Health & healthcare /2

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“Big Data” study discovers earliest sign of Alzheimer’s development
Scientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital have used a powerful tool to better understand the progression of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD), identifying its first physiological signs.
Led by Dr. Alan Evans, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery and biomedical engineering at the Neuro, the researchers analyzed more than 7,700 brain images from 1,171 people in various stages of Alzheimer’s progression using a variety of techniques including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET). Blood and cerebrospinal fluid were also analyzed, as well as the subjects’ level of cognition.
The researchers found that, contrary to previous understanding, the first physiological sign of Alzheimer’s disease is a decrease in blood flow in the brain. An increase in amyloid protein was considered to be the first detectable sign of Alzheimer’s. While amyloid certainly plays a role, this study finds that changes in blood flow are the earliest known warning sign of Alzheimer’s. The study also found that changes in cognition begin earlier in the progression than previously believed. (Montreal Neuro News July 2016)

How North America Found Itself in the Grips of an Opioid Crisis
From pharmaceutical deception to prohibition without rehabilitation, we look at the mistakes that got us here.
(Vice) The story of today’s prescription opioid overdose crisis didn’t start this year, or 10 years ago, or even 100 years ago. It starts with a plant—the opium poppy—that has been a part of human civilization for thousands of years. (31 October 2016)

28 July
Joe Schwarcz: A cure for Alzheimer’s? Don’t believe it
Here is what we know about Alzheimer’s disease. It is age related. Its incidence is increasing. It is characterized by deposits of a protein called amyloid between nerve cells, unusual protein tangles within nerve cells, and fewer connections, known as synapses, between nerve cells. The rate of the disease varies around the world. Drugs have a minimal effect on the progress of the disease, but the drugs that have some efficacy are thought to function either by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, or blocking the effects of the excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate. Alzheimer’s disease is not curable and its cause is unknown.
A number of studies have been carried out on Alzheimer’s patients with Souvenaid using standardized assessment scales. The results are disappointing. There is no evidence of decreasing the rate of cognitive decline or delaying the progression of the disease in any way, but one of the studies offered a slight glimmer of hope. In patients experiencing early Alzheimer’s disease, who are not yet taking medication, there was an improvement in verbal recall. That isn’t much to hang a hat on, but this is the type of “evidence” that Rothfeld has seized to create his ICT protocol. He throws in some medium chain triglycerides, likely from coconut oil, that have some anecdotal evidence for improving some Alzheimer’s symptoms, but there are no compelling studies to back up the claims. Basically, the contention that the ICT protocol, whatever it may be, can reverse Alzheimer’s disease is bogus.

12 July
In a medical milestone, a gene-altering leukemia therapy got a unanimous vote of confidence from an F.D.A. panel. The treatment alters a patient’s own cells to fight leukemia, transforming them into what scientists call “a living drug.”The F.D.A. is likely to accept the recommendation, which would make the treatment the first gene therapy ever to reach the market. It was developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and licensed to Novartis.

2 June
(The Atlantic Daily) Bitter Pills: As America’s opioid crisis continues, several recent lawsuits are seeking to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the damage, arguing that Big Pharma’s marketing practices and other activities misled doctors into overprescribing the dangerous drugs. Similar claims against tobacco companies set precedent for these suits, but plaintiffs face an obstacle in the fact that addicted users often don’t use pills the way they’re supposed to. Another part of the problem can be traced to a five-sentence letter to the editor published in a leading medical journal in 1980. The letter didn’t prove that opioids are safe, but it’s often been cited as though it did—so many times that the journal is now publishing a new study to correct it.  Opioid crisis: The letter that started it all — Canadian researchers have traced the origins of the opioid crisis to one letter published almost 40 years ago.

29 May
Drug Lobbyists’ Battle Cry Over Prices: Blame the Others
(NYT) A civil war has broken out among the most powerful players in the pharmaceutical industry — including brand-name and generic drug makers, and even your local pharmacists — with each blaming others for the rising price of medicine.
In polls, Democrats and Republicans alike have lowering drug prices near the top of their health care priorities. Public anger has risen along with the skyrocketing prices for many essential medicines — insulin for diabetes, for example, and EpiPens for severe allergic reactions. But will efforts to reduce drug costs surmount the industry’s aggressive lobbying and campaign contributions?
Treating autism: New hope from an old drug
(The Economist) On Friday researchers published a paper suggesting that suramin, a 100-year-old drug used to treat sleeping sickness, could alleviate the symptoms of autism. Boys suffering from autism saw dramatic improvements in their condition after being given the drug. Long-term trials are needed to see if the benefits can be sustained. If they can, a powerful treatment for autism may have been hiding in plain sight for decades

27 May
What science says about the risks of energy drinks
(CBC Radio Quirks & Quarks) Health Canada advises that kids shouldn’t consume more than 2.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. And for an average 60 kilogram teenager, that amounts to about 150 milligrams a day, which is less than what you’d typically find in one energy drink. It does say right on the label, “Not recommended for children.” And yet anyone, of any age, can walk into a corner store and purchase these energy boosters.

23 May
Alain Dubuc : Bienvenue en Absurdistan
(La Presse) l’Hôpital général juif, en faisant quelque chose qu’aucun autre hôpital ne faisait, confier à un médecin la responsabilité du triage, a réussi à réduire considérablement le temps d’attente pour voir un médecin aux urgences et à y réduire la durée des séjours.
Le problème, c’est que l’hôpital, en raison de ses temps d’attente courts, est devenu populaire. On s’est passé le mot : plein de gens l’ont choisi parce qu’on y attend moins longtemps qu’ailleurs, tant et si bien qu’il y a beaucoup plus de gens dans ses urgences, de 250 à 300 par jour, dont la moitié ne provient pas de son bassin naturel de desserte.
… En principe, avoir du succès, être populaire, attirer plus de clients, c’est une bonne chose. Ce l’est même dans le monde de la santé, du moins dans la plupart des pays industrialisés.
Mais pas au Québec où, pour reprendre le jargon du milieu, l’argent ne suit pas le patient. … Le gouvernement ne finance pas l’hôpital en fonction du nombre d’actes qu’on y pose ou du nombre de patients qu’il reçoit. Le financement est établi sur une base historique, selon la taille, le nombre de lits, avec des mécanismes d’indexation annuels.

20 May
(Quartz) A global shortage of an old drug is causing new superbugs. Penicillin was a miracle drug that ushered in modern medicine. But Big Pharma stopped making it because it stopped being profitable. Keila Guimarães tracks how a scarcity of the drug is now causing treatable diseases like syphilis to wreck havoc all over the world—and new antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop and spread rapidly.

19 May
(Quartz) G20 health ministers gather in Berlin. In their first such meeting, they’ll discuss epidemic response and antimicrobial resistance, among other topics. Germany, hosting a range of G20 events this year, made a point of adding health issues to an agenda typically dominated by finance and economics.

12 May
Global Threats: An estimated 74 countries were struck today by a wave of cyberattacks that demanded ransom in exchange for access to the affected computer systems. Hospitals are particularly vulnerable to this type of attack, and Britain’s National Health Service was one of the major targets. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, health workers are trying to contain a new outbreak of Ebola. But in better news, Brazil announced that its public-health emergency over the Zika virus has ended.

16 April
Star Trek’s Tricorder Now Officially Exists Thanks To A Global Competition
Star Trek’s all-purpose medical device, the Tricorder, has also inspired a fair few people to recreate its near-magical ability to instantly diagnose a patient. As it happens, the non-profit X-Prize Foundation were so keen to get one invented that they started a global competition to see if any mavericks would succeed.
Rather remarkably, one team has emerged victorious in their endeavor. A family-led team from Pennsylvania, appropriately named Final Frontier Medical Devices, have bagged themselves a sum of $2.5 million, with a second-place prize of $1 million going to the Taiwan-based Dynamical Biomarkers Group.
The objective of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition was to create a lightweight, non-invasive, handheld device that can identify 13 health conditions (12 diseases, and the very absence of disease) in 90 minutes to 24 hours with no additional help or counsel from medical professionals. Five vital health metrics, like heartbeat and respiratory function, were also required to be constantly monitored.

14 April
Doctors have decades of experience fighting “fake news.” Here’s how they win.
Some lessons from the health community’s long battle with misinformation.
(Vox) For many health researchers and doctors, “fake news” and misinformation are nothing new. And over the past 30 years, mostly under a movement called “evidence-based medicine,” they’ve come with up with tools and techniques to fight back against bunk. They’ve also learned hard lessons on what doesn’t work when it comes to using facts to change people’s minds and behaviors.
Lesson 1: Take time to explain why you believe something — not just what you believe and why your opponent is wrong
Lesson 2: Make sure your information is reliable and easy to access
Lesson 3: Teach them while they’re young
Lesson 4: Evidence is necessary but not sufficient – public health experts needed to meet people where they are and better connect to their contexts.
Lesson 5: Don’t be afraid to hold misinformation peddlers to account

6 April
Childhood Antibiotic Use Could Lead To Autoimmune Disease In Adulthood
(HuffPost) Disrupting the early development of a healthy gut microbiome can do serious long-term damage, a study finds.
For the gut in particular ― which is home to trillions of bacteria that play a crucial role in our physical and mental health ― antibiotics can cause serious damage. The healthy bacteria inhabiting the digestive tract are critical for maintaining the health of the digestive system, brain and immune system in particular, along with numerous other systems in the body. One single course of antibiotics can indiscriminately kill off hundreds of important strains of healthy bacteria alongside the bad bacteria it aims to target.
Now, a Monash University study involving mice, published in the April issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, finds that childhood antibiotic use impedes the normal growth and development of gut bacteria. This, in turn, affects the function of the immune system ― around 70 percent of which is contained in the gut.
This can lead to inflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel syndrome and asthma in adulthood, the research found.

30 March
Nightly Business Report: could flashing lights treat Alzheimer’s? A look at some radical ideas to tackle one of medicine’s biggest challenges. (video)
Unique visual stimulation may be new treatment for Alzheimer’s
Noninvasive technique reduces beta amyloid plaques in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease.
(MIT News) Using LED lights flickering at a specific frequency, MIT researchers have shown that they can substantially reduce the beta amyloid plaques seen in Alzheimer’s disease, in the visual cortex of mice.
This treatment appears to work by inducing brain waves known as gamma oscillations, which the researchers discovered help the brain suppress beta amyloid production and invigorate cells responsible for destroying the plaques.

28 March
Trump wants to cut $1.2 billion from medical research ASAP. That’s only the beginning.
The cuts come amid proposed increases in defense spending.
(VOX) President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint for 2018 proposed a series of devastating cuts to health research funding and public health programs.
But it seems that assault on medical science and health could be starting much sooner.
According to media reports out today, the Trump White House is proposing to slash $1.2 billion from research grants at the National Institutes of Health and other health and education programs this year.
The $18 billion in total cuts from discretionary spending bills is reportedly offsetting the $30 billion in supplementary increases in defense spending and spending on the border wall with Mexico. (Though it’s not entirely clear that the wall will be part of the supplemental defense budget.)

23 March
DNA typos to blame for most cancer mutations
Environment and heredity might not contribute as much to cancer risk as researchers thought.
(Nature) Nearly two-thirds of the mutations that drive cancers are caused by errors that occur when cells copy DNA, mathematical models suggest.
The findings, published in Science on 23 March1, are the latest argument in a long-running debate over how much the environment or intrinsic factors contribute to cancer. They also suggest that many cancer mutations are not inherited and could not have been prevented by, for example, making different lifestyle choices. It’s a finding that could change how researchers wage the “war on cancer”, says study co-author Bert Vogelstein, a geneticist at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
Researchers have tended to emphasize the role of environmental factors in generating cancer mutations, he says. “If we think of the mutations as the enemies, and all the enemies are outside of our border, it’s obvious how to keep them from getting inside,” Vogelstein explains. “But if a lot of the enemies — in this case close to two-thirds — are actually inside our borders, it means we need a completely different strategy.”
That strategy would emphasize early detection and treatment, in addition to prevention, he says.
Bad code
Each time a cell divides, it provides an opportunity for errors to crop up during DNA replication. In 2015, Vogelstein and one of his co-authors, mathematician Cristian Tomasetti of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, created a stir with an analysis that looked at possible explanations for why some cancers occur more often than others. They concluded that differences in the number of stem-cell divisions in an organ correlated with the frequency of cancers in that area. There aren’t as many stem cell divisions in areas with less common cancers, including in the brain, than in sites with more common cancers such as colorectal cancer.

9 March
Researchers shift focus to prevention of Alzheimer’s
(Globe & Mail) While there are currently medications available that can help ease symptoms, such as improving memory and reducing apathy, none of them halts or reverses the damage dementia causes to the brain. There hasn’t been a new drug since 2003. …
Until recently, [Toronto behavioural neurologist Dr. Sharon] Cohen explains, experts focused on the sloping tail end of the disease; the final, roughly 10-year-period known as the dementia phase, when cognitive function plummets. But they now know Alzheimer’s starts at least two decades earlier and involves two other phases: an initial preclinical phase, during which amyloid is building up in the brain even though the patient may show no outward signs, and a mild cognitive impairment phase, during which the patient can still live independently but notices subtle problems with memory, attention or problem solving.
Dr. Cohen believes anti-amyloid drug trials have failed not because the compounds don’t work, but because they’ve likely been given to patients too late. Giving anti-amyloid treatments to patients in the dementia phase of Alzheimer’s is akin to trying to treat widely metastatic cancer, she explains. At that point, the brain is already so severely damaged, it’s no wonder the drugs have shown little benefit.

4 March
Trump has set the US up to botch a global health crisis

2 March
U of T scientist wins top prize in brain research
(RCI) The University of Toronto chair of physiology Graham Collingridge has won what is touted as “the Nobel Prize of Neuroscience” for his work on memory. The one-million-Euro ($1.46 million Cdn) prize was awarded by the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation in Denmark and will be shared between him, Tim Bliss (England) and Richard Morris (Scotland).
Their work has “revolutionized the approach to understanding how memories are formed, retained and lost,” says the university’s news release. Collingridge focused on a brain mechanism known as long-term potentiation (LTP) that is the foundation of brain plasticity
More from RCI Talking about Alzheimer: news and reports from RCI

12 January
Putting an anti-vaxxer in charge: Trump’s latest delusions
(Globe & Mail) U.S. president-elect Donald Trump ha[s] asked Mr. Kennedy to chair a commission on “vaccine safety and scientific integrity.” Those were the words of Mr. Kennedy . … Few think Mr. Kennedy was lying about what he was asked to do, and fewer yet believe the matter has been laid to rest. The scion of the famed Kennedy clan could well end up heading such a body and that should scare the daylights out of American parents everywhere. The fact is, people have read the science around vaccines and their purported link to autism and it is clear: there isn’t one. … In 2014, he spoke at an autism conference in Chicago where he compared a respected vaccine advocate to a Nazi concentration camp guard.
Later, he suggested drug companies could put anything they wanted in vaccines with no accountability. He said children get a shot, see their temperature rise to 103 F, go to sleep “and three months later their brain is gone … this is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.” …
Mr. Trump is also a faithful proponent of the notion that combined vaccinations, instead of being celebrated for the millions of lives they have saved over the years, should be restricted because they cause brain disorders.

11 January
Big Pharma Lost $24.6 Billion in 20 Minutes During Donald Trump’s Press Conference
(Fortune) Pharmaceutical companies are “getting away with murder,” President-elect Donald Trump said during his Wednesday press conference — and the sector didn’t get away unscathed.
After Trump mentioned drug prices and pharmaceutical companies’ tax inversions, the nine biggest pharmaceutical companies by market cap on the S&P 500 shed roughly $24.6 billion in 20 minutes. That includes the market caps of Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, Merck, Amgen, AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead, Celgene, and Eli Lilly.

2016

16 December
Mylan launches EpiPen generic at $300 per two-pack
(Reuters) Mylan NV, which has come under fire for its drug pricing, said on Friday it would start selling a generic version of its life-saving EpiPen allergy treatment for $300 per two-pack, a more than 50 percent discount.
The company has been under investigation by the U.S. government, and its chief executive was called before Congress to testify on raising the price of a pair of EpiPens to more than $600 from $100 in 2008.
Mylan, which first announced it would launch the generic version of its allergy auto-injector EpiPen for $300 in August, said the authorized generic would be available in pharmacies starting next week.

10 December
Here’s How America Should Actually Be Treating People with Dementia
Millions of people in the U.S. have a form of dementia, and that number is increasing rapidly. And that means more Americans will need facilities to care for them.
The Netherlands has a program that could provide a model for care: a dementia village.
A dementia village, simply put, is a small town dedicated to the treatment of the dementia patients who live there. Other people in the village — the barber, the chef in the restaurant — are trained in specialized health care. Everything in the village is designed to ensure the safety of the inhabitants and to preserve their dignity and humane treatment.
The first dementia village started in the Amsterdam area in 2009 after two Dutch nurses decided they did not want to put their aging parents in extended care facilities, according to CNN. They built a community called Hogeway exclusively for people with severe dementia, which now houses about 160 such people.
Inhabitants can wander around at will: There’s only one way in and out, and it’s secured 24 hours a day. Residents are free to perform everyday tasks: grocery shopping, getting a haircut. They are continually supervised. Music and singing are encouraged (it has a calming effect).

7 December
Bad Medicine, Part 2: (Drug) Trials and Tribulations
(Freakonomics) How do so many ineffective and even dangerous drugs make it to market? One reason is that clinical trials are often run on “dream patients” who aren’t representative of a larger population. On the other hand, sometimes the only thing worse than being excluded from a drug trial is being included. See also Bad Medicine, Part 1: The Story of 98.6
Strobe lighting provides a flicker of hope in the fight against Alzheimer’s
Exposure to flashing lights stimulates brain’s immune cells to clean up toxic proteins causing the disease, study finds
(The Guardian) Strobe lighting has been shown to reduce levels of the toxic proteins seen in Alzheimer’s disease, in findings that raise the tantalising possibility of future non-invasive treatments for the disease.
The study, in mice, found that exposure to flickering light stimulated brain waves, called gamma oscillations, that are known to be disturbed in Alzheimer’s patients. Boosting this synchronous brain activity appeared to act as a cue for the brain’s immune cells, prompting them to absorb the sticky amyloid proteins that are the most visible hallmarks of the disease in the brain’s of people with Alzheimer’s.
The authors caution that a “big if” remains over whether the findings would be replicated in humans – and whether cognitive deficits as well as visible symptoms of the disease would be improved.
The study, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, hinges on the observation that Alzheimer’s patients show a loss of synchronised brain activity, known as gamma oscillations, which is linked to attention and memory.

6 December
Morneau defends tax change that has doctors threatening to leave Canada
(Globe & Mail) Finance Minister Bill Morneau is defending a $70-million tax change that has infuriated Canada’s medical community, saying it is simply aimed at clearing up the tax rules for all professionals who run a small business.
Senators grilled the minister Tuesday as he appeared before the Senate national finance committee to defend his latest budget bill, C-29.
Mr. Morneau was asked to address concerns raised by physician organizations about a tax change that would limit how professionals working in a grouped corporate structure can access the small-business tax deduction.
André Picard: Some doctors have tax complaint – but they’re off-base Senator Picard clarifies what is at issue and that it affects a relatively small number of high-income doctors.

23 November
Lilly’s Alzheimer’s Disease Drug Fails in Final-Stage Trial
(Bloomberg) Eli Lilly & Co.’s experimental Alzheimer’s treatment failed to slow the progression of the neurodegenerative disease, another setback for drugmakers and researchers trying to develop treatments for one of the world’s most feared ailments.
Patients given solanezumab didn’t show a meaningful slowing of cognitive decline compared with those who got a placebo, Lilly said in a statement Wednesday. The drugmaker said it wouldn’t file for regulatory approval of the medicine and hasn’t decided what steps it will take next for trials that are still underway.
The results “were not what we had hoped for and we are disappointed for the millions of people waiting for a potential disease-modifying treatment,” John Lechleiter, Lilly’s outgoing CEO, said in the statement. “We will evaluate the impact of these results on the development plans for solanezumab and our other Alzheimer’s pipeline assets.”

22 November
Working to solve Alzheimer’s disease
(Nightly Business Report) Many drug companies have shied away from Alzheimer’s in recent years because of the sheer number of failures. Between 2002 and 2012, 244 drugs were tested for Alzheimer’s. One was approved — Allergan’s Namenda which works on the symptoms disease.
A key question surrounding Alzheimer’s drug development is whether scientists have even been targeting the right thing. The most advanced efforts now subscribe to what’s known as the amyloid hypothesis, the idea that amyloid plaques in the brain are not just a hallmark of the disease but are causative of its degenerative effects.
That’s the strategy Eli Lilly is pursuing in its most advanced programs, with results expected imminently.
DAVID RICKS, INCOMING ELI LILLY CEO: And right now, there currently is no clear evidence that we reduce amyloid, we get a reduction or slowing in Alzheimer’s. This would be the first study to show that.
TIRRELL: Some say there have been so many failures targeting amyloid, that researchers should turn their focus elsewhere.
Dave Ricks, incoming CEO at Lilly, says the company’s trial will give the whole field important information about Alzheimer’s. Even if the drug fails to work.
RICKS: If we miss that shot and there’s no difference between placebo and — that would be very surprising. But I think really challenge the assumptions around the amyloid hypothesis and we would have to step back again.

16 November
theranos-elizabeth-holmes-02Theranos Whistleblower Shook the Company—And His Family
(WSJ) Tyler Shultz is cooperating with an investigation of Theranos by federal prosecutors, according to people familiar with the matter. Theranos is the subject of criminal and civil investigations by the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which are trying to determine if the company misled investors and regulators about its technology and operations. Theranos has said it is cooperating.
Mr. Shultz’s allegations that Theranos’s proprietary Edison machines frequently failed quality-control checks and produced widely varying results were corroborated in inspection results released in March by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In April, Theranos told regulators it had voided all test results from Edison machines for 2014 and 2015, as well as some other tests it ran on conventional machines.
Explosive New Details Emerge in $140 Million Lawsuit Against Theranos
(Vanity Fair) More than 1 in 10 test results were allegedly voided. And George P. Shultz’s grandson blew the whistle on the company!
See Vanity Fair Exclusive 6 September 2016:
How Elizabeth Holmes’s House of Cards Came Tumbling Down
In a searing investigation into the once lauded biotech start-up Theranos, Nick Bilton discovers that its precocious founder defied medical experts—even her own chief scientist—about the veracity of its now discredited blood-testing technology. She built a corporation based on secrecy in the hope that she could still pull it off. Then, it all fell apart.

5 November
Pharmaceutical industry gets high on fat profits
(BBC) Imagine an industry that generates higher profit margins than any other and is no stranger to multi-billion dollar fines for malpractice.
Throw in widespread accusations of collusion and over-charging, and banking no doubt springs to mind.
In fact, the industry described above is responsible for the development of medicines to save lives and alleviate suffering, not the generation of profit for its own sake.
Pharmaceutical companies have developed the vast majority of medicines known to humankind, but they have profited handsomely from doing so, and not always by legitimate means.

2 November
Alzheimer’s treatment within reach after successful drug trial
Tablet that ‘switches off’ production of toxic amyloid proteins could be first treatment licensed in a decade if it is also shown to slow mental decline
(The Guardian) An Alzheimer’s drug has been shown to successfully target the most visible sign of the disease in the brain, raising hopes that an effective treatment could be finally within reach.
A small trial of the drug was primarily aimed at assessing safety, but the findings suggest it effectively “switched off” the production of toxic amyloid proteins that lead to the sticky plaques seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
If the tablet, produced by pharmaceutical giant Merck, is also shown to slow the pace of mental decline – a crucial question that a major clinical trial should answer when it reports next year – it could be the first treatment for Alzheimer’s to be licensed in more than a decade.
Matt Kennedy, who led the trial at Merck, said: “Today there are very limited therapeutic options available for people with Alzheimer’s disease, and those that exist provide only short-term improvement to the cognitive and functional symptoms. They do not directly target the underlying disease processes.”
The new therapy is designed to do this by halting the steady production of amyloid-beta proteins, which are known to clump together in sticky plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. A leading theory of Alzheimer’s is that the accumulating proteins kill off healthy neurons, eventually leading to memory loss, cognitive decline and changes to personality.
A decade of deadlock over Alzheimer’s treatment may be drawing to a close
The next phase of trials for a new Alzheimer’s drug will answer the real question: are brain plaques the root cause of the disease, or just a symptom?
Unlike patients with heart disease, cancer or diabetes, there is no well-trodden medical track to follow and no treatments that can slow the disease’s devastating progress.
Between 2002 and 2012, 99.6% of drugs studies aimed at preventing, curing or improving Alzheimer’s symptoms were either halted or discontinued. The consistent failure of trials, at vast financial cost to drugs companies, caused many to shut down dementia programmes as a result.
The latest trial results from Merck, together with other drugs in the final stage of development, provide hope that the years of deadlock may be drawing to a close.

1 October
Robin Williams’ Widow Writes A Devastating Account Of His Final Year
The actor suffered from Lewy body disease.
(HuffPost) An autopsy revealed that Robin Williams had Lewy body disease, an umbrella term used to describe both Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. In a letter this week addressed to neurologists, Susan described the “terrorist” who lived inside her husband’s brain and caused him to forget his movie lines, plagued him with delusions and paranoia, and engulfed him in fear, anxiety and depression.
Her account of his medical journey illustrates just how difficult it is for a typical Lewy body disease patient to get properly diagnosed, how prescribed medicines for misdiagnosed conditions may have exacerbated his symptoms, and how patients who are properly diagnosed have no cure for their disease.

17 September
Global fund raises $12.9 billion to fight AIDS, TB and malaria
(Reuters) A global fund has raised over $12.9 billion from international donors as part of a campaign aimed at effectively eradicating AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis by 2030, conference organizers said on Saturday.
The Global Fund asked government, faith-based and private-sector partners to raise a total of $13 billion at a donor conference in Montreal to support its activities over the next three years, starting in 2017.
“We can declare success for we have saved the lives of 8 million people in the coming years,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters after attending the conference, which drew several heads of state, singer Bono and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates.
The Global Fund, the world’s largest aimed at fighting the three diseases, is credited with saving 20 million lives since it was established in 2002.
The three diseases targeted by the fund are believed to kill more than 8,000 people a day.
5 September
Toxic air pollution particles found in human brains
Detection of ‘abundant’ magnetite particles raises concerns because of suggested links to Alzheimer’s disease
(The Guardian) Toxic nanoparticles from air pollution have been discovered in human brains in “abundant” quantities, a newly published study reveals.
The detection of the particles, in brain tissue from 37 people, raises concerns because recent research has suggested links between these magnetite particles and Alzheimer’s disease, while air pollution has been shown to significantly increase the risk of the disease. However, the new work is still a long way from proving that the air pollution particles cause or exacerbate Alzheimer’s.
“This is a discovery finding, and now what should start is a whole new examination of this as a potentially very important environmental risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Prof Barbara Maher, at Lancaster University, who led the new research. “Now there is a reason to go on and do the epidemiology and the toxicity testing, because these particles are so prolific and people are exposed to them.”
“Magnetite in the brain is not something you want to have because it is particularly toxic there,” she said, explaining that the substance can create reactive oxygen species called free radicals. “Oxidative cell damage is one of the hallmark features of Alzheimer’s disease, and this is why the presence of magnetite is so potentially significant, because it is so bioreactive.”
31 August
Trial shows tantalising signs that new Alzheimer’s drug could benefit early-stage patients
Injections of the antibody aducanumab appear to slow condition in patients at earliest stages of disease, raising hopes for treatment
(The Guardian) A trial of a new Alzheimer’s drug has shown it could benefit patients in the earliest stages of the disease, raising hopes that a treatment for the devastating condition may finally be on the horizon.
While the trial was designed to assess the safety of the treatment and not whether patients fared better on the drug, an “exploratory analysis” of the data revealed that the treatment appeared to slow the mental decline of patients who responded to the therapy.
The small study of only 165 people with mild symptoms of the disorder found that a dozen monthly injections of the antibody aducanumab removed clumps of protein that build up in the Alzheimer’s brain.
29 August
Singapore scrambles to contain Zika but warns of more cases to come
(CNBC) All 56 people either lived or worked in the Aljunied Crescent or Sims Drive area of Singapore and had no record of traveling to Zika-affected regions recently, according to a release by the Ministry of Health. Of the 41 people confirmed on Sunday as infected with Zika, 34 have already fully recovered.
EpiPen maker to launch cheaper, generic version in U.S.
Generic EpiPen to cost $300 US vs branded price of about $600 US
(CBC) EpiPens are used in emergencies to treat severe allergies to insect bites and foods like nuts and eggs that can lead to anaphylactic shock. People usually keep a number of EpiPens handy at home, school or work. The syringes, prefilled with the hormone epinephrine, expire after a year.
Consumers and politicians have accused the company of price-gouging, since the list price for a pair of EpiPens has climbed repeatedly from around $94 in 2007, when Mylan acquired the product.
27 August
EpiPenMylan CEO sold $5m worth of stock while EpiPen price drew scrutiny
(The Guardian) Early in June, Wells Fargo analyst David Maris put together a report detailing that since the beginning of this year, Mylan raised the prices of seven of its products by 100% or more and 24 products by 20% or more. At the time, Devlin called the report “flawed”.
The report came months after Marti Shkreli, former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, increased prices of HIV medicine Daraprim 5,000%. In his attempts to defend the decision, Shkreli become notorious and was even summoned before the US Congress to justify the price hike.
As a result, in June, Maris of Wells Fargo noted that price hikes could lead to similar trouble for Mylan.
26 August
Mylan may have violated antitrust law in its EpiPen sales to schools
(PBS Newshour) At issue is the notion of an exclusionary contract, which requires a customer to promise not to deal with a competitor. Exclusionary contracts are a common tactic for keeping a lock on a market, Hovenkamp said.
But using such a contract while also having a dominant market share may hinder competition, which he explained can be an antitrust violation. Last year, EpiPen made up 89 percent of the epinephrine auto-injector market, according to IMS Health, a market research firm.  Martin Shkreli Has a Lot to Say About Mylan’s EpiPen
25 August
Mylan’s Adoption of the Valeant-Turing ‘Blame the Victim’ Strategy Will Not Pass the Laugh Test in Washington
(/PRNewswire-USNewswire/) — Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) President and CEO Mark Merritt issued the following statement on Mylan’s EpiPen price hikes and attacks in the press on payers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs):
“It was a mistake for Mylan to adopt the failed PR strategy used unsuccessfully by Valeant and Turing. It’s not credible to assert that Mylan’s price hikes are the fault of those paying the bills: namely the employers, unions, and government programs that work hard to provide affordable prescription drug coverage.
Mylan is simply the latest drugmaker trying to re-frame a pricing problem into a coverage problem. Blaming payers for these massive prices hikes is a red herring and doesn’t pass the laugh test with policymakers.”
NBC reports that Mylan CEO’s Pay Rose Over 600 Percent as EpiPen Price Rose 400 Percent
24 August
Busting the billion-dollar myth: how to slash the cost of drug development
A non-profit organization is proving that new drugs don’t have to cost a fortune. Can its model work more broadly?
(Nature) Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) is an unlikely success story in the expensive, challenging field of drug development. In just over a decade, the group has earned approval for six treatments, tackling sleeping sickness, malaria, Chagas’ disease and a form of leishmaniasis called kala-azar. And it has put another 26 drugs into development. It has done this with US$290 million — about one-quarter of what a typical pharmaceutical company would spend to develop just one drug. The model for its success is the product development partnership (PDP), a style of non-profit organization that became popular in the early 2000s. PDPs keep costs down through collaboration — with universities, governments and the pharmaceutical industry. And because the diseases they target typically affect the world’s poorest people, and so are neglected by for-profit companies, the DNDi and groups like it face little competitive pressure. They also have lower hurdles to prove that their drugs vastly improve lives.
The DNDi has started research on alternatives to pricey drugs for hepatitis C, and is spearheading an effort to create antibiotics for drug-resistant infections, a problem that pharmaceutical companies have been slow to contend with. If successful, the work could challenge standard assumptions about drug development, and potentially rein in the runaway price of medications. “We can’t match our financial figures one to one,” says executive director Bernard Pécoul. “But we believe that DNDi can demonstrate that a different model is possible for R&D.”
When medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF; also known as Doctors without Borders) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, its members decried the lack of lifesaving drugs for diseases of the poor, and used the Nobel prize money to kick-start the DNDi.
14 June
Pharma bro Shkreli faces new charges
Martin Shkreli and his former attorney Evan Greebel on Friday were charged with defrauding potential investors in San Diego, according to The Associated Press.
Federal prosecutors said the pair misled potential investors for Retrophin, Inc., allocating company stock to seven employees there to conceal Shkreli’s ownership of it.
The new charges are unrelated to Shkreli’s tenure as CEO of Turing Pharmaceutical, where he inspired worldwide derision for steeply raising the price of a medication used for malaria patients.

Pharma Bro Is the Face of U.S. Health Care
Martin Shkreli is a symptom of a dangerous system.
(The Atlantic) … he is the face of unapologetic profiteering from the suffering of humans. As CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, he acquired an anti-parasite medication called Daraprim and immediately increased the price from roughly $13.50 to $750. In the last 72 hours since that made national news, Shkreli’s attitude and confidence have been duly noticed, reminding Americans that we live in the only country where drug companies set their own prices for life-saving medications. His confidence is the kind of confidence that manifests as … conspicuous consumption that does not play well to those suffering toxoplasmosis-induced seizures, preventable with Daraprim.
Shkreli already considered the price increase to $750 to be “not excessive at all.” Daraprim treats toxoplasmosis, which kills people with weakened immune systems, as in AIDS and during chemotherapy. The parasite Toxoplasmosis gondii lives inside of one third of all people, in little cysts that go unnoticed because they are quarantined in our brains and livers by our immune systems. When those defenses deteriorate, though, the parasite is unleashed and attacks the brain and eyes of its host, resulting in blindness, seizures, and loss of cognitive faculties. One study found that toxoplasmosis encephalitis affected 25 percent of AIDS patients, of which it killed 84 percent. …
Medical research is extremely expensive. Except that most of the key innovation is still coming from academic medical centers, funded by taxpayers. Pharmaceutical companies then take that innovation and turn it into a marketable product. That costs money, but not billions of dollars. How anything could justify a drug costing hundreds or thousands of dollars—in the case of the hepatitis C medication Sovaldi, which costs $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment—while still clearing a 30-percent industry-wide profit margin is difficult to conceive. (23 September 2015)

5 June
The Valeant Meltdown and Wall Street’s Major Drug Problem
(Vanity Fair) By 2015, C.E.O. Michael Pearson had built Valeant Pharmaceuticals into a nearly $90 billion colossus. Today, the company is under investigation for price gouging, and major Wall Street players are feeling the side effects. Pearson’s fall … exposes more than the dark side of the the health-care system—it indicts some of finance’s biggest players.
Syprine, which can be had for $1 a pill in some countries, now has a list price of around $300,000 for a year’s supply in the United States; Cuprimine has seen a similar price increase. There is no generic version of either, in part because of a huge backlog for new drug approvals at the F.D.A.
27 May
Harvard researchers unveil new Alzheimer’s theory
(USA Today) Researchers at Harvard this week offered a new theory of Alzheimer’s Disease that – if true – would upend our understanding of the disease and suggest new routes for treatment and prevention.
The researchers think that the immune system may play a key role in the development of Alzheimer’s, which slowly robs people of their memory and is eventually fatal.
A protein called beta amyloid, long considered the bad actor in Alzheimer’s, actually plays a positive role in fighting off bacteria and fungus in mice, worms and cells, the researchers showed in a new paper in Science Translational Medicine.
Assuming that’s also true in people, it suggests that getting rid of amyloid, as some drug trials have tried, could be dangerous, and approaches that stimulate the immune system could be safer and more effective.
In this view, Alzheimer’s would be triggered by a normal immune response gone astray or into over-drive in response to bacteria or other pathogens, according to the paper’s authors, Rudy Tanzi and Robert Moir, both of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Amyloid “lights the fire,” said Tanzi, whose work has been supported by a grant from the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. “We think it’s meant to be beneficial, but it can turn against you and cause problems.”
That doesn’t mean Alzheimer’s is contagious, but that some people’s brains may over-react to or get overwhelmed by a variety of pathogens, including chlamydia, herpes and the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, Tanzi said. It’s possible that younger people’s brains can handle such issues, but some older ones can’t.
16 May
British researchers may have just found the cure for multiple sclerosis!
(Health details) A new study published in the journal Nature Communications shows that scientists may have discovered a way to stop autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis or Type 1 diabetes by retraining the immune system.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – The study was published by researchers from Bristol University, and shows that the immune system can be taught to stop treating harmless everyday proteins as if they were dangerous invasive diseases.
15 April
Why tech titan Sean Parker is bankrolling collaborative cancer research
(PBS Newshour) [On Wednesday] he announced a major initiative, a $250 million grant to help fund research and collaboration in immunotherapy among six of the country’s leading medical schools and cancer centers. It’s the largest gift ever of its kind. …
A field like immunotherapy is a great example. It’s incredibly interdisciplinary. And that interdisciplinary nature means that folks from genomics, informatics, immunology, and oncology all need to figure out how to work together and share data, and they also need to be able to share the breakthroughs that they make without being encumbered by bureaucracy or issues around intellectual property, because it’s going to be combinations of therapies coming together that are successful in treating the disease.
So, what we are able to do is create a sort of big sandbox that all these scientists can play in together. They have access to the best technology and they have access to all of each other’s breakthroughs, so that a breakthrough that gets made at one center is immediately usable by scientists in another center within the network.
And the hope is that this is not just a model for how we can research cancer immunology, but it’s also potentially a model for how we can do scientific research — scientific medical research in other fields.
(WaPost) Parker has personally recruited many of the scores of researchers … to join him in a wildly ambitious $250 million philanthropic effort to rid the world of the devastating disease. His plan involves bringing together a critical mass of scientists in the red-hot area of immunotherapy and pointing them in the direction of the most promising targets in the hope that, together, they can move research along faster than by working alone.
29 January
Race for Zika vaccine gathers momentum as virus spreads
(Reuters) The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), stung by criticism that it reacted too slowly to West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, is convening an emergency meeting on Monday to help determine its response to the spread of the virus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has activated an emergency operations center staffed around the clock to address Zika, agency officials told Reuters.
WHO calls emergency meeting to discuss Zika virus
The World Health Organization will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the threat posed by the Zika virus. WHO estimates 4 million people could be affected by the virus in the next 12 months. There is no vaccine or treatment for the disease, though most infections do not lead to illness. The Associated Press (1/28), BBC (1/28)
Zika virus: Canadian-U.S. vaccine could be ready by year’s end
Human tests could start as early as September, says University of Laval’s Gary Kobinger
The Zika Virus Isn’t Just an Epidemic. It’s Here to Stay.
A disease never before seen in the Americas may be taking hold permanently, endangering thousands of babies a year. The hunt for a vaccine better start now.
(Foreign Policy) With an estimated 3 to 4 million people having come down with Zika virus ailments since infected mosquitoes reached the Americas some nine months ago, 23 countries and territories have reported cases, and there are some 4,000 babies that have been born with the skull-misshaping microcephaly, according to the World Health Organization.
15 January
WHO declares Ebola outbreak over
(Science Magazine) The World Health Organization (WHO) today declared Liberia free of Ebola, marking the end of the outbreak in West Africa.  … The announcement came 42 days after the last confirmed Ebola patient in Liberia twice tested negative for the virus. It is the first time that all known chains of transmission in the three Ebola-ravaged countries have been stopped. Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola on 7 November 2015, and Guinea followed at the end of December 2015. All three countries are now in a 90-day period of heightened surveillance.
The outbreak in West Africa was by far the largest Ebola on record and the only one to have become a full-fledged epidemic. More than 28,500 people were sickened by the virus, and 11,315 died since the outbreak began in a remote Guinean village in December 2013.
 

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