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Drug Is Shown to Help Pancreatic Cancer Cases


5 Star


Drug Is Shown to Help Pancreatic Cancer Cases

Our Review Summary

The only one of our 10 criteria that was not addressed was the potential harms of Abraxane.  Other than that, a very complete job of reporting.


Why This Matters

As the story makes clear, pancreatic cancer “is a disease that gave oncology a bad name…a notoriously difficult disease.”  Better treatment options are needed.  This story reported on new trial results with a calm, clear, contextual delivery.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The story reported that Abraxane “will cost $6,000 to $8,000 a month” for pancreatic cancer patients. And then placed the cost and potential benefit into context: “How much of an extension of life is meaningful to patients is a matter of some debate, especially with cancer drugs costing thousands of dollars a month.”

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


The story adequately reported the benefits from the study of 861 patients that was released by the manufacturer and scheduled for presentation at a scientific meeting.Rather than falling victim to presenting the drug’s benefits in relative terms (27% increase in median survival, more than doubling of the two year survival) the story provides the readers with absolute numbers.

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

Not Satisfactory

One shortcoming of the story:  no discussion of harms from Abraxane.

Here is the data from the Calgene press release:

“The most common grade ≥ 3 treatment-related adverse events in the study for ABRAXANE plus gemcitabine vs. gemcitabine alone were neutropenia (38% vs. 27%), fatigue (17% vs. 7%), and neuropathy (17% vs. 1%). In the ABRAXANE plus gemcitabine arm, the median time to neuropathy improvement was 29 days. There was no difference in serious life threatening toxicity (4% in each arm).”

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


It’s rare to see a story state in its first sentence that a drug trial was “not as big a leap as some doctors and investors had hoped” – followed by “It was not the breakthrough we were anticipating,” from an independent expert.

Appropriate context was given about what a “notoriously difficult disease” pancreatic cancer can be – “This is a disease that gave oncology a bad name,” as one expert said.



Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease mongering of pancreatic cancer in the story.

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


Excellent use of independent sources, including the “not the breakthrough we were anticipating” quote from one of them in the story’s second sentence.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


Excellent comparison of alternatives.  Excerpts:

“A big impediment to future Abraxane sales in pancreatic cancer could be that its median survival was almost three months less than that of Folfirinox, a combination of four generic cancer drugs.

Results of a clinical trial published in 2011 showed that pancreatic cancer patients getting Folfirinox had a median survival of 11.1 months compared with 6.8 months for those getting gemcitabine.

Experts cautioned that it was difficult to draw conclusions since Abraxane and Folfirinox were not compared directly in the same trial. Nonetheless, doctors are going to make treatment decisions based on the separate results.”


“In 2005 the Food and Drug Administration approved Tarceva, now sold by Roche and Astellas, to treat pancreatic cancer. In a clinical trial, those who got Tarceva plus gemcitabine had a median survival only 12 days longer than those who received a placebo plus gemcitabine.”

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


It’s clear from the story that Abraxane is already used to treat advanced breast cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story reported:

“Abraxane is a novel form of the widely used cancer drug paclitaxel, also known by the brand name Taxol. In Abraxane, the paclitaxel is bound to albumin, a human protein in tiny particles. That is said to enhance delivery of the drug to tumors and reduce side effects.

Abraxane was approved to treat advanced breast cancer in 2005 and to treat non-small-cell lung cancer in October.”

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


It’s clear that the story did not rely solely or largely on a news release, although it did report on data released by the manufacturer in advance of presentation at a scientific meeting.  But the addition of independent perspectives shows how much original reporting was done.

Total Score: 9 of 10 Satisfactory


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