KSJ Tracker January 9, 2014

What was the price of that drug? And the name?

Sovaldi (sofosbuvir)

[Update 2:01p: CJT, with a hat tip to the Tracker, tweeted that it had added the drug's brand name to its story.]

[Update, 12:12 pm: Richard Knox tweeted, "When 1st piece aired no price set. Always intended a folo."]

On Dec. 5, Richard Knox of NPR reported that the Food and Drug Administration was on the verge of approving a new drug to treat hepatitis C, a leading cause of liver failure and liver cancer. The disease afflicts more than 3 million Americans, and the once-a-day pill can cure most patients, he reported--which makes the new drug a very important one.

Trudy Lieberman, writing in her blog  The Second Opinion at Columbia Journalism Review, was critical of Knox's report. "A flawed Dec. 5 piece by NPR’s Richard Knox...touted the drug as the leading edge of a 'landmark shift' in treatment of hepatitis C but gave short shrift to its startling price tag of nearly $90,000 for a 12-week treatment regimen, or $1,000 per pill," she wrote. 

But she also reports that Knox redeemed himself, in her view, with a follow-up story that "began by posing the question that was relegated to a footnote in the earlier story: 'Who will get access to the new drug for hepatitis C, and when?' Who gets the drug, of course, depends in part on who will pay for it and how much it will cost."

Lieberman goes on to make other observations about how new drug approvals should be covered. I recommend that you read her post.

One small aside: Lieberman uses only the drug's generic name--sofosbuvir--not its brand name, Sovaldi. There seems to be an unwritten law that journalists should not use the brand names of drugs. Perhaps it's because reporters would appear to be promoting a drug if they used its brand name rather than the generic name.

That's a mistake. It might make sense to avoid saying Bayer when you mean aspirin, or Tylenol when you mean acetaminophen, because those come in multiple brands and in generic form. But patients--and even doctors sometimes--tend to know drugs by their brand names, not by their often unpronounceable generic names. (Say Sovaldi five times fast. Now try the same with sofosbuvir.)

If we want readers to recognize that a story they are reading refers to a drug they are taking, we should probably use both generic names and brand names.

-Paul Raeburn

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