Matthew Herper of Forbes this week takes up the issue whether a DNA sequencer can get FDA approval and quotes Jay Flatley, president and CEO of Illumina as saying the company is in talks with FDA to get regulatory clearance to use its technology for medical diagnostics. He also writes about the late Adriana Jenkins, who worked for Celgene and Third Rock Ventures, among others, and died of breast cancer earlier this month. Having been treated as one of the first patients with one of the first personalized drugs, Herceptin, which gave her a decade of life, she calls for a new law that would give drug companies extended monopolies for developing personalized medicines. Her own last article explaining her plea for supporting personalized medicine by a legislation similar to the Orphan Drug Act is featured in Forbes, too.
Also in Forbes, Robert Langreth explains why Novo Nordisk decided to abandon development of diabetes pills and to ramp up insulin production instead – a move highly successful so far.
Dealing with green energy, the Economistreports on the latest efforts to develop artificial leaves for the synthesis of carbohydrate fuels directly from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. The article features efforts by the Joint Centre for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) in California, Massachusetts-based Sun Catalyx and a group at Massey University in New Zealand lead by Wayne Campbell.
For those of us who already are short-sighted and need reading glasses on top, the New York Times has good news about a new gadget that already hit the US market. Anne Eisenberg reports that with the new device the days of bifocal spectacles may be over soon. The new emPower electronic spectacles have liquid crystals inserted at the bottom of the lens which change refraction by simply touching the frame. As a result, reading power can be easily switched on and off.
Hannah Waters in The Scientist features a new pathway that may be used to develop novel antibiotics, e.g. to combat Staphylococcus infections. The trick is done by blocking RNA degradation via a small molecule inhibiting the enzyme RNAse P found in gram-positive bacteria. This leads to accumulation of RNA transcripts and their encoded proteins so that the bugs die from chaos.
In Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Jörg Altwegg reports about a baby that opened up a fierce ethical debate in France. The boy was conceived after preimplantation diagnosis made clear that he not only did not carry beta thalassemia but that he also was suited as a blood donor for his older sister suffering from the disease. Another ethical debate around human genetics is taken up by Volker Stollorz in a Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) article not yet online. In the US, researchers have developed a universal gene test able to uncover the genes for hundreds of severe, rare genetic diseases. The test is going to be used for family planning, and couples at risk of conceiving a child with one of those conditions can opt to perform preimplantation diagnosis. However, while some human geneticists warn that the results might overstrain the expertise of human genetic councelors, others already are crazy about using such tests to eliminate all recessive alleles for genetic diseases from the human gene pool.
Finally, Alison McCook in The Scientist claims researchers are punks, because just like in punk music, as they are typified “by a passionate adherence to individualism, creativity and freedom of expression with no regard to established opinions.” To get a taste, she recommends listening to Minor Threat and Nomeansno for a start.
In a recent article (“Simply Obscene”) the influential German news magazine “Der Spiegel” (20/2010, May 17, 2010) stated the pharma industry was using “with the unscrupulousness of a stock jobber” a loophole in Germany’s highly regulated health care system to charge extremely high prices for basically useless cancer medications. In particular, the article featured Yondelis by Pharma Mar, Nexavar by Bayer, Hycamtin and Tyverb by GlaxoSmithKline, Erbitux by Merck KGaA, Sutent by Pfizer, Iressa by AstraZeneca, Avastin, Xeloda, Mab-Thera and Herceptin by Roche and Alimta by Lilly as examples for cancer drugs providing only marginal survival benefits at enormous costs and stated this was “lawful looting of the health care system”. The only exception according to the authors of the article was Novartis’ Gleevec.
This week, the Competence Network Malignant Lymphomas published an open “letter to the editor” (only available in German) stating that in the case of lymphoma therapy the authors of the article had done “obviously sloppy work”: “Therapy costs of lymphocyte-specific antibody Rituximab [MabThera] amount to €24,000, not €134,000 per year. Several independent studies have demonstrated that overall survival in both follicular and diffuse large B cell lymphoma is prolonged on average by several years (!), in fact without substantial side effects.” Der Spiegel had stated extension of survival in these two indications was “not proven”.
The letter also said that administrative costs for studies to optimize therapies had increased by a a factor of 10 in the last couple of years due to legal requirements.
The article of Spiegel magazine is available online in German, however without the tables featuring treatment costs and extension of survival for the drugs mentioned.