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Posts Tagged ‘pharmaceutical companies

Science Policy Around the Web – February 10, 2017

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By: Saurav Seshadri, PhD

Source: pixabay

Sleep

The Purpose of Sleep? To Forget, Scientists Say

Humans spend approximately one third of their lifetime sleeping, yet the purpose of sleep is still largely unknown. A pair of recent studies in the journal Science suggest that a key function of sleep is to give the brain a chance to rewire itself, specifically by cutting down connections between neurons, which naturally scale up during wakefulness, and especially during learning.

In one paper, researchers used 3D electron microscopy to measure the sizes of these connections, called synapses, in mouse brain slices. They found that sleep produced a significant decrease in the size of synapses. Interestingly, this effect was more pronounced in smaller synapses, which were likely strengthened by general information processing while awake, than large ones (~20% of synapses), which may encode more well-established memories. In the other, researchers used two-photon imaging in live mice to observe sleep-induced changes in synapses. They found a similar decrease in synaptic strength, and went on to identify the signaling pathway that caused this effect; blocking this pathway prevented a normal reduction in the scope and magnitude of a learned behavioral response.

These findings underscore the importance of sleep, especially for memory consolidation involved with learning. Studies like these can have far-reaching effects on the public’s perception of sleep, influencing individual habits as well as policy related to education. For example, they suggest that prioritizing sleep when setting school start times (an issue currently under debate in Montgomery County schools) could improve students’ lesson retention and ultimately their test performance. They also point to important cellular and molecular processes that take place during sleep, which could help explain how existing sleep aids adversely affect brain functioning and memory (a public health concern), and ultimately lead to the development of better drugs. (Carl Zimmer, The New York Times)

Drug Policy

Massive Price Hike for Lifesaving Opioid Overdose Antidote

Increased public exposure to the epidemic of opioid abuse, which continues to intensify in the US, has made it increasingly influential in politics, possibly including the recent presidential election.  A crucial tool for communities at the forefront of this public health crisis is naloxone, which can reverse potentially fatal symptoms associated with overdose. The Evzio naloxone auto-injector, produced by Kaleo, is one of two such products approved by the FDA. Kaleo has recently come under fire for increasing the price of Evzio from $690 to $4,500.

Kaleo cites several justifications for the price hike. Firstly, they offer coupons to patients whose insurance doesn’t cover Evzio. Second, they argue that large insurance companies and government agencies (such as the Veterans Health Administration, which sees a high rate of opioid use) can negotiate prices, while other organizations are currently well funded (thanks to public concern) to absorb the increase. Thirdly, they are expanding their donation supply to allow smaller groups to apply for free devices. However, experts say that the increase is not justified by production costs, and some organizations have been forced to switch to alternative drugs.

News of the decision arrives at a time when the public is particularly sensitive to drug pricing, and have made their concern clear to lawmakers. Negotiation with drug companies over prices has been a prominent campaign issue in recent elections. Public outcry following similar moves by investor Martin Shkreli and Mylan led to hearings by a special congressional committee. Soon after the last election, a bill that would have allowed patients to import cheaper drugs from Canada became a high-profile occasion for posturing in the Senate, where it failed despite overwhelming public support. These stories highlight the often antagonistic relationships between the American public, its government, and the pharmaceutical industry, and illustrate how disruptive drug pricing can directly affect policy. (Shefali Luthra, Scientific American)

Scientists in Politics

Geneticist Launches Bid for US Senate; while Empiricists Around the Country Will March for Science

Donald Trump’s agenda of self-serving lies and denial of evidence has led to unprecedented levels of engagement and activism across the country. The scientific community has been especially impacted by Trump’s brand of broad, allegedly populist anti-intellectualism. Thus, although the empirical facts uncovered by scientific research are inherently apolitical and should be treated as such, scientists are beginning to mobilize to oppose the Trump administration in several ways.

One essential path to policy change is increased representation. With that in mind, evolutionary biologist Dr. Michael Eisen, an HHMI-funded investigator at UC Berkeley and co-founder of the People’s Library of Science (PLOS), recently announced his candidacy for the US Senate in 2018. Dr. Eisen’s platform seems to center on bringing a scientific perspective to Senate proceedings, and working towards comprehensive yet practical solutions to issues such as climate change. More of Dr. Eisen’s views can be found on his twitter feed and blog.

Protests are another way for individuals to make their voices heard by policy makers. The March for Science, which currently has over 350,000 followers on Facebook, will be an opportunity for ‘scientists and science enthusiasts’ to both call for and demonstrate support for the scientific community, and promote solidarity between science and the public. The main march will be held on April 22nd, 2017 in Washington D.C.; satellite marches are scheduled in over 100 additional cities. Organizers hope to maintain the momentum gained by January’s Women’s Marches, which saw historic attendance. (Sara Reardon, Nature News; Lindizi Wessel, ScienceInsider)

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Science Policy Around the Web – April 11, 2014

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito

photo credit: EssjayNZ via photopin cc

photo credit: EssjayNZ via photopin cc

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

Guarded Optimism after breast cancer drug shows promising results  –  In a recent Phase II clinical trial, Pfizer’s breast cancer drug, palbociclib, was shown to decrease the risk of cancer progression by half. This results in about a 10-month difference in the time until progression in the treatment group compared to the control group. Although there was a trend towards increased survival by 4 months, the results were not significant.   Palbociclib inhibits cyclin-dependent kinase 4 and 6 curbing growth of cancer cells.   If the FDA waves the requirement for a Phase III clinical trial, this drug may be on the market as early as next year. If a Phase III clinical trial is required, approval will be delayed for several years. (Andrew Polluck)

Cheaper fuel from self-destructing treesIn an effort to decrease the cost of turning plants into biofuel, scientists at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have genetically modified trees to express ferulic acid. In order to access the energy source of plants, long chains of sugars called cellulose, lignin that holds cellulose and hemicellulose fibers together must be degraded. This process includes the use of heat and chemical compounds to breakdown lignin and accounts for more than 25% of the cost of cellulosic ethanol based biofuels. Ferulic acid bonds with two other compounds to make up a modified lignin, which is easier to breakdown. The group has made genetically engineered popular trees and is working on making modified corn.  (Robert F. Service)

NIH stem cell programme closes – Amid uncertainty, the NIH’s Center for Regenerative Medicine (CRM), which specializes in stem cell research, has been closed.   Although the center’s Director Mahendra Rao resigned on March 28th, and the institute’s website has been shutdown, there has been no official announcement from the NIH.   Many of the researchers associated with the institute have not received any information on the future of the center. According to officials, a panel of stem cell researchers will gather in May to discuss the fate of the program, including whether to move CRM projects to the National Center for Advancing Translation Sciences and what to do with the remaining budget. The closure of the center follows the funding of clinical trials for only one of the center’s projects, while preparations for clinical trials of 4 additional projects had already begun. (Sara Reardon)

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April 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – April 21, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: limowreck666 via photopin cc

photo credit: limowreck666 via photopin cc

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

FDA’s rejection of generic OxyContin may have side effects – With the patent on the original OxyContin ending, the FDA has declared that they will not approve generic versions of the drug. In order for drug developers to compete in the prescription pain relief market, they will have to develop abuse resistant forms of the drug. In 2010, Purdue Pharma LP, the developer of the original OxyContin, produced a form of the drug that includes a polymer that makes it impossible to snort and inject the drug. The patent on the drug resistant form expires in 2025.  (Nancy Shute and Audrey Carlsen)

Stereotype threat for girls and STEM – According to Facebook executive and author Sheryl Sandberg, women are being held back by what social scientists call a “stereotype threat”- an idea that suggests that the more we are aware of the stereotype, the more likely we are to act in accordance with it. Sandberg suggests that the stereotype threat is what is responsible for preventing women to pursue leadership roles and careers in highly technical field, such as computer science. A recent study looking at author gender and gender typing of projects suggests that publications from male authors were more highly regarded scientifically. The author also presents many links aiming to encourage interest in STEM. (Chris Gunter)

Gene patents are sabotaging the future of medicine – A case currently being debated by the Supreme Court, Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, has the potential to influence how clinicians can report the results of genome wide sequencing to their patients. Currently, Myriad holds the patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are associated with the onset of breast and ovarian cancers. Therefore, Myriad has a monopoly on all diagnostics and therapeutics related to the BRCA genes. The Association for Molecular Pathology states that a person has a right to know their own genetic code and should not have to have permission from patent holders to know the sequence of their own genes. The Supreme Court will rule on the case in late June. (Daniela Hernandez)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

April 21, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – November 22, 2012

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photo credit: Jeff Kubina via photopin cc

By: Jennifer Plank

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

Hope Delayed for Sharks in Atlantic  The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas recently concluded their annual meeting in Morocco. The ICCAT was founded in 1966 and manages the catch limits of 30 marine species such as tuna, swordfish, and marlins. The group, however, does not set catch limits or manage protections for sharks. This year, conservationists attended the meeting hoping that the ICCAT would include sharks in the list of protected species. While the conservationists failed to obtain new protections for sharks, the commission did agree to open its treaty to changes including shark management. (Erik Stokstad)

New push for most in US to get at least 1 HIV test – The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently set new guidelines recommending that individuals aged 15-64 get at least 1 HIV test. The USPSTF aims for HIV screening to become a routine part of medical visits and to become as common as a doctor ordering a cholesterol test during a physical.  Additionally, if the guidelines set forth by the task force are finalized, the number of patients eligible for HIV screening without a copay will increase. Currently, only individuals at high-risk for HIV- including gay and bisexual men and injecting drug users- are eligible for HIV tests with no co-pay. (Lauran Neergaard)

Makers of diabetes drug will pay $90 million – With increasing numbers of individuals developing diabetes, many pharmaceutical companies are quickly trying to develop new drugs to manage the disease. One company, GlaxoSmithKlein, who manufactures the drug Avandia, will pay $90 million following a settlement suggesting that GSK unlawfully promoted the drug. In 2010, the Senate Finance committee found that the drug was linked to thousands of heart attacks and that GSK knew of the risks for years but did not inform the public of the risks. The $90 million settlement will be distributed among 37 states and the District of Colombia. (Trisha Henry)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

November 22, 2012 at 10:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – October 5, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

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

President’s Bioethics Commission Releases Report on Genomics and Privacy – Whole genome sequencing (sequencing of a person’s entire genome) is swiftly becoming more and more affordable and opens up tremendous opportunity to advance medical knowledge and give people a new grip on their own health.  However, there have been lingering doubts about how such intimate knowledge will be protected, collected, and used.  New guidance about issues of privacy, regulation, and public good has been released by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.  You can get the whole report here.

Learn to Read a Scientific Report – This post on Wired.com is tiny and likely overlooked, but it made my day.  Quick, easy tips that hit upon some important ways for the public to evaluate scientific information (and advertisements) that come their way.  (by Noah Gray)

Doctors just say ‘no’ to drug company studies – Drug companies routinely fund, produce, publish, and advertise studies investigating the efficacy of their products.  One audience is the general public, but a larger audience is doctors.  Do doctors take into account possible drug company bias when evaluating new drugs?  Yes, they do, and they don’t like it, says a new study from investigators at the University of Arizona. (by Jennifer Fitzenberger via Futurity.org)

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October 11, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – July 5, 2012

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photo credit: mindgutter via photo pin cc

By: Rebecca Cerio

Our (bi-, in this case) weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

How The Affordable Care Act Will Affect Research“The key provisions that have a bearing on the lives and work of biomedical researchers include the establishment of a streamlined US Food and Drug Administration pathway for the approval of generic versions of protein-based drugs, so-called biosimilars; the creation of a translational research initiative at the National Institutes of Health called the Cures Acceleration Network; the launch of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which would require pharmaceutical and device makers to disclose all payments greater than $10 to physicians, and a push to increase funding for comparative effectiveness research.” (by Bob Grant via The Scientist)

Cancer By The Numbers – A bit of math and a dash of psychology suggests why it is so difficult to make people believe that more disease screening is not always better.  I like this article for its very concise description of how a relatively accurate test for a rare disease might give two false positives for every true positive it detects.  (by John Allen Paulos via Project Syndicate)

Postdoctoral Researchers—Facts, Trends, and GapsAverage time to Ph.D., average postdoc length, average salaries….  Finally, we know!  Sally Rockey, NIH’s Deputy Director for Extramural Research, discusses some hard numbers on the postdoctoral landscape that have emerged from NIH’s Biomedical Workforce Task Force.  She’s also discussed similar types of data from the task force about graduate students on her blog, Rock Talk.

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

July 5, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 21, 2012

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photo credit: Kaptain Kobold via photo pin cc

By: Rebecca Cerio

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

The Real Cost of Research – A recent National Academies of Science report held a recommendation for federal grant funds to pay 100% of so-called “indirect costs” or research overhead (everything from the light bill to the lease on the buildings research is done in).  Jeffrey Mervis examines this issue and why everyone involved–government, universities, and researchers–should care about indirect costs. (via Science)

Why the Scientist Stereotype is Bad for Everyone, Especially Kids – Do scientists have an image problem?  And if so…how should we address it?  A non-scientist gives his take on the issue.  (by Michael Brooks via Wired)

Regulations for Biosimilars – Generic biologics (drugs based off biological molecules, such as interferon-α or a host of others) will soon be hitting the market as the original biologics patents expire.  But the biological properties of these drugs, their complexity, and the difficulties involved in consistently manufacturing them will require them to be regulated more stringently than FDA regulations currently require.  (by Lisa A. Haile and Kimberly K. Egan via The Scientist)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

June 21, 2012 at 4:58 pm