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Bloomberg “liquid biopsy” story nods to “skepticism” in headline


4 Star


Consumer Blood Test to Detect Cancer Hits Market Amid Skepticism

Our Review Summary

The bottom-line message from this story is a good one, and the fact that “skepticism” is mentioned prominently in the headline makes up for the lack of some important details in the body text. While the story overall is strong and it did a decent job of breaking down the costs of this new test, a competing story from Reuters performed better by explaining the harms to a greater degree and doing a better job with independent sourcing.


Why This Matters

Genomic testing of healthy people is going to cost this country a lot of money, and the proposed benefits of such testing haven’t been proven at all.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The story broke down the costs of the test to provide a fuller picture than a competing Reuters story. It shows how costs can range from $299 to $699 to $999.

As detailed as it was, we think the story could have gone even further here. The story did not mention insurance coverage, for example, nor did it mention how long one would do “quarterly” testing and what those continuing costs might amount to. The cost of follow-up testing also could have been mentioned.

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


The story does not quantify the potential benefits of “liquid biopsies” like the one being offered by Pathway. But we are reluctant to rate it Not Satisfactory because it points out that “Pathway hasn’t published any data on its tests.”

The competing Reuters story cites a company-derived 99% accuracy rate for the test, but since that’s never been confirmed in a published study and doesn’t reflect use of the test in real-world conditions, we’d just as soon have a news story not mention it.

We’ll give the benefit of the doubt on the rating.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story makes a mention of false positives and false negatives. But many readers won’t make the mental leap to the consquences of these false results. A competing Reuters story explained why bad testing can lead to bad health outcomes.

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


The story talked about some of the criticism around the test and the fact that the company has not published any of its results. We particularly like the closing quote from expert Marleen Meyers:

“Does this translate into improved survival?” she said. “If you’re doing this monitoring every month and you see something a little bit different, should you do something?” Frequent changes in treatment may frustrate patients and ultimately may not add to survival, she said.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


There was no disease mongering.

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


There were independent sources in the story. Although they feel a bit lost in the shadow of the comments and claims from the company, these comments provide an important restraining message.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The true alternative to these tests is routine cancer screening using proven screening methods recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force. In fact, the whole name “liquid biopsies” is wrong. These are not biopsies at all, they are screening tests for healthy people that look for biomarkers of cancer in the blood. But we don’t know what kind of clinical significance they have or if they will lead to better outcomes.

Neither story provided this context. Bloomberg does mention some tests that are being offered by competing genomics companies, as well as similar types of direct to consumer screening approaches. But these aren’t the real alternatives that we think should have been discussed in the story.

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

Not Satisfactory

It’s not clear from the story whether a patient can go into a doctor and demand one of these tests, buy one at a pharmacy, or order one from home.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story explains that this type of liquid biopsy is not, in fact, novel but actually part of a growing field of competing tests.

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


The story goes beyond any news release.

Total Score: 7 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments (1)

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Alexis Sun

September 26, 2015 at 9:08 pm

Cell-free DNA based liquid biopsy is the ultimate solution to overcome all limitations of tissue biopsy. However, current version of liquid biopsy requires 10-20 mL of blood due to unavoidable sample loss in cfDNA recovery. Losing a lot of starting materials mean you will compromise the accuracy of the end results in a clinical setting. CirculoGene has come up with a unprecedented finger-stick liquid biopsy enables physicians to work with a sample volume as little as 20 uL!!! It’s crazy the pace that technology advancing.