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Science Policy Around the Web – September 19, 2014

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By: Bethanie L. Morrison, Ph.D.

photo credit: Newport Geographic via photopin cc

Ebola Outbreak

Obama says world has responsibility to act; Ebola to “get worse before it gets better”

The World Health Organization, this week, has called for at least $1 billion in foreign aid in order to keep the people infected with the Ebola virus in the tens of thousands. The United States has promised to lend a considerable amount of aid to the countries in Africa most affected by the Ebola outbreak; Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. The plan, laid out by President Obama this week during a press conference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters, calls for a significant military presence in Africa to help organize and engineer the process of setting up containment centers and hospitals, bringing in and training health care workers, and distributing medical equipment, among others. The Pentagon announced that it will be setting up additional treatment centers in Senegal, a country not as hard hit by the deadly virus, and will train at least 500 health care workers per week. In addition to the efforts by the United States, the World Bank has issued a $105 million emergency grant to the countries most affected by the outbreak. While the effort is necessary and appreciated by the African nations and the World Health Organization (WHO), concerns about the efficacy of the plans have been raised by public health officials. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, has suggested that one organization in charge of the entire operation will be more effective than many different organizations all trying to do the same thing, but in different ways. Protocols for containment must be perfectly executed everywhere. In addition, the majority of the grant money and foreign aid is being funneled to Liberia, the country hit the hardest thus far. According to Osterholm, this is like, “fixing one of three screen doors on the submarine.”  (Juliet Eilperin and Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post)


Grant Funding

#IceBucketChallenge Highlights Difficult Funding Decisions

While there are plenty of opinions voiced in every social media outlet about whether the #IceBucketChallenge to support ALS research and patients is a reasonable thing, the effectiveness of the campaign cannot be argued, at least in the short term. The challenge has raised more than twice the NIH’s budget for ALS research. The ALS Association (ALSA), the non-profit organization receiving the majority of the donations, has reported contributions of $106 million, $103 million more than had been received at the same time point last year. Questions are beginning to arise as to how ALSA plans to use the newly acquired funds. ALSA spokesperson Carrie Munk told TheScientist, “It’s $100 million dollars; with that money comes tremendous responsibility.” The organization is dedicated to ensuring that the wishes of the donors regarding how the money is to be spent will be honored. They not only have added selection boxes to their website for current donation earmarks, but are also allowing for retrospective restrictions on the use of past #IceBucketChallenge gifts. While the majority of donations will likely go to basic research, some scientists and physicians are concerned about the stability of the funding. “Most research doesn’t go for only two years,” said ALS physician-researcher Jeff Rothstein. “So any program that invests money has to be cognizant [of that]. . . . When that money [runs] out, what happens?”  (Jef Akst, TheScientist)


Regulatory Policy

F.D.A. Panel Weighs Restrictions on Testosterone Drugs

“Is it O.K. to give testosterone without any limits to all older men with low testosterone levels?” asked Dr. Brad Anawalt of the University of Washington in Seattle. This is the question being posed to an FDA advisory committee this week in order to determine if further regulations should be put in place for the marketing of and prescription of testosterone as a therapeutic. Currently, testosterone therapy is a $2 billion industry, with 2.3 million Americans having received testosterone in 2013. Experts in the field are raising questions about the long term effects and risks associated with testosterone therapy. Testosterone is prescribed by doctors primarily for middle aged to older men experiencing low libido, low energy levels, and/or other natural symptoms associated with aging. The marketing for the treatment of “Low T,” or low testosterone levels, is somewhat reminiscent of that for the prescription of hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women, which has since been deemed risky as it can lead to higher risks of breast cancer, blood clots, and strokes in these women. The FDA is seeking advice from the expert advisory panel as to whether the long term risks associated with testosterone use outweigh the benefits for men without any other medical conditions, as well as what information is appropriate to add to the drug labels.  (Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times)


Cancer Research

American Association for Cancer Research Releases 2014 Cancer Progress Report: Research is Transforming Lives

“Cancer survivors …, as well as those who are projected to receive a cancer diagnosis in the future, are depending on our nation’s policymakers to make funding for biomedical research a national priority,” according to Margaret Foti, PhD, MD, CEO of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), which just released its annual cancer progress report this week. The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2014 is an annual document that details the progress made in basic and epidemiological cancer research, clinical research, and therapeutic development for the year. It serves to highlight the importance of federal investment in the NIH and NCI and ultimately calls on Congress and the administration to grow the funding for the NIH and NCI at predictable and sufficient rates that are at least that of biomedical inflation. While Americans are far more likely to survive a cancer diagnosis today than any time prior, the population is aging and thus annual cancer diagnoses will only continue to rise. The disease and its treatments are a hefty burden on the economy, both nationally and internationally. “If we are to fully realize the promise of science to transform cancer care, it will require leadership in Congress and within the administration to ensure that biomedical research in cancer becomes a major priority for our nation,” said Carlos Arteaga, MD, president of the AACR.  (AACR Newsroom)


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Written by sciencepolicyforall

September 19, 2014 at 6:00 am