This story from STAT focuses on a new class of drugs called PARP inhibitors that interfere with the repair of DNA in cancer cells that have been damaged by chemotherapy.
While the story suggests these drugs under development will be new weapons for use against the disease, it offers scant real information about the drugs’ successes and what makes them unique and needed compared to the one already-approved PARP inhibitor. It also didn’t discuss costs and side effects–two very vital details for readers.
When several drug companies are racing to develop similar drugs, it’s important to establish the novelty of each: Do we really need more PARP inhibitors beyond the one that’s already approved? If so, why? How will they be different and better? And are those benefit claims true, or is this just a “me-too” attempt to cash in on a hot market? This story didn’t clarify these things for readers.
The story didn’t include costs. While the cost to consumers of the three new drugs may still be a question, the cost of the established drug — Lynparza by AstraZenaca — is well known and can run around $3,000 or more for a bottle of 112 capsules. And readers would benefit if only by knowing if the new drugs would be cheaper or more expensive than current medications.
The story’s description of benefits is uneven. The story touts one drug — niraparib — as being “the clear front-runner” because among BRCA ovarian cancer patients taking it they “got an extra 15 months without their disease getting worse,” compared to a control group. The story also said that Pfizer’s drug — talazoparib — “recently showed similarly compelling results” and that “tumors shrunk on average 78 percent” in a pilot study of breast cancer patients. But an “average” result can mask great variation in response among patients — was this representative of what most patients experienced? The third drug — Clovis Oncology’s rucaparib — “didn’t measure up to the other two trials,” the story said, but the only data provided about it was that its stock price dropped 18 percent after data was released, but the story offered none of that data.
There is no mention in the story about the side effects or harms traceable to either the three new drugs, or to the one approved drug also mentioned for the treatment of ovarian cancer. A quick web search yields a host of possible side effects, including nausea, anemia, fatigue, joint pain and many others. Especially with stories touting potential new drugs, information should be provided about potential harms the medications may present, not just the positive results of taking the drug.
There was a limited amount of actual evidence provided by this story. One drug was said to curb tumor growth for 15 more months than did a placebo in a trial of 553 patients. Another was only explained as showing “similarly compelling results” in a small pilot study of just over a dozen patients, and that was for breast cancer, not ovarian. As for the third new drug, no information was really offered other than to specify that it is intended for a different use and population than are the other two.
With all that being said, we’ll award a satisfactory grade to acknowledge that the story provided an important clarification: For the main study being covered, it noted, “The study did not assess whether the drug helped women live longer, just how long it stopped tumors from growing.” That’s crucial context.
No disease mongering here.
The story includes commentary from a researcher from the National Cancer Institute who has studied the currently available drug, Lynparza. That’s good. However, the story does not adequately disclose the affiliations of an investigator focused on another drug (Dr. Kristeleit) whose consulting and advisory roles with Clovis and several of drug companies were not made clear.
The story does mention that an existing drug of this type, Lynparza, is being used to treat advanced ovarian cancer in women who have undergone chemo. The story attempts to compare the three drugs under development, but we do wish more data and commentary had been included so readers get a better sense of where each drug stands, and what makes them unique (or not).
As said above, Lynparza is approved and already being used. And the information provided on the other three newer drugs makes clear they are in various stages of clinical trials and not yet on the market.
The story doesn’t adequately establish what’s new or different about these drugs compared to the one already approved PARP inhibitor drug–why all these different ones are needed and are being so hotly researched by various drug companies.
There is no indication that this story relied on a news release.