As we mourn the unofficial end of summer, pigskin fanatics around the country welcome the return of college and professional football. Good luck to your team this year!
A few weeks ago, this blog examined healthcare-related media coverage through a PR lens to determine what, if any news value, the stories possessed. Today, we continue that theme with an encouraging story on a new approach to treat multiple sclerosis (MS).
Earlier this week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published a lengthy story about an early-stage clinical trial underway at three area medical centers where clinicians are injecting MS patients with their own bone marrow stem cells in an effort to treat the disease and minimize symptoms.
Previous research using this approach on mice was extremely positive so a Phase I trial enrolling 24 patients was initiated. Although Phase I studies are primarily focused on safety (and not efficacy), clinicians are encouraged as eight of the patients have already completed the protocol without any safety concerns and with minimal side effects. Just as importantly, doctors report that the treatment appears to be working, offering hope to MS suffers everywhere that a new treatment option may one day be available.
But why is this news?
As a 16-year PR professional, I’ve pitched countless reporters on behalf of clients whose products were in various stages of clinical development and the overwhelming response has consistently been, “call me when you have Phase III results.” And as maddening as it is to hear, it makes sense. After all, Phase III is the final stage before a company submits the data to the FDA and has the biggest patient population so results from a trial of this size are representative of what patients can expect once the product hits the market. In addition, countless drugs and medical devices have shown promise in smaller studies, only to have the results fail to hold up in Phase III.
Further, Cleveland is home to several leading research centers and at any one time, there are likely hundreds of clinical trials underway within their walls. So why did the Plain Dealer devote nearly 1,100 words to this one?
One reason is likely the treatment’s novel mechanism of action. While there are therapeutic options available for managing the symptoms of MS, there is no cure for the condition. MS is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system damages the myelin sheaths that surround and protect nerve cells. However, earlier this year, Cleveland-area scientists discovered that the stem cells not only improved symptoms, but they seemed to promote the repair of the myelin sheaths, making this therapy a potential game changer.
An additional consideration is the public’s fascination with stem cells, which were once thought to be the key in curing a multitude of diseases. Although that presumption was likely wishful thinking, trials such as this one validate the belief held by many in the scientific community that stem cells may one day enable a series of medical breakthroughs.
There can be little doubt that PR folks from around the country will continue to butt heads with reporters in the quest to publicize an early stage clinical trial, but this story demonstrates that those with legitimate news value may get attention. In the meantime, we can all be hopeful that this is an encouraging development for the millions of people affected by MS around the world.
Posted by Jon Siegal on September 7, 2012 at 5:00 PM