Out of Order: Good news and good luck

Bad news isn’t inherently bad just because it’s not what we expected or wanted, and it should be allowed to inform our subsequent decisions just as much as the good news. We’re just going to have to learn to discuss it like adults.

Randall C Willis
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My wife refuses to watch the news. Any news. She will notwatch it on TV. She will not radio it free. She will not read even online. Shewill not view it any time.
It's not, you understand, that she would prefer to beignorant. She is one of the smartest people I know. She's just tired of badnews—and that is something of which we never seem to run out. So I have takenit as my responsibility to try to find something good to say about the eveningnews or online papers or whatever source. My inability to provide daily enlightenment,however, sadly proves her point.
Interestingly, the opposite seems to be true these days inthe pharmaceutical market. Don't get me wrong; I have read plenty of storiesabout layoffs and dried-up pipelines, but the early days of summer are a specialtime—a time when good news runs rife through the press releases, a time whenhope is boundless, where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies arenot cloudy all day. The early days of summer start the latest phase ofconference season.
At conferences like those put on by the American Society ofClinical Oncology (ASCO) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA), we learnjust how close the latest drugs are to being launched onto the medicallandscape, how compounds are one or two tests away from proving broad efficacy,how the long-term safety data and post-hoc analyses have borne out the earliercontention of a drug that is safe and well-tolerated.
And I, along with everyone else, applaud the success andeffort that went into realizing these achievements. With news like this, youshould crow. Be proud of yourselves for your achievements. 
At the same time, however, I wonder about what informationis missing.What about the trials that showed drug X was inferior to thecurrent standard of care? Or the diagnostic tests that showed although patientdisease improved on drug Y, it did so at the expense of a diminished quality oflife?
Now don't send out a lynch mob or give Oliver Stone my phonenumber. I am not suggesting that anyone is purposefully hiding negative datathat could endanger patient lives or falsely improve corporate bottom lines. Itis human nature to shout loudly in the face of success and to retrench andrethink in the face of setbacks.
But from a medical and scientific perspective, it is vitallyimportant to know and try to understand all of the data involved in the pursuitof a new drug or therapy. Only hearing about the successes gives us a skewedsense of what is going on and could potentially open us up to running into the sameproblems time and again.
When we're talking about bacteria or cell cultures in Petridishes, this is merely an annoyance and an expense. When we're talking aboutpatient involvement in future clinical trials, then the gravity of the risksamplifies.
I appreciate that to some readers, this position will seemincredibly naïve. In a world of instant investor gratification, even a sniff ofbad news could send a company's stock reeling. I understand the quandary inwhich companies find themselves, but I have to believe there is a way to shareunappetizing results without it being seen as a failure, of the product or thecompany.
It's not as though the information doesn't get out there ofits own accord, whether through conversations over drinks at side-symposia, orthrough former employees discussing projects on which they worked. To get aheadof these conversations by sharing results voluntarily affords companies theopportunity to ensure the information is presented fairly and in context.
Which conversation sounds better?
"Did you hear there were safety issues with candidate B?Apparently, two patients died," or, "The candidate B trial was temporarilyhalted so that we could understand the deaths of two patients in the treatmentarm. Analysis showed, however, that the deaths were not treatment-related."
The same data—but totally different interpretations andoutcomes.
Bad news isn't inherently bad just because it's not what weexpected or wanted, and it should be allowed to inform our subsequent decisionsjust as much as the good news. We're just going to have to learn to discuss itlike adults.
In the meantime, I'll see what I can do about getting mywife to learn about the Ontario budget, fires in North Tonawanda and the latestnonsense from Lindsay Lohan.
Formerly the executive editor of ddn, Willis has workedat both ends of the pharmaceutical industry, from basic research to marketing,and has written about biomedical science for almost two decades.

Randall C Willis

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