Ron Seybold's Viral Times

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Archive for the ‘Media reporting’ Category

Government funds hurry-up disease fighters

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The world is so far behind on its supply of anti-bacterial drugs that the US government is paying a major pharma to create and test formulas more quickly. This government aid to pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline rolls into full tilt in Viral Times, just some five years from now.

But this year, pressure has mounted for accelerated creation of drugs to fight superbugs — things like MRSA and worse, for which there appears to be no protection. Going to the hospital is a serious decision itself about maintaining health.

From the New York Times:

Government officials, drug companies and medical experts, faced with outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” are pushing to speed up the approval of new antibiotics, a move that is raising safety concerns among some critics.

The need for new antibiotics is so urgent, supporters of an overhaul say, that lengthy studies involving hundreds or thousands of patients should be waived in favor of directly testing such drugs in very sick patients. Influential lawmakers have said they are prepared to support legislation that allows for faster testing.

The Health and Human Services Department last month announced an agreement under which it will pay $40 million to a major drug maker, GlaxoSmithKline, to help it develop medications to combat antibiotic resistance and biological agents that terrorists might use. Under the plan, the federal government could give the drug company as much as $200 million over the next five years.

“We are facing a huge crisis worldwide not having an antibiotics pipeline,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration. “It is bad now, and the infectious disease docs are frantic. But what is worse is the thought of where we will be five to 10 years from now.”

If you play out this trend, two aspects emerge. First, the defense of our populace from disease will make the military defense budgets look small. While you’re unlikely to be attacked by a rogue cell of terrorists, catching a superbug is a genuine possibility. Uncounted billions will be tossed at this threat.

Second, this is only drug defense against bacterial infection we’re seeing in the Times story. Viruses are much more adaptive and evasive. We have fewer successful anti-virals than anti-bacterials. It’s reasonable to imagine that pharmacos, like PharmaCorp in Viral Times, can grow larger than a defense contractor like McDonnell Douglas.

Written by Ron Seybold

July 5, 2013 at 3:47 pm

West Nile Virus on the rise in Texas

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In my home here in Austin, we’re hearing reports about a rising number of infections from the West Nile Virus. The mosquito population here never carried this disease, at least not until this year. Now there’s been seven reported infections in the Austin area, and at least one death statewide. A few people in my family are scared.

What’s notable is that the warnings and reports include the word epidemic. One doctor said he’d never seen an epidemic like this in Texas. He’s relying on a definition of the word that people who’ve seen Contagion may not understand — but it’s not the right term. An epidemic is a series of infections which are high in number across a geographic area. The number of infections, in total, doesn’t create an epidemic. You need a concentrated geographic area.

He may have been using comparative thinking, but seven infections among a Texas population of more than 15 million — anybody who gets a mosquito bite could be infected — well, that’s not a high number. Not high enough for an epidemic. Under one definition, an epidemic has to spread quickly, too. An epidemic is in a concentrated geographic area. We’re hearing our reports about Travis County. But that’s only seven reports.

Our world endured an H1N1 pandemic over the past two years. That’s an infection across vast geographic areas, though not necessarily high in overall numbers. Despite that official UN health organization’s designation, the 2010-11 infections didn’t change the world’s physical contact between persons, or reshape laws about sanitation and disinfection. Or spark a tremendous business sector devoted to protection. That’s the stuff of Viral Times — although the governments of my novel are not responding evenly, or with enough resources.

Written by Ron Seybold

August 8, 2012 at 8:59 am

Pharma titan Pfizer adds natural immunity product

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Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical enterprises, has bought the makers of Emergen-C. The vitamin C supplement is filling out the Pfizer consumer product portfolio, according to my friend Tracy Staton, who reports for FiercePharma.

Pfizer is snapping up the company that makes Emergen-C, those ubiquitous vitamin C packets that sell for some $10 a box. The world’s biggest drugmaker will add California-based Alacer to its consumer health operations, acquired along with Wyeth in 2009. “Emergen-C products add to and greatly complement our market-leading dietary supplement portfolio,” Pfizer Consumer Healthcare President Paul Sturman said in a statement. Alacer makes about 500 million Emergen-C packets a year, Pfizer said. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Viral Times unfolds its story in a near-future where pharmas like Pfizer are allied with health insurance providers to create the PharmAlliance. This latest news shows Pfizer is expanding its business to include products like the 30-cent-a-day Emergen-C which don’t require medical insurance coverage, or a prescription, and so will never fall out of high-profit patent drug status. Patent drugs can have a very finite lifespan of profitability, while viruses have an infinite lifespan because they evolve as needed. The disease will usually outlast the drugs, if a virus is at work.

For example, Pfizer is struggling to maintain its client base for Lipitor this year, extending its own “co-pay” program to keep the brand-name version cheaper than the single generic version. Tracy reported in a separate article that WellPoint, a very large healthcare insurer, is now planning to stop covering Pfizer’s brand-name cholesterol drug April 1, favoring its generic rivals instead.

Tracy was an early workshopping reader of Viral Times before she took her MFA in writing from Texas State. She reports on pharmas for the Fierce group, as well as works as an associate editor for American Way magazine.

Written by Ron Seybold

February 28, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Brain mapping gives us a path to understanding love

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A new book from Judith Horstman on how brain activity affects love includes a message about how much fMRI scans have taught us about the neuron dances that our minds do when we’re in love. From an article and interview with Horstman in the Marin Independent Journal:

We know more about the brain in love than ever before, thanks to technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that maps brain activity in real time. And it’s shed light on how taking the Pill might affect the men that a woman’s attracted to (which could possibly be the reason behind some divorces); how love can be addictive (especially for women); how meditation might make you a better lover (who wouldn’t want to be?); and how taking acetaminophen just might relieve some of the often devastating pain of being jilted.

Horstman’s book “The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex and the Brain: The Neuroscience of How, When, Why, and Who We Love” examines how our biggest sex organ builds the emotion we all need. In Viral Times, Jenny Nation wins a Nobel Prize for her research into mapping brain activity in 2017. The discoveries lead her to develop a new drug that will impart love to all who take it — a most holy kind of love.

 

Written by Ron Seybold

February 7, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Media reporting, Viral Times: Novel

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Enough of the vaccine, already

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Ah, the heady drama of last fall. H1N1 was a steady source of worry, creating the Worried Well and sparking a fevered drive to stock up on vaccine. In October CBS interviewed Dr. Troyen Brennan, the Chief Medical Officer of CVS, the drug store chain.

Asked if there will be enough H1N1 vaccine to go around, Brennan said, “We do believe there will be enough. The government’s been very careful in terms of the amount of H1N1 it’s ordered and that’s coming online right now.”

And so millions of Americans queued up for a Swine Flu shot, some at CVS, along with a seasonal flu shot. Boy, was there ever enough of the H1N1 vaccine. Too much for Europe, where some claim that Swine Flu was a fake epidemic. From NPR, “Governments all across Europe are canceling orders of swine flu vaccine as frantically as they were clamoring for it a few month ago.” Alas, we’re more determined to be protected in the US.

The government is thinking about how much more swine flu vaccine to order up and pay for. But Health and Human Services spokesman Bill Hall says any decision to scale back vaccine orders is “weeks away.” Let’s take stock. Last spring the US government signed contracts for $1.5 billion worth of vaccine against the novel H1N1 virus–251 million doses. So far, 55 percent of that amount has been shipped, and something like 60 million Americans have been vaccinated. That leaves 45 percent of the contracted-for vaccine yet to be delivered. That’s 115 million doses, worth about $675 million.

Okay, it’s under a billion dollars, so it won’t even show up in the US budget.

But the cost of stress-induced concern about health, missed work time to vaccinate, isolation of the populace that didn’t want to risk being in this epidemic: much greater. There’s a payoff for coverage as breathless and shallow as the CBS Early Show stuff, thank goodness. We’re being innoculated from the sudden panic of virus outbreaks. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ron Seybold

January 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm

See Swine Flu safety info. See data illustrated.

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Journalist David McCandless, a London-based author, writer and designer, has a superior summary of everything which a Swine Flu vaccine can do, based on a wide variety of public sources. Best of all, it’s presented in illustrated format.

One major surprise to me is the amount of mercury (thimerosal) that’s inserted into flu shots. A can of tuna has about twice as much mercury as any thimerosal you will find in an injection. The nasal application of the H1N1 vaccine contains zero micrograms of mercury. But getting vaccinated with an inhaled formula isn’t recommended for anyone over 50. This is the same age group that has only a 4 percent chance of contracting this kind of influenza. The data so far also indicates that this flu is being contracted mostly by people under 25. He also concludes that the chances of dying of the current vaccine are more than 1 in a million.

McCandless’s Swine Flu data is at informationisbeautiful.net, along with dozens of other interesting presentations.

Written by Ron Seybold

December 3, 2009 at 7:36 pm

ABC believes H1N1 is on the wane

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A weekend report from ABC News explores the idea that the Swine Flu panic may be ebbing. Now that didn’t take long.

As part of its insights, the TV network took note of the Austin children’s hospital which pitched tents in the parking lot to vaccinate kids back in September. The tents are gone, ABC finally noticed. (The Dell Children’s Hospital here in my hometown took the tents down more than six weeks ago, but a reporter has to call around to find out anything. Apparently the local affiliate KVUE’s stories didn’t float up to the mothership.)

My friend Tom Coefield, who works as a planner for rival Columbia Healthcare St. David’s hospital, took note of the tents too. He was impressed by how thoughtful the tactic seemed. The hospital had no good reason for erecting the easy-to-spot tents, at least not public health-related. “But it showed everyone how much they cared,” Tom said with a wink.

Comments on the ABC TV web site assert that perhaps the recent alarm about Swine Flu was related to winning some stimulus monies for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Web site comments are way down the ladder on the reliable source chain, of course. And the H1N1 virus hasn’t departed our populace. But Tom says the test for determining if your flu is Swine is only accurate about 30 percent of the time. So much for the accuracy of reports about how many people have contracted it. Now come reports that H1N1 is mutating. Good news? That flu shot you got for H1N1 will be somewhat useful in creating immunity if you encounter a mutated live virus in the air, somewhere.

Written by Ron Seybold

November 24, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Let’s blame it on the children

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NPRstoryA story appeared on the NPR Web site this morning that reports pigs in Iowa might have caught H1N1 from schoolchildren. That’s right, pigs might have caught swine flu from people.

But the reporting is so bad, it’s as if some journalist looked up and saw the clock and thought, “Holy crap. I gotta file my daily swine flu story.” So we get the following:

Pigs in Minnesota may have tested positive for the H1N1 virus… officials cautioned that further tests are needed to confirm that the pigs have been infected with H1N1. The pigs did not exhibit signs of sickness and may have been infected by a group of children with the virus, they said. Officials said a group of children staying at dormitory near the Minnesota State Fair contracted the H1N1 virus at the same time that samples were taken from the pigs. However, officials said no direct link between the pigs and the outbreak among the children has been made.

This is just bad journalism. No test results, just a group of researchers from Iowa and Minnesota Universities “documenting instances of influenza viruses where humans and pigs regularly interact, such as state fairs.”

You can already guess who’s most worried about this. America’s pig farmers, with one more rumor to grind down their sales of pork products. This is how rumors grow: from stories about children staying in a “nearby” dorm who “might have” infected pigs. But we don’t know anything for certain until the test results come back from from the apparently-healthy pigs.

So instead of worrying about the children, let’s blame it on the children. Or their parents. Gad, what half-baked work passes for news now. The headline on the NPR site is “H1N1 Flu Claiming a Rising Toll.” 86 dead so far, twice the number in a usual year. This news influences the spread of the flu; worry and dread reduce the immunity in your body. What might be healthier: reading an article in the Atlantic Monthly that will have you questioning every “flu killed that child” statistic used in such poor reporting.

Written by Ron Seybold

October 17, 2009 at 7:09 pm

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