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New York Times warns readers that new flu drug ‘is no miracle cure’

Rating

4 Star

Categories

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F.D.A. Approves New Drug for Flu

Our Review Summary

new flu drugThis story is one of two we are reviewing that focuses on FDA’s approval of a drug designed to speed patient recovery from flu symptoms (the second story is from ABC News). The drug is baloxavir marboxil, marketed under the trade name Xofluza. This New York Times story hits most of the points that we want to see in a story about a new drug.

 

Why This Matters

The criteria that we use at HealthNewsReview.org to review health-related news stories were not developed in a vacuum. Rather, these are the criteria we feel are essential to allow patients and health care providers to make informed decisions about diagnosis and treatment options. While we do ding it on a couple things, the story does not exaggerate the findings, and provides people with the fundamental details they need to be informed patients.

We were especially pleased that this story did not perpetuate misinformation that’s developed around this drug — that is, that it could help reduce transmission of the virus. To date, there is no evidence to show that as a benefit.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story devotes its second paragraph to cost, including how that cost may differ depending on whether patients have insurance. Well done.

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

Not Satisfactory

This is a really close one. The story does a lot of things well here. It notes that, in one trial, there was no difference in the benefits between Xofluza and existing flu treatment drug oseltamivir (better known as Tamiflu). However, it does not actually quantify the benefits associated with Xofluza. Instead, the story states that it “may alleviate some symptoms and shorten the time patients feel sick.”

We approve of the cautious language used throughout the story, but we like to see quantified benefits in instances where the information is available. In this case, an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in September reported that Xofluza reduced the “time to alleviation of symptoms” by a mean of 25-38 hours, compared to placebo (the difference depended on the age group of the patient). Ergo, a not satisfactory rating here.

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

Satisfactory

The story addresses this issue head on, earning it a solid satisfactory rating from us. One point that would have made it even stronger would have been to note that the company selling Xofluza warns that pregnant women and nursing mothers may want to avoid the drug, as it is not known whether the drug may harm the fetus or if it would pass into breastmilk for nursing mothers.

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

Satisfactory

The story does a good job of describing the supporting evidence clearly and concisely.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease mongering here. In fact, the story provides good context on the risks posed by influenza.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story incorporates input from two sources at the FDA, but the information appears to stem from an FDA statement. Information from pharmaceutical companies is clearly marked, but we really look for news stories to incorporate input from independent sources — beyond what may be available in a news release.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story addresses the similarities (and differences) to other drugs that address flu symptoms, particularly oseltamivir (Tamiflu).

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

Satisfactory

The story notes that Xofluza has received FDA approval.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

As noted above, the drugs similarities and differences to existing pharmaceutical treatment options was laid out clearly. The news peg here was FDA’s approval of the drug, which is also made clear.

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

Satisfactory

The work goes well beyond what you would find in any news release. We particularly applaud the story’s discussion of viruses developing resistance to antiviral drugs.

Total Score: 8 of 10 Satisfactory

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