Ron Seybold's Viral Times

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Archive for the ‘Public health’ 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

Climate changes will increase evolution of new flu strains

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A report from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment says changing climate will affect the likelihood of contracting a new deadly strain of the flu. Never mind the heat — it’s the infection that will get you.

Migratory birds play a central role by giving a virus an additional opportunity to evolve

It’s the shifts between El Nino and La Nina weather that will wreak havoc with the bird migration patterns. Birds, migratory birds in particular, play a central role, by either passing a flu strain directly to humans (as in the case of H1N1) or indirectly via an intermediate host, giving the virus an additional opportunity to evolve.

The El Niño-La Niña oscillations cause significant changes in regional rainfall rates and wind patterns, which in turn affect the migration pattern of birds. And these shifts lead to different groups of of bird species coming into contact with each other in a given region, allowing for new strains of influenza to develop that eventually jump to humans.

In Viral Times, birds are an active transmission agent in the spread of the New Flu and other viruses. The dominant breeds of birds, especially starlings and crows, are among the deadliest of these agents.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) refers to the state of the tropical Pacific Ocean as it sloshes back and forth, like water in a huge bathtub, west and east between Asia and the Americas. This movement affects temperatures and weather patterns worldwide.

One means to combat the infection might be to reduce use of fossil fuels. But after generations of burning coal and oil, it might be too late to reverse the Nino-Nina bathtub slosh effects. It’s back to our firewall of protection against viruses: natural immunity.

Written by Ron Seybold

May 2, 2012 at 4:44 pm

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

Bird flu goes airborne after modification

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20120108-182153.jpgA story in the New York Times reports that scientists are learning that avian flu has acquired airborne transmission ability after it was modified for increased strength. The experiments were part of studies to learn how the virus behaves. Now this virus can survive in the nose of ferrets, mammals whose nostril temperature is 4 degrees C cooler than a bird’s gut, where H5N1 usually grows.

The article points out that there’s a difference in ferret noses and those of us higher order mammals. One point cannot be smoothed out, however. The crossover point of animal to human is a step closer after this discovery. That kind of crossover is a prospect for triggering a pandemic.

Written by Ron Seybold

January 8, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Posted in Public health, Virus protection

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Israeli pharma promises immunity boost drug

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Cancers are caused by viruses. (So many diseases start with a virus.) A new drug might be able to treat people who already have a cancer, by employing the body’s natural immunity T-cells to attack cancer cells. No mention in this link about availability of the drug, but since it’s developed outside the US, approval can be much swifter. You’d still need traditional chemo/surgery for advanced cancers. But this is a novel way to get a pharma solution to ally with natural immunity. If you can afford the booster shots.

This is the kind of medicine that the PharmAlliance wants to create in Viral Times. There is the US government in the way of approving that drug, in my future of 2021. But for now, here’s the early report on ImMucin.

A traditional vaccine helps the body’s immune system fend off foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses, and is administered to people who have not yet had the ailment. Therapeutic vaccines, like the one Vaxil has developed, are given to sick people, and work more like a drug.

Vaxil’s lead product, ImMucin, activates the immune system by “training” T-cells –– the immune cells that protect the body by searching out and destroying cells that display a specific molecule (or marker) called MUC1. MUC1 is typically found only on cancer cells and not on healthy cells. The T-cells don’t attack any cells without MUC1, meaning there are no side effects unlike traditional cancer treatments. More than 90% of different cancers have MUC1 on their cells, which indicates the potential for this vaccine.

ImMucin is foreseen as a long-term strategy — a shot every few months, with no side effects — to stop the cancer from reoccurring after initial treatments, by ensuring that the patient’s own immune system keeps it under control.

Written by Ron Seybold

November 11, 2011 at 11:21 am

Posted in Public health, Vaccines, Virus protection

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The future of naturopathic medicine

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Tabitha Parker

Utne Reader has posted an article about medicine that plays a major role in defense of viruses in my novel Viral Times. Dr. Tabatha Parker’s skill set is similar to Delta’s, as well as my co-protagonist Angie Consoli. They are naturopaths, 10 years into the future.

The global health care system is in crisis, says Dr. Tabatha Parker, founder of Natural Doctors International (NDI). It relies on the exportation of a Western model—one that doesn’t even work in the countries it’s coming from—to developing countries that can’t afford it.

Parker, a naturopathic doctor, sees NDI as a bridge between exported conventional medicine and centuries-old indigenous healing techniques, such as the use of herbal medicine, which in some places in the world is the dominant type of health care. “That has to be a part of the system if you’re going to actually reach people,” Parker says. Naturopathic doctors “are trained in a way that no one else in the world is trained: to be [that] bridge.”

Read more: http://www.utne.com/Mind-Body/Utne-Reader-Visionaries-Dr-Tabatha-Parker-Natural-Doctors-International.aspx#ixzz1dPVANRIL

Written by Ron Seybold

November 11, 2011 at 10:22 am

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

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

WHO reports: Swine vaccine now in 65 million bodies

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The World Health organization has surveyed 16 countries and believes that 65 million vaccinations for swine flu have taken place worldwide. Perceived risks of vaccination include Guillain-Barre syndrome, and the WHO report says “fewer than 10 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome have been reported” among people who received vaccines.

24 more countries are among those surveyed by the WHO, but the results in this majority of the world aren’t part of the report. Despite the safety reports, a new CNN poll asserts that the majority of Americans don’t want to receive an H1N1 vaccination.

According to the poll, 55 percent of adults don’t want to get the swine flu vaccine and don’t plan to get a shot. Another one in five say they want to get inoculated but haven’t taken any steps to do so; 14 percent want a shot and have tried to get it but have been unsuccessful. Just 7 percent have been inoculated for H1N1.

A “small number” of deaths have been reported to the World Health Organization, but given its optimism for the vaccine, the WHO believes its investigations can’t find a link between vaccine and death. “The results of completed investigations reported to WHO have ruled out a direct link to pandemic vaccine as the cause of death.”

But the CNN poll lists concern over side effects as the top reason more than half of the US residents surveyed don’t want a vaccine. The poll director calculates that 28 percent of the adult population don’t plan to get inoculated due to the risk of dangerous side effects.

Written by Ron Seybold

November 19, 2009 at 7:12 pm

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