Category Archives: Health

Aussie students hoist the Pharma Bro’s petard


Remember Pharma Bro?

That’s the nickname of Martin Shkreli, the greedy investor who plunged into the depths of infamy when he upped the price of a vital malaria drug by 30 times when it bought the only company that makes it.

Well, it seems some Australian students found a way to make the pils, which Shkreli priced at $750 a pop for a mere two bucks.

In other words, you could buy 375 of their pills from what one of Pharma Bro’s would cost you, before an internal furor forced him to cut the price to a mere $375.

Besides malaria, the drug is used to treat toxoplasmosis [previously], a disease caused by exposure to cats, and parasitical infections sometimes found in AIDS patients.

Well, it looks like the price will be coming down, and very soon.

From euronews:

The man who became a global figure of greed after hiking the price of a life-saving drug by 5000 percent in the US, may have just met his match.

Last year, US entrepreneur Martin Shkreli bought Turing Pharmaceuticals and almost immediately increased the price of the medicine Daraprim in the US from $13.50 to $750.

Now a group of school students in Australia has replicated a key-ingredient in the medicine for just $2.

Daraprim is an anti-parasitic drug used to treat malaria and HIV patients.

One of the students taking part in the experiments, Brandon Lee said: “It was a lot of trial and error, the process. We had to repeat a lot of the reactions and try different reaction conditions in order to see which materials in which things would react to make the Daraprim. But, yeah, it was a rollercoaster of emotions sometimes. I think because we are high school students we are able to relate to a larger audience, able to relate to the general public and show that even ordinary high school students like us, are able to make this drug for a pretty low price.”

Disabled Greeks oppose new austerity regime


We should give austerity a new name: Call it the Reverse Robin Hood Doctrine.

Austerity is the regime imposed on the world’s debt-ridden poor nations to qualify them for loans to pay the corporations and banksters of the world’s richest nations.

To make those payments, the debt-plagued countries are forced to slash programs designed to help the nation’s afflicted, poor, sick, and otherwise afflicted.

The latest crisis, the Great Recession, brought Greece to its knees, and the government sought loans from the Troika, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission.

Needless to say, austerity was imposed, forcing drastic cuts in the national healthcare system, the selloff of public assets [including power companies, transit systems, ports, and much more], as well as drastic cuts in public pensions and paychecks, as well as reduced social benefits payments imposed on those who could least afford the loss.

The austerity regime prompted voter to elect a government which promised them an end to austerity, but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has knuckled under, and new rounds of deprivation are underway.

Some of those most deeply impacted are now expressing their outrage.

From Kathimerini:

Disabled people and patients with chronic illnesses from around Greece protested in central Athens Friday against austerity measures as the government races to clinch a new deal with bailout lenders.

Protesters in wheelchairs carried black balloons while deaf demonstrators wore white gloves as they used sign language to join chants of anti-government slogans.

Disabled groups are seeking exemptions from budget austerity measures imposed under the country’s international bailout agreements.

Unemployment among people with disabilities was more than double the national jobless rate of 23 percent with poverty levels also sharply higher, according to Yannis Vardakastanis, head of the National Confederation of Disabled People of Greece.

“We want to live in dignity,” Vardakastanis, who is blind, told the AP. “It’s the obligation of the government and European institutions to stop us from being further isolated, impoverished and discriminated against.”

Greece is currently finalizing a new package of economic measures that would make home foreclosures and business firings easier. The measures are required in exchange for new bailout loan payouts and talks on debt relief measures.

Shame on the Troika, and shame on Tsipras.

Psilocybin cuts cancer patient anxiety, depression


Psilocybin, a mind-altering chemical found in “magic mushrooms,” once again proves the most powerful treatment yet for anxiety and depression, this time in cancer patients.

Two parallel studies have demonstrated remarkable effects from the drug, one which also also been shown in other studies to be the most potent pharmacological treatment ever found for alleviating major depression [here, here and here], social isolation, and spousal abuse, as well as in reducing tobacco smoking.

Gee, guess those ‘shrooms really are magic.

We include reports on both of the latest studies, first from the New York University Langone Medical Center:

When combined with psychological counseling, a single dose of a mind-altering compound contained in psychedelic mushrooms significantly lessens mental anguish in distressed cancer patients for months at a time, according to results of a clinical trial led by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology [access free for the article] online December 1, the study showed that one-time treatment with the hallucinogenic drug psilocybin—whose use required federal waivers because it is a banned substance—quickly brought relief from distress that then lasted for more than 6 months in 80 percent of the 29 study subjects monitored, based on clinical evaluation scores for anxiety and depression.

The NYU Langone-led study was published side by side with a similar study from Johns Hopkins University. Study results were also endorsed in 11 accompanying editorials from leading experts in psychiatry, addiction, and palliative care.

“Our results represent the strongest evidence to date of a clinical benefit from psilocybin therapy, with the potential to transform care for patients with cancer-related psychological distress,” says study lead investigator Stephen Ross, MD, director of substance abuse services in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone.

“If larger clinical trials prove successful, then we could ultimately have available a safe, effective, and inexpensive medication—dispensed under strict control—to alleviate the distress that increases suicide rates among cancer patients,” says Ross, also an associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine.

Study co-investigator Jeffrey Guss, MD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone, notes that psilocybin has been studied for decades and has an established safety profile. Study participants, he says, experienced no serious negative effects, such as hospitalization or more serious mental health conditions.

Although the neurological benefits of psilocybin are not completely understood, it has been proven to activate parts of the brain also impacted by the signaling chemical serotonin, which is known to control mood and anxiety. Serotonin imbalances have also been linked to depression.

For the study, half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive a 0.3 milligrams per kilogram dose of psilocybin while the rest received a vitamin placebo of 250 milligrams of niacin, known to produce a “rush” that mimics a hallucinogenic drug experience.

Approximately halfway through the study’s monitoring period (after seven weeks), all participants switched treatments. Those who initially received psilocybin took a single dose of placebo, and those who first took niacin, then received psilocybin. Neither patients nor researchers knew who had first received psilocybin or placebo. Guss says, “The randomization, placebo control, and double-blind procedures maximized the validity of the study results.”

One of the key findings was that improvements in clinical evaluation scores for anxiety and depression lasted for the remainder of the study’s extended monitoring period—specifically, eight months for those who took psilocybin first.

Much, much more after the jump: Continue reading

Threats to crop pollinators imperil billions


That’s just the humans, and not the hundreds of billions of earth’s herbivores and the carnivores dependent on them.

It’s a threat directly resulting from the massive agricultural use of pesticides and other chemicals.

From Agence France Presse:

About 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops depend on pollinators, researchers said Monday warning of a dire threat to human welfare if the falls in bee and butterfly numbers are not halted.

“World food supplies and jobs are at risk unless urgent action is taken to stop global declines of pollinators,” said a statement from the University of Reading, whose researchers took part in the global review.

Animal pollination directly affects about three-quarters of important crop types, including most fruits, seeds and nuts and high-value products such as coffee, cocoa and oilseed rape.

>snip<

There are some 20,000 species of bees responsible for fertilising more than 90 percent of the world’s 107 major crops.

Bee populations have been hit in Europe, North America and elsewhere by a mysterious phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder”, which has been blamed on mites, a virus or fungus, pesticides, or a combination of factors.

The authors of the review called for measures to protect pollinators against farming’s worst side-effects.

Agroecology, anyone?

Say goodbye to medical and recreational pot?


It’s a very real possibility, reports the Associated Press:

Weed is winning in the polls, with a solid majority of Americans saying marijuana should be legal. But does that mean the federal government will let dozens of state pot experiments play out? Not by a long shot.

The government still has many means to slow or stop the marijuana train. And President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next attorney general has raised fears that the new administration could crack down on weed-tolerant states 20 years after California became the first to legalize medical marijuana.

“We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized. It ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger,” Sessions said during an April Senate hearing.

The Controlled Substances Act bans pot even for medical purposes.

The AP reports goes on to list the tools Sessions has at his disposal once confirmed as the nation’s next Attorney General, including lawsuits to overturn state laws on they grounds that the federal marijuana ban preempts them.

Even without litigation, he could order Drug Enforcement Administration raids to shut down dispensaries and recreational marijuana shops in states which had authorized them.

A third alternative also appears to us: Federal legalization coupled with a revision of a section of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act declared unconstitutional in 1969.

The act imposed a tax on growers as well as a tax of $100 [$1,690 in today’s

A federal marijuana tax stamp from the original 1937 issue, via Wikipedia.

A federal marijuana tax stamp from the original 1937 issue, via Wikipedia.

dollars] on every ounce sold. The court ruled the tax unconstitutional because the simple act of registering to pay the tax was admission of a crime, because both growers and buyers would be admitting to other federal laws criminalizing cultivation with intent to sell, sales, and possession.

The combination of legalization plus an insanely high tax level, say $10,000 an ounce, and drastic criminal sentences and fines for failure to pay the tax would effectively result in an end to legal pot.

Given Sessions’ temperament and the mood of the GOP controlling both houses of the national legislature, we suspect that the feds will take some action in those famous smoke-filled rooms.

We can personally attest to the value of marijuana as a medicine. A legal prescription from our oncologist ended the nausea accompanying our cancer chemotherapy three years ago, and the demon weed also has proven extremely effective in alleviating flareups of the rheumatoid arthritis that’s afflicted us since we turned 30.

Fidel Castro is gone, the man the U.S. tried to kill


In the end, the killer was one that awaits us all, humanity’s finite lifespan.

From the New York Times:

Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday. He was 90.

His death was announced by Cuban state television.

In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when he was felled by a serious illness. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raúl Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother’s closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.

Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people.

More from the Guardian:

Castro’s younger brother Raúl, who assumed the presidency of Cuba in 2006 after Fidel suffered a near-fatal intestinal ailment, announced the revolutionary leader’s death on television on Friday night.

“With profound sadness I am appearing to inform our people and our friends across [Latin] America and the world that today, 25 November 2016, at 10.29pm, Fidel Castro, the commander in chief of the Cuban revolution, died,” he said.

“In accordance with his wishes, his remains will be cremated.”

Raúl Castro concluded his address with the famous revolutionary slogan: “Onwards to victory!”

On Saturday, the Cuban government announced that Fidel Castro’s ashes will be interred at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on 4 December. The cemetery is the resting place of 19th century Cuban independence hero José Martí and numerous other leading figures in the country’s torrid history.

Hundreds of assassination attempts foiled

Castro lived a charmed life, surviving hundreds of would-be assassins, many of them dispatched by a U.S. government outraged that a revolutionary regime could challenge its hegemony and flourish just 90 miles off its shore.

Powerful U.S. corporations had seen their lucrative Cuban assets nationalized, and the mob lost its casinos, infuriating syndicate heads in Chicago, Miami, and New Orleans, as well as notorious money launderer Meyer Lansky, who lost his own casino.

Other governments as well loathed Castro for his backing of revolutuonary regimes and dispatched their own killers.

And all of their attempts failed, as documented in this 2013 report from Britain’s Channel 4 News:

638 Ways To Kill Castro

A noteworthy legacy

So we bid farewell to Fidel, who created a national healthcare system that’s one of the world’s best [the island nation’s infant mortality rates are much lower than those of the U.S., a fact the CIA acknowledges], and where the U.S. sends troops to maintain its dominance over the globe, Cuba sends doctors to heal folks in some of the world’s poorest lands and assist when disaster strikes.

Barred by a trade embargo from importing food from the U.S., Cuba developed the world’s best system of agroecology, raising crops without pesticides and an over-reliance on synthetic fertilizers, while turning vacant lots into rich urban farms.

While the American right has long demonized Castro as a despot, the truth is that he accomplished much good for the Cuban people and countless numbers of the sick and the afflicted in other lands.

And now we bid him farewell, a man whose legacy is — like that of all of us — mixed, but one that is far better than so often portrayed in the U.S. media.

Map of the day: The Zika epidemic’s spread


And the global health emergency has been declared at an end.

From the latest World Health Organization Zika Situation Report [click on the image to enlarge]:

blog-zika-mapMore on the declared end to the crisis from Reuters:

The World Health Organization on Friday declared that Zika no longer constitutes an international emergency, but it stressed a need for a long-term effort to address the virus, which has been linked to birth defects and neurological complications.

Officials on WHO’s Emergency Committee made clear the Zika still constitutes a global public health threat. They warned the virus, which has been found in 60 countries since the outbreak was identified last year in Brazil, will continue to spread where mosquitoes that carry the virus are present.

Removing the international emergency designation will put Zika in a class with other diseases, such as dengue, that pose serious risks and require continued research, including efforts to develop effective vaccines.

But some public health experts worried that losing the “international emergency” label could slow research into the virus, which continues to cause infections in the United States and elsewhere.

WHO in February declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern – a designation under international law that compels countries to report outbreaks. The moved was part of an effort to determine if Zika was linked to reports in Brazil of the severe birth defect microcephaly and the neurological disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Traditionally, Zika had only been thought to cause mild symptoms.