Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

A brief embargo break by theheart.org and other weirdness at the American Society of Hypertension meeting

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Sometimes when someone turns over a rock, you find a teeming ecosystem you never imagined existed.

That’s what happened this week when an Embargo Watch tipster forwarded me a tweet that looked to him like an embargo break.

That tweet, by @theheartorg at about 1:15 p.m. Eastern on Monday, May 3, mentioned three late-breaking presentations at the American Society of Hypertension (ASH) meeting underway in New York. (For the uninitiated, late-breaking presentations are ones that weren’t submitted to the conference organizers in time to be formally scheduled. Often they get the most press coverage, perhaps because of journalists’ affinity for the word “breaking.”)

The problem was that all of those presentations were embargoed until midnight that night — 12:01 Eastern time, to be precise. It seemed like another Twitter embargo break.

So I checked with ASH, which had outsourced media relations to Chamberlain PR — in and of itself not unusual. I ended up speaking with Chamberlain’s Katherine Vince about the tweet in question.

By the time I spoke to Katherine, the tweet had been “edited,” meaning it had been deleted and replaced with this one. The original tweet contained a reference to 10% weight drop seen in one trial of Qnexa, made by Vivus. They edited tweet didn’t have that reference, but was otherwise the same.

Katherine told me she had spoken with Vivus, and that while the general thrust of the trial had been publicly available, the 10% hadn’t, so she asked @theheart.org to edit the tweet. The new version went out at 1:27 p.m. Eastern.

(Here’s theheart.org’s story on Qnexa, and here’s Reuters’, both posted after the embargo lifted.)

The checking with the company bit suggested there was more to this story than I thought. I wanted to see just what reporters had access to that would have led to this embargo break, so I asked Katherine for copies of the releases. She wrote:

Actually, we don’t have electronic copies of the Late Breaker releases. (ASH did not draft them, they are being provided by the study authors/sponsors).

I then had a confusing and bizarre exchange with a representative of yet another PR firm, GolinHarris’ Jaimee Lumm, representing Takeda, which had sponsored one of the other late-breakers, on azilsartan. First Jaimee said she would be happy to provide me with the still-embargoed press release on one trial. I said I’d be happy to accept the terms of the embargo.

But then she told me Katherine would actually be sending me the release. In response, Katherine repeated what she had told me before, which was that she didn’t actually have it. When I pressed Jaimee, she said she could in fact send it to me, but only after the embargo lifted, and that her “hands were tied in the meantime.” I asked why she couldn’t send it, but she didn’t respond.

After all of that, Katherine continued her consistent attempts to be helpful, and sent me the media advisory that went out before the late-breaking sessions, which gave me enough to know what @theheart.org knew and when they knew it. Basically, the edited tweet contained material in the media advisory — which I suppose wasn’t really embargoed, just like ASCO’s last week — but the 10% came from the still-embargoed presentation.

(Here’s Reuters’ story on azilsartan, postead after the embargo lifted.)

I’m relating this episode in somewhat painstaking detail because I think there’s a nugget here about who controls press releases, and what happens when there are a lot of cooks — with a lot of different interests — in the kitchen.

And lest you think I’m grasping at straws, I think the punchline of the late-breaking snafu suggests I’m onto something. It turns out that the third of the late-breakers, about the Rheos blood-pressure lowering device, was pulled at the last minute, news @theheartorg also tweeted, even after the incoming president of the ASH presented the results under embargo.

The incoming president, George Bakris, told theheart.org yesterday:

“I can’t talk about it. They [the company] are going to put out a statement, probably tomorrow or Friday; read between the lines.”

It’s all enough to raise your blood pressure.

Update, 11:30 a.m. Eastern, 5/9/10: MedPage Today’s Todd Neale had an update on the Rheos story on Friday. In a nutshell:

A call to [the device’s manufacturer] CVRx revealed that the data monitoring committee, in a review of the data collected so far, determined that the study was unlikely to meet its primary efficacy endpoint.

Give Todd’s post a read for more details.

Written by Ivan Oransky

May 5, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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One Response

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  1. You wrote: “I’m relating this episode in somewhat painstaking detail because I think there’s a nugget here about who controls press releases, and what happens when there are a lot of cooks — with a lot of different interests — in the kitchen.”

    That’s why we refuse to do joint news releases with other institutions — ultimately, nobody is in charge and nothing is really agreed on!

    Earle Holland

    May 18, 2010 at 5:02 pm


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