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ABC News story perpetuates misinformation that new drug will prevent spread of flu

Rating

2 Star

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FDA approves new flu pill that can be taken after onset of symptoms

Our Review Summary

This story is one of two we are reviewing that focuses on FDA’s approval of a drug designed to speed patient recovery from flu symptoms (the second story is from The New York Times). The drug is baloxavir marboxil, marketed under the trade name Xofluza.

This ABC News story didn’t adequately address cost, potential harms, or the fact that Xofluza worked no better than oseltamivir (sold as Tamiflu) at reducing flu symptoms in a clinical trial. It also told readers that researchers think the drug “will reduce spread of the flu,” but didn’t point out that there is no evidence to show that as a possible benefit.

 

Why This Matters

Influenza is fairly common, as recent findings from the CDC make clear. That means that many people will likely have to make decisions about how to deal with the flu and flu symptoms in the coming year. Making an informed decision requires patients to have good information on costs and potential health risks associated with their treatment options — and that’s particularly true when new treatment options come onto the market. This story doesn’t adequately address those key issues.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Costs are not addressed. As the New York Times reported in its second paragraph:

The pill will cost $150, according to a spokeswoman for Genentech, which will sell Xofluza in this country. Genentech will offer coupons that lower the price to $30 for patients with health insurance and to about $90 for the uninsured.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story explains that Xofluza is designed to reduce the duration of flu symptoms by more than one day, which is more than the New York Times did — but it’s still not a quantified benefit. What’s more, while the NYT story made clear that clinical trial results showed the benefits to be comparable between Xofluza and Tamiflu, this story doesn’t mention the finding.

Also, neither ABC News nor NYT reported that there was not a statistically significant difference for the Xofluza group when it came to study participants reporting they were feeling back to their usual state of health.

Lastly, ABC News stated that “researchers believe the medication will prevent patients from spreading the flu”–but the story didn’t explain that there is no evidence to show this benefit exists.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story states that Xofluza is associated with “less side effects” than Tamiflu, but it doesn’t mention any potential harms. The company that markets Xofluza notes that its most common side effects include diarrhea, bronchitis, headache, nausea and common cold symptoms. Those potential side effects are worth mentioning. In addition, neither this story nor the NYT story noted that the drug should not be used by nursing mothers or women who are pregnant, given the lack of information about whether Xofluza can get into breastmilk or how it may affect prenatal health.

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

Not Satisfactory

The study mentions only that Xofluza was compared to a placebo in clinical trials. That’s not enough to give readers a sense of the quality of the evidence.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease mongering here. And the story does provide some useful context about flu prevalence in the 2017-18 flu season.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story makes it clear when citing sources associated with the drug’s parent company. It also included one physician not connected to the drug. However, it didn’t disclose that this physician, Todd Ellerin, has significant relevant financial relationships with antiviral drug manufacturers.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t mention that clinical trial results showed the benefits to be comparable between Xofluza and Tamiflu. That’s a fundamental oversight. Why does it matter? Well, for one thing, the cost of generic Tamiflu will be much lower than the cost of Xofluza (since there will be no generic on the market).

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

Satisfactory

The story tackles this head on: “The pill will be available across the U.S. in the coming weeks, according to the FDA.”

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story addresses novelty directly, noting: “The medication is the first in a new class of antiviral medications that blocks an enzyme within the flu virus, which stops viral replication early in the influenza cycle, the FDA announced.”

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

Satisfactory

This is a close one. For the most part, the story seems to draw heavily from two news releases — the one issued by the FDA, and the one issued by Genentech (which markets Xofluza). However, the story does incorporate input from an independent source. That’s enough to put it over the top here.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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