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CNN delivers a balanced report on peanut allergy treatment


5 Star


Experimental treatment helps 2 out of 3 peanut allergy sufferers, study finds

Our Review Summary

This CNN News story describes a new treatment for kids with peanut allergy called AR101, which could help protect against severe reactions to small amounts of peanut ingestion. It’s one of two stories we reviewed about this important and newsworthy study. The other is from Fox News.

This report is appropriately cautious, emphasizing that the treatment is not a cure but reduces the threat from accidental exposure. In addition, the story details the commitment that treatment requires and the side effects that can occur. However, it could have done a better job by addressing the cost of this drug and giving the dropout rate of those on the treatment.


Why This Matters

Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies. It typically presents early in life, is known for severe reactions, and is rarely outgrown. There currently are no treatments for peanut allergy, besides emergency care in the event of a reaction. So a treatment with the potential to make reactions from accidental exposures less severe is certainly of interest.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention costs — particularly important since the treatment might have to be taken for life. It’s reportedly due to come on the market next year.

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


The story reports that two-thirds of people who underwent months of treatment were able at the end of the study to tolerate the equivalent of two peanuts.  

Unlike the Fox News story, CNN reports on how the control group fared, saying that 53% of those subjects required rescue epinephrine with the final peanut challenge test compared to 11% of subjects in the treatment group.

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


The story describes harms through the profile of one patient: “Ellis experienced stomach cramps and vomiting multiple times during the study,” and once she had an anaphylactic reaction which required medical attention. And this was a successful patient story.

The story also reports that 11% of participants dropped out of the study as a result of side effects.

However, it left out important issues such as the higher dropout rate — around 20%, mainly due to adverse events — among those who received the treatment, and unknown long-term effects.

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


The story reports the size of the study. It also emphasizes, repeatedly, the limitations of the protection against peanut exposure — not all those treated were protected, and even the positive outcomes were laced with allergic reactions along the way.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story appropriately characterizes peanut allergy as a “potentially life-threatening” condition, with peanut ingestion. It also says peanut and tree nut allergies affect “an estimated 3 million Americans or more,” although it’s not clear what number of those would benefit from this treatment.

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


The story includes several expert sources, including a doctor who was not involved in the study and who does not appear to be funded by potential treatment-makers.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story makes clear that there is currently no approved treatment for peanut allergy. 

In addition, the profiled patient is described as having to eat her school lunch at a peanut-free table, showing reader the practice of avoiding exposure — currently the only way to manage a peanut allergy.  

However, the story doesn’t mention that AR101 is among at least four peanut immunotherapy products potentially entering the market.

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


The story makes clear that the treatment is not yet FDA-approved, and is not currently commercially available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story says that the treatment would be a new one, making clear that no other approved product exists for treating peanut allergy.   

It doesn’t explain that immunotherapy — which attempts to desensitize people with food allergies by giving them tiny doses of the food they’re allergic to over time — is an old idea.

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


The story goes well beyond the information provided in a news release.

Total Score: 9 of 10 Satisfactory


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