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Potential Public-Private Partnership Aims To Bring TB Vaccine Trials To Mines Of Southern Africa

GlobalPost’s “Global Pulse” blog reports on a potential public-private partnership that aims to bring tuberculosis (TB) vaccine trials to the gold mines of Southern Africa, where, “[f]or every 100,000 workers …, 3,000 have tuberculosis, and many have often-fatal, drug-resistant strains of TB.” The blog writes that mining company “Anglo American announced Tuesday at the GBCHealth Conference [in New York] that it has agreed in principle to make its mines available for TB vaccine trials organized by Aeras, a non-profit that has 12 TB vaccine candidates now in various stages of research,” noting, “No formal agreement has been reached, but Anglo American’s spokesman vowed to make it happen.”

Government-Supported 'Prize Funds' Would Help Important Drugs Have Greater Social Impact

“Every year, millions of people die from preventable and treatable diseases, especially in poor countries,” World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate, writes in this BusinessDay opinion piece. “In many cases, life-saving medicines can be cheaply mass-produced, but are sold at prices that block access to those who need them,” and “many die simply because there are no cures or vaccines, because so little of the world’s valuable research talent and limited resources is devoted to addressing the diseases of the poor,” he continues, arguing, “This state of affairs represents a failure of economics and law that urgently needs to be corrected.” Stiglitz continues, “The good news is that there are now opportunities for change, most promisingly through an international effort headed by the World Health Organization that would begin to fix the broken intellectual-property regime that is holding back the development and availability of cheap drugs.”

Bill Introduced In U.S. Senate Is Latest Push To Award Prizes For New Drug Development

“As Washington prepares for a major international AIDS conference this summer, developments on the drug front are once again elevating the subject of the continuing epidemic in the public eye,” CQ HealthBeat reports. The article mentions an FDA panel’s recent recommendation for the approval of Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV among healthy people at risk of contracting the virus and a bill (S 1138) introduced last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) aimed at reducing the cost of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). The bill, which is focused on the cost of ARVs in the U.S., would “create a $3 billion ‘prize fund,’ through which [pharmaceutical] firms that bring a new HIV or AIDS medicine to market would get awards” in exchange for relinquishing patent rights to the drug, according to CQ (Norman, 5/18).

WHO DG Chan Addresses World Health Assembly; HHS Secretary Sebelius Speaks At Plenary Session

“Opening the 65th annual World Health Assembly (WHA) [on Monday in Geneva], World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan said she sees a bright future for health development, despite financial crises that many countries are facing, which has shrunk support for many initiatives,” CIDRAP News reports. According to the news service, “Chan said the WHO can leverage its leadership role to make the most of small and wise investments” and that “[u]niversal health coverage is the best way to maintain health gains that have been made over the past decade” (Schnirring, 5/21). Focusing on innovations that bring social benefit rather than profit, as well as research and development into new treatments, also are important, Chan noted, Devex reports (Ravelo, 5/22).

Bloomberg Markets Examines Spread Of Multidrug-Resistant Bacteria In India, Discusses Global Implications

Bloomberg Markets magazine in its June issue examines microbes that incorporate the New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1, or NDM-1, gene, making them resistant to nearly all available antibiotics. The article focuses on India, where the gene is thought to have developed due to the widespread and uncontrolled use of antibiotics, but notes that cases of NDM-1 antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been documented in Canada, France, Italy, Kosovo, and South Africa, without patients having traveled to India. Bloomberg describes how the gene was discovered and named; how NDM-1 is affecting India’s medical tourism industry; what the Indian government and health officials in the country and elsewhere are doing to fight multidrug-resistant bacteria; and how NDM-1 is spreading through the water and possibly food supply in India. “The number of countries reporting NDM-1 will continue to grow as more bacteria pick up the gene and people transport it around the globe,” Bloomberg writes (Gale/Narayan, 5/7).

Public-Private Partnership Pilot Program Could Facilitate Drug Development For Neglected Diseases

The National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a pilot program under which “three pharmaceutical companies have agreed to make dozens of their failed compounds available to researchers, who will investigate if the compounds can be re-purposed into successful treatments for other diseases,” Ashley Bennett, senior policy associate at the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC), writes in the group’s “Breakthroughs” blog. “With this new therapeutics program, NIH and NCATS have created an exciting, innovative model for collaboration between the public and private sectors. … Now NCATS must ensure that research for neglected diseases is encouraged and supported through this initiative,” Bennett says (5/7).

Guardian Blog Interviews Researcher Regarding Artemisinin Synthesis Discovery

In this post in the Guardian’s “The Observer,” Mark Honigsbaum, a research associate at the University of Zurich’s Institute for Medical History, interviews Peter Seeberger, the director of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany, about a recent announcement that Seeberger and colleague François Lévesque “have discovered a simple and cost-effective way of synthesizing artemisinin from the waste products of the” sweet wormwood plant from which it is extracted. Honigsbaum notes that “extracting artemisinin is expensive and because it takes time to cultivate the plant there are often bottlenecks in supply,” and writes, “Their discovery has the potential to make the drug more affordable for the 225 million people affected by malaria every year” (2/4).

Four Options For Resolving Bird Flu Research Debate

In this Scientific American opinion piece, author and former staff writer at Scientific American John Horgan examines “a bitter debate” among scientists over the publication of controversial H5N1 research, writing, “Research involving the bird-flu virus H5N1 poses an especially knotty dilemma, in which scientists’ commitment to openness — and to reducing humanity’s vulnerability to potential health threats — collides with broader security concerns.” Horgan provides some statistics on H5N1 infection, recounts a brief history of the research in question and suggests four options to resolve the dilemma.

Supporting Scientific Evidence Under PEPFAR To End AIDS

On Wednesday, several HIV experts spoke at a Capitol Hill briefing “supporting the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program’s reliance on scientific evidence to drive its work to end AIDS,” the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog reports. The speakers, including Diane Havlir of the University of California, San Francisco, RJ Simonds of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Renee Ridzon of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Chris Beyrer of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, talked about using antiretroviral treatment as a prevention method, the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, voluntary medical male circumcision, and preventing HIV among marginalized populations at high risk of infection (Mazzotta, 2/3).

Panel Discussion Shows Heated Controversy Over H5N1 Research

“The controversy over research about potentially dangerous H5N1 viruses heated up [Thursday night] in a New York City debate that featured some of the leading voices exchanging blunt comments on the alleged risks and benefits of publishing or withholding the full details of the studies,” CIDRAP News reports. “The debate, sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences, involved two members of the biosecurity advisory board that called for ‘redacting’ the two studies in question to delete details, along with scientists who want the full studies published and representatives of Science and Nature, the two journals involved,” the news service adds (Roos, 2/3).