Step outside of pandemic coverage and re-introduce yourself to the incredible hype of non-pandemic news.
MIT Technology Review posted this headline:
The article quoted the CEO of the biotech company that conducted the research:
“If this works and is safe, this is the answer to a heart attack – this is the cure,”
Those are some mighty big IFs touted in the first 150 words of the story. Mighty big IFs in one breath to talk about healing and stopping the greatest killer on Earth in the next. Why should there be more caution high up in the story – and throughout the story? Because it’s about the very beginning of a human trial. There are no results yet – on safety or efficacy.
The Boston Globe contained some scientific skepticism in her story. Extract:
Jennifer Doudna, the University of California Berkeley scientist who co-invented CRISPR in 2012, said that while basic editing “works very well in research settings,” and could be fine for disrupting genes, she thinks it doesn’t currently have the required precision. has to correct changes. Basic editors often edit other DNA letters around the single letter you want to edit, she said. “So that means you usually get more edits than you’d like.”
But the hype didn’t just start on the first day the first subject was injected. Two months ago—before the trial even began—Bloomberg Businessweek headlined a story about this study: “Ending Heart Attacks by Editing Human DNA.” With its business focus, the article featured this economic projection:
So far, analysts predict that Verve’s therapy will cost $50,000 to $200,000 per patient. Companies rarely reveal much about prices before their products hit the market, but (the company’s CEO) says the estimated range is “a reasonable starting point.”
And two years ago, the New York Times, which often seems to have a love affair with the drug word, ran an article on this early research, “A Cure for Heart Disease? A single shot hits monkeys.”
Some journalism certainly fuels the flames of potential markets for such a therapy – if it has ever been shown to be a therapy – if it has ever been shown to have any human therapeutic effect.
Just think how many people with heart disease in their family have called their doctors about this hype or hope that is barely on the horizon. I hope for good things for them, but I feel for them as they are led along the boulevard of broken dreams. It doesn’t have to be. Patients should look for journalism that includes:
- stresses the extremely preliminary stage of this research (eg, there is currently no evidence of benefits or safety for humans);
- reminds readers that there is often a leap between laboratory research and animal research and human research;
- Places as much or more emphasis on what is unknown – and where the uncertainties lie – as on projections of healings;
- Provides insight into and sensitivity to the impact of such news stories on people with serious illness.
This is a very important area of research. Good, reproducible findings do not require sensational descriptions; their data tells the story. Such data does not yet exist on this story.