Press review

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Companies racing to develop vaccine for coronavirus after outbreak in China

Country : Brazil, China, India, Ireland, Russia, Spain, U.S., UK

Keywords :
LONDON, 24 Jan (APM) - The outbreak of coronavirus in China was widely covered this week.
The Financial Times on Monday said China's National Health Commission confirmed the first cases of human-to-human transmission of the new virus, fuelling concerns about the spread of the disease.
The story was also covered on Tuesday by The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent and The Daily Mail.
The Daily Mail then reported on Tuesday that six patients had died from the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) said it would consider declaring an international public health emergency, The Telegraph said. The Guardian noted that many of those infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.
Both the FT and the Daily Mail on Wednesday then covered the first U.S. cases of the virus, noting that an American man in Washington state has been infected.
The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday reported on comments from Chinese officials that the virus is already adapting and mutating.
It quoted Gao Fu, director-general of China's center for disease control and prevention, who said: "The virus gradually adapted once it was transmitted from the animals [to humans] and we need more time to study further."
The Times on Thursday said that pharma companies are "racing to develop" a vaccine for the virus.
It said Moderna has established a partnership with the National Institutes of Health in America on a potential candidate. Nano Viricides, another New York-listed drugs company, is testing its drugs against the virus.
And on Friday The Times says more than a dozen people have been tested in the UK for the virus, with the NHS under orders to question everyone with flu-like symptoms in an attempt to stop its spread.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has given warning that it is likely that cases of coronavirus will be seen in the UK as part of a "rapidly developing" global outbreak.
The Guardian on Friday reports that the death toll in China has risen to 26 and that 830 people have been infected.
It added that at least 10 cities in central Hubei province have been shut down in an effort to stop the virus., restricting the movement of about 33 million people.

Insys founder sentenced to prison for role in opioid crisis

A founder of one of the company's accused of being behind the opioid crisis in the U.S. has been sentenced to five and a half years in prison, as reported in The Daily Telegraph and the FT on Friday.
John Kapoor is the first owner of a pharmaceutical company to be jailed over the crisis that has killed tens of thousands of Americans, says the Telegraph.
He was convicted in May of a scheme that saw Insys pay doctors money to prescribe the company's addictive painkiller Subsys to patients who did not need it.
He was found guilty of criminal conspiracy, along with four other former executives of the Arizona-based firm, following a 10-week trial in Boston.

GSK accused of paying companies to delay launch of generic Seroxat

The FT on Wednesday reported that a senior adviser to the European Court of Justice claims that GlaxoSmithKline may have harmed competition by signing agreements to delay the launch of generic versions of its antidepressant Seroxat.
Advocate-general Juliane Kokott said that the UK pharma agreed to pay rivals more than £50 million to postpone the launch of cheaper copies of Seroxat after patents expired in 1999.
The expert opinion comes ahead of a European Court of Justice ruling this year, said the paper.
It quoted GSK as saying: "We do not yet have the final ruling in this case and so will not be commenting further while proceedings are ongoing."

U.S. judge slashes J&J's Risperdal payout from $8 billion to $6.8 million

The FT at the weekend reported that a U.S. judge has slashed Johnson & Johnson's $8 billion payout related to its antipsychotic Risperdal to $6.8 million (APMHE 65905).
The healthcare giant had been ordered to pay the damages after a man developed breasts after taking the drug and alleged that J&J had failed to properly warn that this was a risk.
J&J had described the previous $8 billion verdict as "grossly disproportionate", said the FT. Now a Pennsylvania judge ruled in favour of the company, substantially reducing the damages to $6.8 million.
The FT noted that J&J is facing more than 13,000 product liability claims related to Risperdal.

Takeda facing tax demands in Ireland

Ireland's tax authorities are pursuing Takeda for almost €400 million in taxes related to actions by Shire, the Dublin-headquartered company it acquired last year, according to the Sunday Times.
The paper said the €398 million tax demand relates to the so-called break fee of $1.64 billion (€1.47 billion) that Shire received from AbbVie in 2014 after AbbVie abandoned a buyout bid for Shire.
While Shire concluded it was not liable for any taxes on the break fee, Ireland's Revenue believes it should be taxed as a capital gain that was outside the company’s normal trading activity.

Pre-clinical TCR findings reported as potential 'one size fits all' cancer therapy

Researchers from Cardiff University on Monday reported new preclinical T cell receptor (TCR) findings they claimed could offers the hope of a "one-size-fits-all" cancer therapy - a story widely covered by the UK press.
Conventional T cells recognises human leukocyte antigen (HLA) on the surface of cancer cells, the researchers said. Wide HLA variation between individuals has prevented the creation of a single T cell treatment which can target most cancers in all people, they noted.
They claimed the fact their newly discovered TCR targets the MHC class I-related protein, MR1, which is present on the surface of a wide range of cancer cells, has raised the prospect of a "universal" cancer therapy.
The research found that T-cells of melanoma patients modified to express this new TCR could destroy not only the patient's own cancer cells, but also other patients' cancer cells in the laboratory, regardless of the patient's HLA type.
However, testing has so far only been carried out in mice and on human cells in vitro.
Scientists have also previously claimed a key reason CAR-T cell therapies have notorious difficulty in treating solid cancers is that they target surface molecules like the new potential TCR treatment discovered in Cardiff, rather than intracellular targets.
The story was covered widely across the British press on Monday, including by The Telegraph and the BBC, as well as by The Independent on Tuesday.

GSK plans to launch clinical trial by end of 2020 for 23andMe drug

GlaxoSmithKline expects to have launched a trial by the end of a year for the first drug selected as part of its partnership with genetics testing company 23andMe, the FT said on Monday.
The paper spoke to GSK's chief executive Emma Walmsley who said the idea behind the deal was "very simple" - that genetically validated targets had a higher probably of leading to successful medicines.
Walmsley's comments, which came at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, follow 23andMe's agreement to license its first drug candidate to Spain's Almirall. 23andMe is also developing its own drugs outside of pharma partnerships, noted the FT.

Google chief calls for AI regulation for health tech

The FT on Monday carried three stories on Google's rising aspirations in the health tech space, in one of which Google's chief called for artificial intelligence (AI) to be regulated.
This year, the digital giant is aiming to fight medical misinformation in search results, create tools to be used by thousands of doctors, and improve the accuracy of diagnosis with technologies like computer vision to read X-rays, the FT noted in one of the articles.
The newspaper also questioned whether we can ever trust Google with our health data across all three pieces.
In an opinion piece, Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google and its parent company Alphabet, stressed the importance of regulating AI, noting: "It is too important not to. The only question is how to approach it." Google published ts own principles in 2018, he said adding: "Government regulation will also play an important role. We don't have to start from scratch."
"The EU and the U.S. are already starting to develop regulatory proposals. International alignment will be critical to making global standards work. To get there, we need agreement on core values. Companies such as ours cannot just build promising new technology and let market forces decide how it will be used. It is equally incumbent on us to make sure that technology is harnessed for good and available to everyone."

Medicine one of the industries to gain from Brexit

Medicine was one of the five industries marked as the biggest gainers as the UK government diverges from EU rules due to Brexit, according to an opinion piece published by The Telegraph on Monday.
The frontiers of medical science are going to be in cloning and gene therapy, said its writer Matthew Lynn. The EU has put restrictions on both of those technologies and shows very little interest in lifting them. And yet that, rather than traditional pharmacology, is where the innovation is, he added.
The article goes on to note that the UK already has a huge and world-beating pharmaceuticals and biotech industry. It may have to move some jobs and some production, to Europe to make sure it stays in the single market. Against that, it can research and experiment with products that would not be possible in the rest of the Continent, Lynn adds.

UK seeing drop-off in ERC funding for research

Mauro Ferrari, the president of the European Research Council (ERC), has warned of a drop-off in UK research funding, according to the Guardian on Tuesday.
The paper noted that 544 researchers in the early stages of their careers in the UK applied in 2017 for a starting grant, compared with 372 for work in 2020.
Applications for the consolidator grant - for scientists to build on their experience and research - declined from 428 for 2017 to 387 in the latest round and applications for the advanced grant fell from 433 in 2017 to 326 last year.
Ferrari said in an interview: "There was a sizeable drop-off. But certainly not from anything we did from the ERC side but because of concern from British scientists who were thinking: 'Should I do all this work pulling this together and send it out when perhaps it will be terminated? Maybe I should put my work in something else …' But we love them."

Cannabis compound could be used to fight superbugs

A compound made by cannabis plants has potential to wipe out drug-resistant bacteria, raising hopes of a new weapon in the fight against superbugs, The Guardian reported on Sunday.
Scientists screened five cannabis compounds for their antibiotic properties and found that one, cannabigerol (CBG), was particularly potent at killing methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) - one of the most common hospital superbugs - in pre-clinical tests.

Antimicrobial resistance on rise

Both the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday covered the Access to Medicine Foundation, which looks at pharmaceutical companies' efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance.
The Telegraph led with its findings that the world is "precariously reliant" on just a handful of companies to develop new antibiotics, running the risk of a rise in superbugs.
It said that because antibiotics are not viewed as a profitable product, many companies are retreating from the market.
The Guardian led with the angle that many antibiotics are unavailable in poorer countries despite higher infection rates, exacerbating the threat of drug-resistant superbugs.
It said that in less wealthy countries, when the best antibiotics are unavailable, doctors are often forced to use inferior drugs or delay treatment, leading to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. In Brazil, Indonesia and Russia, 40-60% of infections are caused by superbugs. In India, the proportion rises to more than 70% for several common bacteria.

Cervical cancer almost entirely 'avoidable' - policy experts

Each year, more than half a million women worldwide receive a cervical cancer diagnosis but, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has made clear, the burden of the disease on people and health services is almost entirely avoidable, The Guardian reported on Monday.
The reason is that nearly all cases of cervical cancer can be traced back to long-term infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), it said. Prevent the virus from taking hold, using the effective vaccines already on the market as well as screening to catch and treat abnormal cells before they turn into cancer and rates of the disease can be slashed.
In a separate Monday article, The Guardian quoted NHS England's experts as saying there is potential to end the disease - which kills 850 women a year in the UK - through vaccination and HPV screening.
The story was also covered on Monday in the Independent.

HPV infections on decline in UK

HPV infections have dropped in the UK after a vaccination programme, the Guardian said on Wednesday.
The paper said that in 2008, the year vaccination began, 15% of young women were infected with HPV, which can cause cervical cancer.
Data from Public Health England shows the infection rate dropped to 2% in 16-to 18-year-old women between 2014 and 2018. In a sample of 600 young women tested in 2018, no infections were found.
Vaccination coverage against HPV is high: 83.9% of girls in year nine have had the recommended two shots.

Inflammation could play role in mental health

The Observer on Sunday carried a feature on the role of inflammation in various conditions written by Professor Edward Bullmore, head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge.
He said: "It's now clear that inflammation is part of the problem in many, if not all, diseases of the body. And targeting immune or inflammatory causes of disease has led to a series of breakthroughs, from new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune diseases in the 1990s, through to the advent of immunotherapy for some cancers in the 2010s."
He noted that the brain is "rapidly emerging as one of the new frontiers for inflammation" and that the healthcare community realised now the brain and the immune system are "deeply interconnected".
This could mean advances in mental health conditions, said Bullmore, refencing studies that show anti-inflammatory drugs, rather than a placebo, significantly improved mental health scores.
Inflammation could also play a role in neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's' and Parkinson's disease, he said, adding that physical and mental health services are sharply segregated at the moment.
"In contrast, the new science of inflammation and the brain is clearly aligned with arguments for breaking down these barriers in clinical practice. More than that, though, it has the potential to transform our thinking about illness more broadly."
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