HealthDay has already received plenty of stick for its coverage of the HER2-based peptide vaccine AE37 - see the Health News Review. In truth, I thought it was one of the more balanced pieces of journalism that I've seen.
To cut a long story short preliminary data in a study of 217 breast cancer survivors suggest the vaccine triggers an immune response. Immune responses were observed in 86% of women receiving the vaccine compared to 27% in controls.
But until the vaccine is linked to an actual survival benefit or improvement in tumor status, no one can say if it helps breast cancer patients in a meaningful way.
The study is a phase 2 study, meant to evaluate the vaccine's effectiveness and any side effects. Phase 3 studies are needed before the vaccine can be approved.
And attrition rates in the pharmaceutical industry are high - even after successful phase 2 studies there is still less than a 50% chance of making it to market with a safe and effective treatment.
Whether the reported immune response will translate into a meaningful improvement in survival remains to be seen. In their defence, the journalist placed a realistic 5 years on the earliest available treatment if it is approved.
But one of the sensitivities in reporting cancer studies is the hopes and expectations raised in patients. It is difficult to capture the quiet desperation of the recently diagnosed cancer patient.
Don't mess with people's lives.