quality of life, for example.
And the story is laden with comments such as “generating excitement…researchers are excited…the therapy is exciting…so far it looks potent and it has a great safety profile” — all without any hard data provided.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not discuss the potential side effects of this new drug, nor does the story provide a caveat that the drug may not live up to its predicted effect in humans. The possibility of a negative interaction with other HIV drugs, or with drugs for co-existing medical conditions is also not mentioned. But this is one of the hazards of reporting on data that have not yet been peer-reviewed (Or have they? The story doesn’t make it clear.) The company and the investigators certainly know what side effects have been experienced so far. Having the company president say that the drug has “a great safety profile” is inadequate.

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

Not Satisfactory

Bevirimat is currently being tested in an initial clinical trial. No evidence is available on the safety or efficacy of this drug yet, despite the drug company president’s comments that bevirimat “. . .looks potent and has a great safety profile”. What is the evidence?

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story provides appropriate prevalence and incidence data on Americans living with HIV. If anything, the story under-reports HIV prevalence worldwide. The story could have questioned: if the therapy is approved, would it be made available to the millions infected with HIV in developing countries?

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

Satisfactory

Researchers and physicians who work with HIV/AIDS therapies are cited to provide perspective on this potential new drug treatment. Sources who are paid consultants for Panacos Pharmaceuticals are appropriately noted. Some appropriate attempt at balance is provided by the concluding quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story mentions that this drug would be taken in combination with current antiretroviral therapies. The story places this new drug in the context of a discussion of new drugs that interrupt the replication of HIV; however, bevirimat is still in the midst of clinical trials.

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

Satisfactory

The drug, bevirimat, is derived in part from the herb syzigium claviforum. This herb is currently used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat diarrhea and stop bleeding. Bevirimat is a manufactured drug, using certain components of this herb to potentially inhibit HIV replication. The story does mention that the drug is at least 3 years from market and still in early clinical trials.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story reports that bevirimat is a novel treatment and discusses how it may work to improve current treatment regimens. The story states this drug is made from an herb that’s been used for other indications, but is quite clear that the pharma product is novel.

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

Satisfactory

The story does not appear to rely on a press release as the only source of information.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory

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