Science Policy For All

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Posts Tagged ‘antibiotics

Science Policy Around the Web – January 5, 2016

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By: Nivedita Sengupta, Ph.D.

Scanning electron micrograph of neutrophil ingesting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Credit: NIAID. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC)

U.S. oversight of risky pathogen research could be better, draft report concludes

Gain of function (GOF) mutation studies that manipulate dangerous pathogens to develop treatment and vaccines can pose significant threat to public safety in event of an accidental or intentional release of the modified infectious agent. A recently released report by an expert advisory group, National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to the U.S. government concludes that though just a small subset of the GOF studies pose such a risk, current policies regulating such studies required further policy supplementation.

The debate on GOF studies came into prominence in 2011 when two research groups reported GOF studies on H5N1 avian influenza virus resulting in a more virulent and readily transferable virus. This led to a controversy over publication of the results and fear of pandemic in case of escape of these agents from the laboratory. In 2014, the U.S. government suspended 18 funded GOF studies involving pathogenic viruses such as influenza and SARS. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) later exempted few of the studies while NSABB and National research council (NRC) continued to review the risks and benefits of such studies. Following the NRC meeting, NIH commissioned an independent firm to evaluate the risk and benefits of such studies.

The report submitted by the firm analyzed the probability of both lab accidents and security breaches and concluded that “only a small fraction of laboratory accidents would result in a loss of containment; of those, only a small fraction would result in a laboratory-acquired infection, and of those, only a fraction would spread throughout the surrounding community (or global population).” It further states that some types of GOF experiments may not pose any security threat. The report also highlights the regulatory gap overseeing this kind of research. There are some regulatory requirements for handling the lethal viruses and bacteria classified as select agents; however GOF studies involving MERS virus and seasonal influenza viruses does not seems to be regulated by any of the current policies.

The draft report also proposes multistep guidelines while making funding decisions on research proposals related to GOF studies. In the initial step, reviewers would evaluate three criteria to determine whether the study needs further special evaluation. Studies requiring further evaluation would have to undergo a seven step review process before making a funding decision. In the final step, all the funded studies would be regularly reviewed by the sponsoring institution and federal funding agencies.

Although the NSABB reports details a thorough risk benefit analysis and recommends a set of policy guidelines for research funding for GOF studies, it is expected to draw extensive comments during the upcoming NSABB meeting. However, some scientists believe that due to the perception of a larger scale benefits of these studies, the recommendations of the report may not lead to stricter policy guidelines. (David Malakoff, ScienceInsider)

Antibiotic Resistance

Spread of antibiotic-resistance gene does not spell bacterial apocalypse — yet

The worldwide emergence of bacteria resistance to colistin – one of the “last resort” antibiotics – was  recently reported in numerous countries. Colistin is one of the few antibiotics which are rarely used in humans as it can cause kidney damage; thus, bacterial resistance due to overuse in humans has not occured. However, mutations conferring colistin resistance have been previously reported in soil bacteria, and most recently it has been identified in plasmids, those small sections of circular DNA which are readily shared among bacteria. The ease of this transfer of plasmids between bacteria has resulted in the emergence of colistin-resistant bacterial species. As colistin is considered as a last resort drug, the appearance of resistant bacterial species has resulted in an outcry in the medical field.

However, not all researchers and physicians are considering this as the worst possible news, since colistin is not the only last resort antibiotic available. They suggest that even with the emergence of colistin-resistant bacteria, the drug can still be used for treatment in conjunction with other antibiotics. Moreover, they state that all antibiotics have a spectrum of activity and thus a larger dose may overcome the apparently resistant bacteria.

Even though the appearance of colistin-resistant bacteria now may not be the end of the antibiotic line, it is only a matter of time before that becomes fact. The last new class of antibiotics, lipopeptides, were discovered in the 1980s and the newest antibacterial compound teixobactin has a long way to go before it can be used beneficially as an antibiotic. Though a lot of antibiotics have been developed in past years, the functional basis of all these drugs are quite similar and thus may not work any better (or prevent resistance from occurring) than each other.

Government incentives for companies that continue to develop new antibiotics are a good thing, so long as bacteria do not quickly develop resistance against these new drugs. So, in addition to the important work of developing new antibiotics, we must also try to use our existing drugs in a better way and try to find a different alternatives to treat bacterial infections. In this regard, current policies for the proper use of antibiotics should be regularly revisited with preventing antibiotic-resistance in mind. This will require further policies which dissuade the misuse of antibiotic in farm animals and agriculture, as well as in hospitals. Furthermore, worldwide cooperation is needed to create global policies to prevent the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in the near future. (Sara Reardon, Nature Trend Watch)

Women in STEM

Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?

The 2015 Noble prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to Dr. Youyou Tu for her discoveries regarding a novel therapy for malaria. The Noble prizes in Chemistry, Literature, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine were first awarded in 1901 and since then 18 women have received the Noble prize. Current statistics show that approximately 50% of doctoral candidates are women; however, less than 20% of them end up in a tenured research position. So what is the cause of fewer women in science? Clearly it is not the quality of work done by the women, as this has already been substantiated in many ways.

A significant reduction in number of women in science occurs during the postdoctoral years, after receiving PhDs and before reaching tenure. This drop in number of female scientists can be caused by a number of factors. For instance, the most widely accepted issue is trying to balance a career with motherhood. In addition, the current academic system does not make the job easier by demanding long hours at work to earn tenure, leaving little time for anything else. Even after overcoming all these obstacles the accomplishments of a woman is seen with bias and skepticism as mentioned by Dr. Virginia Valian in her book, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women. Dr. Meg Urry, a professor of physics at Yale, thinks that the accomplishments of women in science are under appreciated in such a way that they themselves lose the confidence to continue further. Some of the other challenges faced by women in science are subtle but unique, and are so overtly ignored that it even escapes notice by women. Some of these challenges are unconscious institutional bias and lack of proper mentoring. A study done in 2012 found that both male and female professors would offer a job to the male applicant, when presented with identical curriculum vitae  of two imaginary applicants one male and one female. Moreover, if they did hire the female applicant, her salary was nearly $4,000 lower than male counterpart. This bias is not only limited to the salary and extends even to promotions and office space and professional interactions.

Though there are many policies in science to address these gender imbalances, current circumstances warrant that these policies be re-evaluated. One policy for all may not be the best way to deal with the present situation. Policies should be crafted to attempt to remove any bias in salaries, allocation of research space, and promotions, in addition to raising public awareness regarding importance of women in scientific field. This in turn, might result in motivating women to continue in the scientific field. (Eileen Pollack, The New York Times Magazine)

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January 5, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – May 18, 2015

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By: Amanda Whiting, Ph.D.

Agriculture and Food Policy

Food industry braces for Obama trans fat ban

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to announce its final determination on the use of partially hydrogenated oils (or trans fats) in food products as early as next week. The announcement is expected to ban the use of trans fats. This potentially marks a final step in removing artificial trans fats from the American diet, a move that began in 2013 when the Obama administration issued a tentative determination stating that partially hydrogenated oils are not generally regarded as safe (GRAS). Partially hydrogenated oils are created when unsaturated liquid oils are exposed to hydrogen, which reduces their unsaturation and creates solid fats that improve food product texture and shelf life. Consumption of trans fats have been linked to cardiovascular disease and their removal could “prevent 20,000 heart attacks and some 7,000 deaths” according to FDA estimates, said Sam Kass, the former senior adviser for nutrition at the White House and executive director of Let’s Move!, to Politico. While the potential health benefits of such a policy are easily apparent, there are other repercussions to consider with a policy change such as this. Trans fats have been used in a myriad of smaller applications, such as in the sprinkles on cupcakes to prevent color leaching, to prevent baked goods from sticking to equipment, and to stabilize flavors in food products, that may not have been well considered by the FDA. Food manufacturers will need tweak their recipes and/or find alternative substances to fill the void left by a trans fat ban. In the past, they have turned to palm oil, though there are environmental concerns over rainforest deforestation to harvest the palm oil. Getting rid of trans fats is not a bad idea in terms of public health – let’s hope that its alternative does not end up having an unintended detrimental effect elsewhere. (Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico)

Antibiotic resistance

Guarantee drug companies a profit to develop new antibiotics, U.K. report says

With the increasing, widespread and global appearance of antibiotic resistant infections, the need to develop new potent antibiotics to tackle these threats is quite clear. Once developed however, in order to prevent resistance from developing to the new drugs, their use – and in our current economic model, their sales – must be restricted and limited. This presents drug companies with a problem, since the high cost of drug research and development is often driven and funded with an eye on the potential future sales of a drug. This makes it highly economically undesirable for a drug company to spend resources to develop a drug that must then be restricted, despite the very great worldwide need for such drugs. A report commissioned by the government of the United Kingdom, seeks to fix this problem. In the report, it is suggested that global governments “unite to offer multibillion-dollar incentives for drug developers, and pharmaceutical companies should pool their billions in support of early-stage research.” Most interestingly, the report suggests a way to incentivize drug development without encouraging overuse by “de-linking” a drug company’s profits from the drug’s sales. Specific examples of how this could be accomplished include having a “designated global body” buy the rights to a new pharmaceutical (at $2-3 billion per antibiotic) and then carefully manage the worldwide supply, or having a company retain the rights to the drug but receive a “bonus” for developing and introducing it to market, while being patient with overall (rather than initial blockbuster) sales. While this would take worldwide cooperation, aligning financial incentives for drug companies with the needs public health via a unifying policy could help kick-start drug development where we need it most. (Kelly Servick, ScienceInsider)

Federal Funding

Key House Republican says 70% of NSF’s research dollars should go to “core” science—not geo or social research

Two out of the six research directorates at the National Science Foundation (NSF) have been targeted to not receive any additional funds in the 2016 federal spending bill. The current spending bill allots an additional $50 million to the overall NSF budget, much smaller than the total $379 million (or 4.3% increase) requested. The markup of the House spending bill from the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee would allow the NSF to spread the additional $50 million in funds only in areas that have been deemed “pure sciences” – namely, biology, computing, engineering, and math and physical sciences. The bill prevents NSF from funding research in geoscience and the social and behavioral sciences. Both Representative John Culberson (R–TX), chair of the CJS subcommittee, and Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), chair of the science committee who introduced the America COMPETES Act to set NSF policies, say they support the NSF and simply want to make sure what it funds is in the “national interest.” That is all well and good, but what is in the “national interest” today may not be where the groundbreaking research of tomorrow is born. Scientific research is increasingly breaking out of such siloed classifications and into multidisciplinary fields and collaborative discovery that require inputs from all areas. While Rep. Culberson may favor funding only the “hard sciences,” understanding our own home planet and our human-to-human interactions are also areas worthy of study and research. (Jeffrey Mervis, ScienceInsider)

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May 18, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – March 24, 2015

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By: Courtney Pinard, Ph.D

Open Access

NSF unveils plan to make scientific papers free

The National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled a plan last week that will require their grantees to make their peer-reviewed research papers freely available within 12 months of publication. This plan comes two years after the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy ordered U.S. federal science agencies to devise their own public-access policies. According to the plan, archives of full-text articles will be available on the publisher’s website. The push for public-access policies by some scientists and activists has been happening since the late 1990s with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) leading the effort with PubMed Central repository. Many publishers critical of repositories like PubMed Central say that public access policies infringe on their copyright and decrease their revenues. In response to these concerns, NSF has decided to work with the Department of Energy to create a system called PAGES (Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science). PAGES will contain abstracts, authors, and other metadata, but not the full-text paper. Instead, PAGES will provide a link to the full-text paper on the publisher’s website. In the future, NSF may allow open access to full-text papers through other repositories. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)

Infectious Disease

Is Tuberculosis Still a Risk?

Tuberculosis is a widespread, and in many cases fatal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria. Tuberculosis (TB) was once the top killer in the U.S. during the 19th century. With the advent of antibiotics, TB cases have steadily declined. In 2013, for example, 9,588 cases were reported in the U.S. Because of antibiotic resistant strains, there has been a surge in the number of people falling sick with TB in recent decades. Just last week, 27 people tested positive for TB at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, Kansas after a single case prompted testing. Due to the strength of their immune systems and access to proper antibiotics, none of these 27 people had symptoms, nor were they contagious. Without the correct treatment, however, more than 80% of people die from the infection. In fact, TB is the second leading cause of death in adults world-wide after HIV, and affects 1 million children each year. Two-thirds of the drug-resistant cases are found in the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Health policy officials in these countries started working on a TB treatment access plan more than two years ago, but little progress has been made. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), three million people developing tuberculosis in BRICS countries are missed by national notification systems each year and only a fraction of cases are being treated. The WHO report emphasized the need to improve vulnerable populations’ access to quality tuberculosis care in low- to middle-income countries. Maybe, one day, TB-infected individuals in BRICS countries will have similar access to TB medical testing and treatment as those in Olathe, Kansas have. (Jacob Creswell, WHO; Dr. Salmaan Keshavjee, NPR)

Global Health and Agriculture

For the love of pork: Antibiotic use on farms skyrockets worldwide

As the developing world becomes richer, more and more people are consuming meat. Increased meat production will lead to the skyrocketing use of antibiotics, according to a study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study estimates that of the 228 countries who use antibiotics in livestock, total consumption will increase 67% from 63,151 tons in 2010 to 105,596 tons by 2030. The authors suggest that a huge rise in farm drug use will be especially prevalent in middle-income countries, where there is no regulation of antibiotic use on farms. That being said, although the United States Food and Drug Administration has made efforts to limit antibiotic use, critics say U.S. policies passed so far support “voluntary cooperation,” not binding regulation. (Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 24, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – November 16, 2011

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By:  Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Alarming Pattern of Antibiotic Use Emerges – Antibiotic use is up, particularly in certain parts of the country like the Southeast.  Is this use responsible, or are we overprescribing antibiotics for illnesses that they cannot treat (like colds and the flu)?  As antibiotic overuse can lead to pathogens developing antibiotic resistance, the Extending the Cure project suggests that the driving forces behind increased antibiotic use should be investigated.  (press release via the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, by Andrea Titus)

Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard) –  “…middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out.”  (via The New York Times, by Christopher Drew)

Switching from Intravenous to Oral Medications Can Save Millions – Researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital found that switching hospitalized patients from an intravenous to an equivalent oral version of just four expensive medications could save over a million dollars a year.  They suggest that widespread education and reminders to doctors to prescribe the cheaper oral form of medications to eligible patients could save billions in health care costs annually. (via Futurity.org, by Stephanie Desmond)


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Written by sciencepolicyforall

November 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm

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