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 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Manfred Lindinger takes up the issue whether nanotechnology poses danger to human health and the environment in an article and an interview with Jochen Flasbarth, president of the German Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt – UBA). Flasbarth points out that UBA’s nanotechnology study published last year, highlighting gaps in knowledge about potential health hazards, was misunderstood by the media and the public as a sweeping warning of all things nano. He also dismisses calls for introducing a label for products containing nanotechnology: “If there is no risk, we don’t need to put up a warning sign.”
Several German papers feature and discuss an ad-hoc statement on preimplantation diagnosis issued January 18 by the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. It was drafted by 13 eminent German academians from biology, medicine, law and philosophy & ethics, among them nobelist Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard. The statement calls for admission of PID under narrowly defined circumstances (high risk of serious monogenic disorder, chromosomal dysfunction, miscarriage or stillbirth). The parliament needs to to regulate PID after the German Federal Supreme Court last year ruled that Germany’s ban on PID was based on misinterpretation of the country’s Embryo Protection Law.
John Tierney in The New York Times provides new insights on people who underwent personal genetic testing to learn about their risk for conditions from obesity to cancer and Alzheimer’s. It is widespread belief among experts and politicians that personal DNA testing needs careful supervision and cannot be offered without expert guidance. The NYT introduces two studies – one follow-up study of about 2,000 people who had a genomewide scan by Navigenics and one representative sample of 1,500 people – and found that the medical field overestimates the level of psychological anxiety or trauma caused by the results and is way too paternalistic about the tests. One researcher is quoted by saying: “We should recognize that consumers might reasonably want the information for nonmedical reasons. People value it for its own sake, and because they feel more in control of their lives.”
Gardiner Harris reports that the Obama administration has become so concerned about the slowing pace of new drugs coming out of the pharma industry that it has decided to start a federal billion-dollar drug development center. The “National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences” will open in October this year and will beef up early research results by finding leads against new targets or even perform preclinical studies so that projects become attractive to the pharma industry. NIH director Francis S. Collins who is behind the idea, is quoted by NYT as saying: “I am a little frustrated to see how many of the discoveries that do look as though they have therapeutic implications are waiting for the pharmaceutical industry to follow through with them.” In a first step, more than $700 million in research projects from other NIH institutes will be brought together at the new center.
Gina Kolata reports on an FDA advisory committee recommending approval of a new brain scan that can detect the typical plaques in the brains of living Alzheimer disease patients. The test has been developed by Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, now a subsidiary of Eli Lilly (see akampioneer, June 24, 2010).
In the New Scientist,Anil Ananthaswamy features findings from Australian researchers suggesting that Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and maybe other, more common diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, might be cured by antibiotics and subsequent (re-)colonization of the colon with bacteria from healthy people. The hypothesis was derived from case studies of Parkinson’s patients treated for colon infections, in which the treatment also abated the Parkinson’s symptoms. The researchers from the Center of Digestive Diseases in New South Wales are now planning a pilot study in Parkinson’s patients. Already, neuroanatomists from German Ulm University have suggested in 2003 that Parkinson’s might be caused by a bug that breaks through the mucosal barrier of the GI tract and enters the central nervous system via the vagus nerve (Journal of Neural Transmission, DOI: 10.1007/s00702-002-0808-2).
Linda Geddes reports on how cytokines associated with inflammation can enter the brain under certain circumstances and cause depression. Unfortunately, the article fails to mention German biotech company Affectis which already has Cimicoxib, an anti-inflammatory COX-2 inhibitor, in Phase II trials for the treatment of depression, after researchers discovered that COX-2 inhibitors can alleviate depression.