💉MSF asks ViiV to leave conditions at the door; SK Biopharma heads to the Middle East; WHO goes all in on traditional medicine
#409 | Rx Healthcare looking at acquisitions in Egypt; BI takes obesity drug into late stage trials; BA.2.86 looks to upstage EG.5
The first WHO global summit on traditional medicine kicked off in Gandhinagar, India yesterday. Here is hoping it doesn't devolve into a forum for pseudoscience.
Ghana and Nigeria are facing anthrax outbreaks with multiple animal and human casualties. The recent spike in cases in Ghana is attributed to the halt in vaccination programs due to lack of funding even as experts emphasised the importance of continuous animal vaccination, especially in regions with conditions favouring anthrax transmission. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the National Veterinary Research Institute plans to vaccinate 10 million animals to achieve herd immunity, although vaccines aren't provided for free. Both countries' vaccination efforts are hampered by financial constraints, and experts urge governments, philanthropic organizations, and citizens to prioritise and fund anthrax vaccinations to curb the disease's spread.
Egypt's Rx Healthcare is exploring acquisitions in the generic pharma sector in the country and the GCC, with advanced acquisition processes underway and plans to introduce new products developed by its subsidiary, United Pharma.
South Korea's SK Biopharmaceuticals has partnered with Hikma MENA FZE to introduce its epilepsy drug, Cenobamate, in the MENA region, with Hikma handling sales in 16 countries and potential future collaborations anticipated.
Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim is advancing to late-stage studies for its obesity drug, Survodutide, co-developed with Zealand Pharma, targeting a potential $100 billion market and also exploring its use for fatty liver disease.
And finally, Covid is beginning to make
wavesheadlines again with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying it is monitoring a new, highly mutated Covid variant named BA.2.86, found in the US, Denmark, and Israel. The WHO has labelled it a "variant under monitoring." It's uncertain if this variant can outperform current strains or evade immunity from previous infections or vaccines. Early indications suggest it might evade antibodies targeting pre-Omicron and initial Omicron strains. The other new dominant variant, Eris, meanwhile, may not be able to wreak much damage with Moderna saying its updated vaccine is effective against Eris in humans. And Pfizer saying its updated vaccine works against Eris in mice.
In two weeks, the 10th-anniversary edition of Pharmaconex, the beating heart of African pharmaceutical manufacturing that binds the entire supply chain in Egypt, will open doors to pharma folk around the world.
Africa and West Asia will lead the worldwide pharma story in the forthcoming decade; this is your chance to get a headstart. Please register if you haven't yet. Your registration entitles you to a free, year-long subscription to The Kable. Claim yours now.
The Week That Was
It has been another eventful week in life sciences this week, a week that began with the news that Uzbekistan has begun a trial over the deaths of children linked to the consumption of cough syrups tainted with ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol. Later in the week, Uzbek officials also said distributors paid local officials $33,000 to skip mandatory testing for these cough syrups in the country.
Millions of people are set to gain access to a life-saving TB treatment, the first new one in over 40 years, which is superior in effectiveness and safety to any prior drugs. This piece in Scientific American outlines the global fight towards improved access and affordability for TB treatments.
With a small number of cases and limited geographical spread of the poliovirus, scientists believe that Afghanistan and Pakistan stand a solid chance at stopping wild poliovirus transmission this year. This article in Nature outlines the current state of the polio problem, vaccine-derived polio, and what can be done to increase vaccine acceptance and eradicate polio once and for all.
We've written about Africa’s health worker crisis many times in The Kable. And the problem is nowhere close to being over. As the exodus is driven by poor working conditions, poor pay, and inflation, the WHO’s red list hasn’t helped much in stemming recruitment from critically understaffed health systems. Neither have policies and regulations in individual African countries. SciDev.Net provides a comprehensive look at the situation across the continent.
And finally, the UK government has announced up to £210 million in funding for the Fleming Fund’s activities. In partnership with Asian and African countries, the UK will take on the threat of antimicrobial resistance, with the £££ going towards labs, disease surveillance systems, and a larger global workforce over the next three years.
The tug-of-war between transparency and confidentiality. ViiV Healthcare had struck a deal with the Medicines Patent Pool last year to permit some generic manufacturers to produce its HIV prevention drug, Apretude, for 90 lower-income countries. Turns out the GSK baby has also been in contract negotiations for over a year with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) regarding access to Apretude, and MSF has now expressed concerns in an open letter about new amendments in the proposed purchase agreement. According to MSF officials, the nearly finalised deal in December was altered by ViiV due to supply constraints. The changes in the contract now appear more like a nondisclosure agreement, with clauses mandating confidentiality of pricing details and allowing ViiV easy termination of the supply agreement. MSF demands these clauses be removed and seeks to continue negotiations by month-end. A ViiV spokesperson claims they are working closely with MSF to expedite access to the drug.
Access to essential medicines in lower-income countries is a pressing global health issue. This situation highlights the challenges that arise when trying to bridge the gap between commercial interests and public health needs. It will be essential for both parties to come to an agreement that serves the needs of the vulnerable populations while respecting commercial constraints and concerns.
A molecule that regulates essential sensory channels. Researchers at the Victor Chang Cardiac Institute have discovered a molecule that plays a critical role in how cells sense mechanical forces, such as being pushed or pulled. These findings reveal that MyoD-family inhibitor proteins (MDFIC and MDFI) interact with PIEZO1/2 ion channels, which are essential cellular sensors. According to study authors, these PIEZO channels constantly relay information to the brain about the body's spatial orientation, touch sensation, and pain. The identified interacting molecule acts as a switch that can regulate these channels, which are extensively expressed throughout the body. The researchers believe that this discovery can pave the way for developing new therapeutics for various diseases, including obesity, osteoporosis, and inflammatory conditions. These therapeutics could potentially modulate the activity of PIEZO channels, such as enhancing the sensation of fullness in the stomach to mimic satiety and combat obesity or strengthening bones to prevent and treat osteoporosis.
New mechanism behind Huntington’s. Scientists from the University of Plymouth, Fudan University, and Tsinghua University have discovered an additional mechanism behind the genetic mutations causing rare neurodegenerative conditions like Huntington’s disease (HD). Besides the previously understood protein aggregate toxicity, a study revealed that expanded CAG repeat RNA can form aggregates in the cytoplasm, leading to reduced global protein synthesis, resulting in neurotoxicity and neurodegeneration. The international collaboration has enhanced the understanding of such inherited diseases and offers potential avenues for future treatments. Researchers emphasised that this discovery provides a deeper insight into the origins of HD and related conditions, paving the way for developing better treatments.
(Nature Chemical Biology)
Reducing Alzheimer’s risk with vaccines. Research from UTHealth Houston reveals that prior vaccination against tetanus, diphtheria, shingles (herpes zoster), and pneumococcus is linked to a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The study suggests that not only does the influenza vaccine lower the risk of Alzheimer's by 40%, but other adult vaccines also have a similar protective effect. The research, which compared vaccinated and unvaccinated groups, found that those vaccinated with Tdap/Td, HZ, or pneumococcal vaccine had reduced risks of 30%, 25%, and 27%, respectively. The team believes that these vaccines might modify the immune response to toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer's. The findings underscore the importance of routine adult vaccinations in Alzheimer's prevention and highlight the potential benefits of widely accessible vaccines compared to costly Alzheimer's treatments.
(Journal of Alzheimer's Disease)
Freezing appetites naturally. When exposed to cold temperatures, mammals tend to eat more due to increased energy expenditure needed to maintain body temperature. Neuroscientists at Scripps Research discovered that a cluster of neurons in the xiphoid nucleus of the midline thalamus acts as a "switch" for this cold-triggered food-seeking behaviour in mice. This was found when observing that neuron activity in this area increased just before mice sought food in cold conditions. The findings suggest potential treatments to block the appetite increase due to cold, potentially enhancing weight loss through simple cold exposure methods.
Living la vida loca. Turns out, living like you're on a never-ending Mediterranean vacation – munching on fruits, napping under the sun, and salsa dancing the night away – can help you outlive your potato-chip-couch-surfing buddies! In a study from La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Harvard, the more you embrace the Mediterranean lifestyle, the less likely you are to meet the Grim Reaper prematurely. And if you really lean into those afternoon siestas and Friday night fiestas, your heart might just send you a thank-you card. So, why wait for that Mediterranean cruise? Start living the dream, and maybe, just maybe, you'll have more years to book that actual trip! 🍇🌞🕺🛳️.
(Mayo Clinic Proceedings)
Decoding age with AI. Scientists at Osaka Metropolitan University have come up with a new way to figure out your age, and it's not by checking the wrinkles on your face but by peeking at your chest! They've trained a savvy AI to look at chest X-rays and guess how many candles would be on your birthday cake. But here's the plot twist: if the AI thinks your chest looks older than you actually are, it might be hinting at some sneaky chronic diseases lurking around. So, next time you want to look younger, forget the anti-ageing cream – maybe just have a health check-up!
(The Lancet Healthy Longevity)
The new bug-busting superhero. Aloe vera, the go-to plant for soothing sunburns and healing cuts, is stepping up its game as the unexpected superhero of the farm! While humans are slathering aloe's gooey insides on their skin, the plant's outer peels, usually tossed away as worthless trash, are eyeing a new career as bug bouncers. Scientists have discovered that these humble rinds are like kryptonite to insects, packed with compounds that send pests packing. So next time you're fighting off a horde of mosquitoes, remember: your trusty aloe plant might just be the double agent you need, soothing your skin while plotting against pests. Talk about a plant with a plan!
(American Chemical Society)
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