This story demonstrated how to present context and broad perspective even in advance coverage of big meetings like the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting.
The ending of a story may be the take-home message that readers remember. Often that’s a glowing patient anecdote. This quote, from the executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, presented an appropriate and necessary final perspective:
“If you are a patient and someone says, ‘There is an 85% chance of you spending $120,000 on a drug, and spending four months of your life being sick, with no benefit,’ you’re not going to be so excited.”
Ballpark costs are mentioned in the final take home quote from the executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation: “”If you are a patient and someone says, ‘There is an 85% chance of you spending $120,000 on a drug, and spending four months of your life being sick, with no benefit,’ you’re not going to be so excited.”
With so many different drugs discussed in one overview story, it’s difficult to give complete data on all. And, while we had some reservations, we give the story the benefit of the doubt on this criterion.
In general terms the story states, “No one can claim to have cured melanoma.” Also in general terms, it stated, “When the new immune therapies work, they often keep cancer at bay for a long time.”
It gave specific details on two studies released in advance of the upcoming ASCO meeting – what percentage of patients had what percentage of tumor shrinkage. But we would have liked to have seen additional comments on why this level of tumor shrinkage is important to the patient. Tumor shrinkage may be a surrogate outcome that doesn’t translate into a meaningful improvement in a person’s life. Was there an improvement in survival or quality of life? How long were the subjects followed in the studies?
It also included this quote from the executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation: “Drugs such as ipilumumab can seem like breakthroughs to doctors because they help 15% of patients. Patients with a limited time to live may not be so positive.”
Adequate discussion of potential harms from a couple of the drugs. Excerpts:
In a broad overview, the story gave an adequate sense of the state of the evidence. Some newly approved drugs. Another on a fast track to approval. Several other companies working on melanoma therapies. 288 melanoma studies to be discussed at upcoming ASCO meeting, compared with 62 a decade ago.
No disease-mongering in the story.
Adequate sourcing, including important contributions in quotes from the executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation.
The entire story was an overview of competing alternative therapies.
The varying stages of availability of the various drugs was made clear in the story.
The relative novelty of the research was explained in various ways:
“The number of new melanoma therapies is sort of astonishing,” says melanoma researcher Lynn Schuchter, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “The pace is unbelievable.”
…Unlike traditional chemo, which indiscriminately kills growing cells, the new generation of melanoma drugs work in a precise way, based on a better understanding of the specific genes and proteins that drive cancer growth, says Timothy Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation.
“The reason we’re seeing these breakthroughs is because we did the basic science research to help us understand how this cancer happens, how it escapes therapy and how it progresses,” Turnham says.
Many of the new drugs aim to remove melanoma’s “cloaking device,” allowing it to be recognized and killed by the immune system, says Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at the Yale Cancer Center.
Other drugs — such as the two approved Wednesday, trametinib and dabrafenib — target growth signals within cancer cells.”
It’s clear that the story did not rely on a news release.