Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Another ASCO embargo break, involving a New England Journal of Medicine editorialist, Tasigna, and Sprycel

with one comment

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal’s Ron Winslow wrote a killer post about a confusing situation involving Novartis, the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting and two papers in The New England Journal of Medicine embargoed until this morning. Ron didn’t mention NEJM, because of the embargo, but those of us who’d been sent embargoed material from the journal earlier this week knew it was the “major medical journal” in the post.

What I knew when I riffed on Ron’s blog, but couldn’t write at the time because of the embargo, was that there had already been a minor embargo break on those papers. On Tuesday morning, during a meeting celebrating the 75th anniversary of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Symposia on Quantitative Biology, CSHL tweeted something speaker Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Charles Sawyers said.

Sawyers told audience members to watch out for two papers in the NEJM about new so-called kinase inhibitors — nilotinib (Tasigna) and dasatinib (Sprycel) that had performed well against Novartis’ Gleevec (imatinib) for chronic myelogenous leukemia. Sawyers had written an editorial accompanying those papers, whose embargo wasn’t scheduled to lift until now — 10:30 a.m. Eastern Saturday, timed to ASCO presentations.

An Embargo Watch tipster sent me a note about the tweet, and as per Embargo Watch practice, I waited a bit to see if CSHL would realize they had a potential break on their hands, and take it down. After a day, they hadn’t, so I contacted NEJM.

The journal called me back fairly quickly, to let me know that after they’d heard from me, they’d contacted Sawyers and CSHL to let them know the tweet was violating an embargo. CSHL ended up taking down the tweet before I had a chance to copy the text. A journal spokesperson also told me the journal was hoping to preserve the embargo, since it would be unfair to ASCO otherwise, and that these were two great papers.

Since only a tipster and me seemed to notice the tweet, this would appear to be a case of no harm, no foul.

Still, it’s important to recall the case of Martin Leon, a prominent cardiologist who was punished by the NEJM in 2007 for “telling colleagues at an American College of Cardiology symposium that a trial comparing medication to stents for the treatment of clogged coronaries ‘was rigged to fail-and it did,'” as I noted in 2007 while at The Scientist magazine. Leon was forbidden from reviewing NEJM studies and contributing editorials or reviews for five years.

There’s no reason to think Sawyers will be subject to the same sanctions, since this break, unlike Leon’s, didn’t lead to any press coverage.

Also worth mentioning: I praised CSHL early last week for what I think is a well-considered policy about tweeting from its meetings. Even a well-considered policy can go a bit awry when a speaker says too much.

Written by Ivan Oransky

June 5, 2010 at 10:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. One other important difference about the Martin Leon embargo break: he gave his talk at an industry-sponsored satellite symposium with the specific purpose of denigrating a still unpresented and unpublished trial that clearly had a message not terribly congenial to industry…

    Larry Husten

    June 5, 2010 at 1:25 pm


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