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Reuters story on kidney cancer drug makes us ask: How is this journalism?

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1 Star

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Merck KGaA, Pfizer's immuno-drug shown to alleviate kidney cancer

Our Review Summary

This story briefly reports on an announcement from a drug company that an ongoing study shows longer progression-free survival of patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma if those patients are receiving a combination of two drugs: avelumab (sold under the trade name Bavencio) and axitinib (sold under the trade name Inlyta).

The story is focused on investors and meant to deliver a quick update on market-moving news. Yet the story will also show up in the searches of many patients who suffer from kidney cancer and can be misled by such one-sided coverage.

Primarily because the story takes the company’s word for the announced benefit without evaluating the claims and fails to address cost or side effects in any way, despite the fact that both drugs are already on the market.

 

Why This Matters

This story fails to provide important contextual information related to the relevant product’s cost, safety and availability. This story is, essentially, a news release. That does a disservice to the story’s readers and to the newsroom it came from.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Cost is not addressed, which is unacceptable given that both drugs are already on the market. And the costs here are significant. Ten milliliters of Bavencio can cost more than $1,600. The cost of 180 one-milligram tablets of Inlyta can be more than $15,000. (What were the dosages used in this study? The story doesn’t tell us.)

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

Not Satisfactory

The story makes clear to readers that it has no idea about the extent of the benefits: “While the company said the benefit was statistically significant, they did not specify the duration of progression-free survival.” We’re glad that the story makes its ignorance clear, but it raises the very serious question of why they would cover a story about which so little information is available.

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

Not Satisfactory

Potential harms aren’t addressed. Again, this is unacceptable given that both drugs are already on the market. And these problems can be significant. The potential side effects associated with Bavencio include lung, liver and kidney problems. Potential side effects associated with Inlyta include heart failure and serious or fatal bleeding.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story notes that the ongoing study involves patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma, and that the study includes a control group that is receiving a drug called Sutent. It doesn’t tell readers how many patients are enrolled in the study or, well, anything else.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease mongering here.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does make clear that the information about the ongoing study came from a company that makes one of the relevant drugs. That’s good. However, the story does not incorporate input from any independent sources.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story states that a control group in the study is receiving treatment with a drug called Sutent, and that patients receiving that drug are not faring as well as patients who receive both Bavencio and Inlyta. However, the story doesn’t address whether any patients were receiving both Bavencio and Sutent, nor does it address any other potential treatments for advanced renal cell carcinoma. Are there even other treatment options available? The story doesn’t say.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not make clear that Bavencio and Inlyta are already on the market, much less that Bavencio’s current use is for treatment of a skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story provides no context for the research. Are there limited treatment options for advanced renal cell carcinoma? Is the joint use of immunotherapy treatments and anti-cancer drugs a busy area of research? How is this work similar to or different from earlier research? The story addresses none of those questions.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story appears to be drawn entirely from a news release issued by Merck KGaA, the company that makes Bavencio. Of course, it could also have stemmed from a news release issued by Pfizer, the company that makes Inlyta. Given that the story attributes the information solely to Merck makes its release the likely source.

Ultimately, it makes little difference: No reporting appears to have gone into the story.

Total Score: 1 of 10 Satisfactory

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