The piece refrains from the puffery of a similar story in Medical Daily which we also reviewed. In particular, its headline keeps reader expectations in check by stating the pill shows promise in a “small trial.” The story itself does an admirable job of describing how this pill fits into a climate of innovation in asthma treatment.
Still, it should have addressed the potential cost of this pill and garnered quotes from experts who are not involved in the study.
The possibility of taking a pill instead of using an inhaler to control symptoms would surely be welcome news to millions of asthma patients. One in 12 Americans — 17.7 million adults and 6.3 million children — has asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the incurable disease costs the U.S. about $56 billion in medical costs, lost school and work days, and early deaths in 2007. A story about a new, easier-to-take drug would be of interest to many people, which is why news reporting should go beyond regurgitation of the news release material. This story, while brief, did appear to do so.
The story does not address how much fevipiprant might cost and how it might compete with currently available treatments. A 2013 story in the New York Times reported that asthma inhalers ranged from $50 per month for one of the oldest drugs to as much as $350, with prices being buoyed in recent years by patent extensions.
The story reported that fevipiprant “reduced a biological marker of asthma nearly five-fold in the 12-week trial involving 61 patients.” It states: “The Novartis pill works in a very precise way to block the action of inflammatory cells called eosinophils.”
The story mentions that that no serious adverse events were reported in the trial. It would have been useful to note that 12 weeks is too little time to determine how an asthma drug might affect patients over decades of use.
The story acknowledges that this is was a “small” trial and that more research is needed, and it correctly states what was being studied: A biological marker of asthma (and not actual symptoms or respiratory function, which a Medical Daily story we also reviewed got wrong).
The story does not engage in disease-mongering.
The story doesn’t contain comments from outside experts who could put some perspective on the trial results and explain what this might mean for patients.
The story could have let readers know that funding came from Novartis, as well as a European Union grant program, and the Leicester (U.K.) National Institute for Health Research Respiratory Biomedical Research unit. Several researchers involved in the trial reported receiving financial compensation from Novartis and other drug companies.
The story does a great job here. It mentions that pills were standard treatment for asthma decades ago, but were replaced with inhalers that deliver drugs directly into the lungs. It also mentions that drugmakers recently launched injectable drugs for severe asthma that also target eosinophils and “are developing improved asthma inhalers, including ‘smart’ devices with sensors that monitor use.” The story could have elaborated on how inhalers might compare to pills in terms of safety and efficacy, and mentioned there are other new drugs (known as leukotrene receptor antagonists) that are also available as pills.
We believe the story attempts to give a realistic take, stating more study is needed to show that the drug can reduce severe asthma attacks. It also states Novartis “believes the medicine could be filed for regulatory approval in around 2019.” While this may or may not be accurate, it does let readers know that availability isn’t around the corner.
The story says it’s the first asthma pill in decades—-that’s not correct. In recent years, several new drugs known as leukotriene receptor antagonists have come on the market as tablets. (The statement about this being the first pill in decades appears to come from the news release, which we also reviewed.)