The story reports that a relatively new drug for type 2 diabetes can help lower blood sugar. However, the headline of the article overstates what is known or at least what is presented in the article. For instance, readers don’t know that this drug provides "good control" because there is no comparison to other treatment options. How do readers know how much better this new drug is compared to older drugs? In addition to failing to provide meaningful absolute benefits, the story also fails to provide information about the type of evidence the findings are based on. Readers don’t know whether this is a randomized trial or some less robust study design. Plus, the study was funded by the manufacturer which is not mentioned. The story also does not mention any harms of the new drug (it’s very unlikely there are absolutely no side effects) or cost of treatment. It also only quotes one source for information and that source is the lead study author, who could very well have a conflict of interest. Since the story reports on data presented at a scientific meeting, there were many other experts at that meeting who could have helped put the data into perspective. However, the story also didn’t mention any of the limitations in trying to interpret data presented at scientific meetings. See our primer on this topic.
The story does not mention any costs, which is important because this is an expensive treatment and there are less expensive alternatives.
The story provides absolute numbers (a percentage) of people in the study who achieved a blood sugar level (A1C) less than 7%, which is the national recommendation, although this goal is not appropriate for all. The story also provides the proportion of people who reached an A1C of less than 6.5%. However, there appears to be no comparison group or reference to compare these numbers with. Readers don’t know how much better these results might be compared to other treatment alternatives. So, although it appears absolute numbers are provided, readers don’t have any sense for the absolute benefit these represent.
The story does not describe any harms of treatment with Byetta. Every medication will have some potential side effects and these are not described.
The story does not describe the type of evidence on which the findings are based. Readers do not know whether this was a randomized trial, which is the gold standard in research. It appears the study was not a randomized trial, because there is no comparison group described, but it’s unclear what kind of study this was. Additionally, the story does not mention that this was an industry-funded study. And there is no mention of the limitations in trying to interpret data presented at scientific meetings. See our primer on this topic.
The story provides an appropriate description of how the body either does not produce or cannot use insulin in type 2 diabetes. The story also describes that being overweight and weight gain are significant issues for most people with type 2 diabetes. The story could have been improved by providing some additional background information to let readers know how serious this condition is (e.g. how many people have this, what sorts of complications can arise, etc.).
The story only uses one source of information, and he is the lead author of the study. There were many other diabetes specialists at the American Diabetes Association meeting – where these data were presented – who could have helped put this in perspective for readers.
The story describes two other medication options, metformin and sulfonylureas, but the story does not describe other medications, such as thiazolidinediones or insulin. Additionally, the story does not mention any lifestyle options to control blood sugar, such as eating a health diet, exercising, and losing weight.
The story states the drug studied, Byetta, was approved by the FDA for selected people with type 2 diabetes in 2005.
The story describes when the drug was FDA approved (in 2005), so readers know this is a relatively new drug being studied.
We can’t be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release, but we do know it quoted only the principal investigator of the study.