Tag Archives: Pharmaceutical industry

Groundbreaking New Malaria Vaccine Could Receive Approval as Soon As 2015

Every minute, a child dies from malaria. According to the World Health Organization, 3.4 billion people, nearly half of the Earth’s entire population, are at risk for the disease.

Though malaria rates have dropped by 42% since 2000, the disease is still expected to kill anywhere from 600,000 to 800,000 people this year, with the majority of them being children under the age of five. In fact, malaria is the third largest killer of children worldwide.

We have been slowly but surely lessening the effects of malaria worldwide in the past 15 years. Click to enlarge

And while improving medical technologies and practices have been steadily reducing the number of malaria-related deaths, there is no proven vaccine against the disease.

But a promising new vaccine created by pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) may be about to change that.

The vaccine can’t prevent  every single case of malaria, but it has proven to have a very significant impact. During multiple trials of the vaccine, researchers found that on average about 800 cases of malaria could be prevented for every 1,000 children who got the vaccine.

In the most advanced of these trials, 1,500 children in several different African countries received the vaccine. 18 months later, researchers found that the vaccine had nearly halved the number of malaria infections in small children.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the center of the malaria crisis. 90% of all malaria deaths occur in Africa. Click to enlarge

The testing also suggests that the vaccine’s impact becomes even more pronounced in areas that have particularly high infection rates.

For example, in a number of Kenyan cities, the researchers were able to prevent about 2,000 cases of malaria with only 1,000 vaccines (many people in the area contract the disease multiple times).

GSK has now applied for regulatory approval of the vaccine from the European Medicine’s Authority. This is the first malaria vaccine to ever reach that step.

Sanjeev Krishna is a professor of Molecular Parasitology and Medicine at St. George’s University of London. He was one of the scientists who peer-reviewed the study before it was published in the journal PLOS Medicine. He had his to say:

“This is a milestone. The landscape of malaria vaccine development is littered with carcasses, with vaccines dying left, right and centre…

We need to keep a watchful eye for adverse events but everything appears on track for the vaccine to be approved as early as next year.”

Read more from the BBC here.

If you want to learn more about malaria, these 10 quick facts about the disease from the World Health Organization is a good place to start.

What’s In Your Drinking Water? Cocaine and Caffeine, If You’re British

A group of experts from the British Drinking Water Inspectorate recently carried out a series of tests to see what chemical compounds were in British drinking water. Even after intensive purification treatments, the scientists found traces of cocaine.

Specifically, the scientists found benzoylecgonine, which is the form that the compound takes after being metabolized in the body. It’s the same compound that is looked for in urine when testing a person for cocaine use.

Steve Rolles of the Transform think tank

Steve Rolles of the drug policy think tank Transform believes that this finding is reflective of Britain’s rapidly growing drug use. In an interview with the British Sunday Times recently, he said,

“We have the near highest level of cocaine use in western Europe. It has also been getting cheaper and cheaper at the same time as its use has been going up.”

According to the charity DrugScope, England has 170,000 crack cocaine-dependent addicts, and an estimated 700,000 British citizens aged 16-59 use cocaine at least once every year.

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But cocaine wasn’t the only thing found in the water. The inspectors also found traces of the common painkiller acetaminophen and the epilepsy drug carbamazepine. There were also significantly higher levels of caffeine in the water.

Public Health England recently published a report which assessed the health risks associated with these recent findings. Their report concluded that the levels of cocaine in the water after it was treated were 4 times lower than before treatment, and that the dosage (~4 nanograms/liter) was unlikely to pose a serious threat to public health. The report stated,

“Estimated exposures for most of the detected compounds are at least thousands of times below doses seen to produce adverse effects in animals and hundreds of thousands below human therapeutic doses.”

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However, little research has been done into whether or not constant, regular exposure to these pharmaceuticals, even in small doses, can cause cumulative effects over time.

Read more from The Independent here.

Huge Bribery Scandal Forces GlaxoSmithKline to Stop Paying Doctors to Promote Drugs

Earlier this week, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced that they would stop their long-standing practice of paying doctors to “promote” their drugs.

The move comes as GSK is being investigated in a large bribery scandal in China, where the company is accused of paying off doctors and government officials to boost their drug sales.

This isn’t the first time GSK has been in trouble for questionable practices. Last year, in the largest pharmaceutical misconduct settlement in history, they were forced to pay $3 billion and plead guilty to a number of federal charges related to their marketing of the drugs Paxil, Wellbutrin and Advair, among others.

GSK was charged with illegally marketing the depression drug Paxil to children and teens, even, “sponsoring dinners and spa programs in the drug’s name”.

What makes this particularly disturbing is that one of the side effects of Paxil is a higher incidence of suicidal thoughts. Worse still, GSK was fully aware that children and teens were at a much higher risk for this side effect than adults while they were marketing Paxil.

One of many ads for class-action lawsuits against Paxil

The practice of pharmaceuticals paying for scientific backing is not a new one unfortunately.

Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), recently estimated that between two-thirds to three-quarters of the drug trials that get published in major journals (Annals of Internal Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine being the most notable) are funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

It isn’t easy for scientists to find funding for their research, so when companies like GSK offer this funding, asking for a positive review or recommendation of their drug in return, many researchers find it hard to refuse.

Other known perks include toys for kids, meals at expensive restaurants, exotic vacations and even money for the doctors to continue their education.

Read the full story here.