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Fox spreads ‘breakthrough’ claim but no real reporting on peanut allergy treatment

Rating

2 Star

Categories

Potential life-saving peanut allergy drug on horizon, scientists say

Our Review Summary

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

This story does not appear to contain original reporting. Instead it relies on a news release, including multiple quotes from the study authors, one using the unfortunate word “breakthrough.” Significantly, it doesn’t address costs or harms.

 

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 less severe is certainly of interest.

Criteria

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. Also, it’s expected to be marketed next year.

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

Satisfactory

The story reports the benefits of treatment in two different ways: “two thirds of people in the study were able to tolerate the equivalent of two peanuts per day after nine to 12 months of treatment,” and on average, “participants were able to tolerate a 100-fold higher dose of peanut at the end of the study than they did at the beginning.”

That barely passes the bar.

Unfortunately, both those descriptions are in the form of canned quotes from the study author and neither compares the result to the control group (which had a placebo treatment).

We also think more detail could have been added to show the extent of benefit, and what it means for kids. For example, it would have been helpful to note that almost 20% of the treatment group withdrew from the study, which suggests many patients might quit the therapy.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention harms — and harms were significant. The CNN story reported that 11% of participants dropped out of the study as a result of untoward effects of treatment, and other participants (who completed the study) had allergic reactions requiring treatment.

It also left out important issues such as the high dropout rate among those who received the treatment, and unknown long-term effects.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story notes how many study participants there were and explains this is “not a cure” and that patients would need to stay on the drug in order to be protected. However, we expect some exploration of the study’s strengths or weaknesses, including caveats such as the degree of commitment needed to comply treatment regime.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story appropriately characterizes peanut allergy as a “potentially life-threatening” condition, with peanut ingestion. There’s no data on how many people might benefit from this drug, however.

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

Not Satisfactory

The only sources quoted were authors of the study who had relationships with the company that makes the treatment. Independent sources could have provided more context, including a more balanced view of how this treatment might affect the care of people with peanut allergies.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story makes clear that there is currently no approved treatment for peanut allergy. However, we think the story should have explained that, as of now, the only option is avoidance of foods that contain peanuts or traces of peanuts, including foods produced in facilities that also process peanut-containing products.

The story does not mention that AR101 is among at least four peanut immunotherapy products entering the market.

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

Satisfactory

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?

Satisfactory

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

It could have added that immunotherapy — or exposing allergy patients to small, controlled doses of the food they’re allergic to — is not a new idea.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story appears to be based on a news release from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. The quotes in the story were attributed to EurekAlert, which published the organization’s news release.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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