David Kirkpatrick

October 13, 2009

If we’re going to pass health care reform …

… it’d make sense to do it right.

For better or worse, health care reform is going to pass. The votes are essentially there — and really have been all along. The angry Baby Boomers at town hall meetings over the summer were but a minor distraction in the big play on this issue.

With the knowledge something is going pass regarding health care, I’ve thought it makes the most sense to radically overhaul a much less than perfect system as things currently stand in the U.S., and I agree with Cato’s Michael Tanner that it’s “time to start over.”

The problem is there is no political will, or most likely any political ability, to remake health care. There might have been a shot for that during middle few years of the Bush 43 administration when the GOP held all the reins of power, but we know how successful Republicans were in promoted the stated goals of the party — small government (epic fail), personal responsibility (epic fail) and fiscal conservatism (nuclear fail.)

As appealing as radical health care reform may be for anyone who takes a few hours to drill down into the issue, it’s just not going to happen. The GOP has taken itself out of the process by choice and great forces in the form of the American Medical Association, the pharmaceutical industry and the health insurance industry are lined up t ensure nothing earth-shattering, at least for their fiefdoms, comes to pass.

From the link:

And our current tax laws penalize people who don’t receive insurance through their work, meaning that if you lose your job, you lose your insurance.

The bills now before Congress don’t fix these problems. They simply pile on new mandates, regulations, taxes and subsidies. No amount of tinkering, or budgetary sleight of hand, can make them better.

It’s time for Congress to scrap its current flawed government-centered approach and start over with a focus on creating a consumer-oriented free market in health care.

After all, isn’t it better to get it done right than to just get it done?

June 30, 2009

Percocet and Vicodin staring at ban

Filed under: Business, Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:21 pm

Looks like two favorite painkillers may be off the market soon. This is a tough week for the maker of Vicodin, Abbott Laboratories, since the pharmaceutical company just got hit with a $1.67 billion jury verdict.

From the first link:

A federal advisory panel voted narrowly on Tuesday to recommend a ban on Percocet and Vicodin, two of the most popular prescription painkillers in the world, because of their effects on the liver.The two drugs combine a narcotic with acetaminophen, the ingredient found in popular over-the-counter products like Tylenol and Excedrin. High doses of acetaminophen are a leading cause of liver damage, and the panel noted that patients who take Percocet and Vicodin for long periods often need higher and higher doses to achieve the same effect.

Acetaminophen is combined with different narcotics in at least seven other prescription drugs, and all of these combination pills will be banned if the Food and Drug Administrationheeds the advice of its experts. Vicodin and its generic equivalents alone are prescribed more than 100 million times a year in the United States.

Laureen Cassidy, a spokeswoman for Abbott Laboratories, which makes Vicodin, said, “The F.D.A. will make a final determination and Abbott will follow the agency’s guidance.”

The agency is not required to follow the recommendations of its advisory panels, but it usually does.

October 24, 2008

Pharmaceutical nanotechnologies

A press release from today. Very exciting nanotech/pharma news.

The release:

New molecules with many branches will help unleash potential of nanotechnology

Materials science and the pharmaceutical industry could soon be revolutionized by emerging nanotechnologies based on designer molecules with long complex tree-and branch structures. Such molecules offer almost limitless scope for design of bespoke compounds for specific applications in disease therapy, for novel materials such as resins, as well as electronic displays, and energy storage. Almost every field involving design and synthesis of chemical compounds will be transformed by the arrival of technologies allowing nanoscale design of these branched molecules, known as hyperbranched polymers.

The great potential of the field, and corresponding challenges in exploiting it, were discussed at a recent workshop organized by the European Science Foundation (ESF)(Convenor: Dr. K. Karatasos, Co-Convenor: Dr. Alexey Lyulin). The workshop revealed the great scope of hyperbranched polymers and discussed how Europe in particular should respond to the challenges, such as identifying research priorities from the huge range of possibilities.

But the immediate challenge is to develop an underlying research infrastructure for building the technologies required to develop new products, for this is very much an applied field of science. This will require uniting the two sides of the field, those experimenting with these compounds in the laboratory, and theoretical chemists simulating novel hyperbranches molecules on a computer, as Konstantinos Karatasos, the workshop’s convenor, pointed out.

“In principle these two communities do not interact at a desirable level,” said Karatasos. “This was partly attributed to the fact that there is a lack of a “common language” between the two sides so that information can be exchanged in an efficient manner. It was proposed that this deficiency can be remedied to a certain degree, when people with different backgrounds work in a multidisciplinary environment where contacts between them are realized in a more frequent basis so that familiarization with each other’s work and exchange of ideas becomes easier.”

Hyperbranched polymers have already been used to develop materials such as resins and wood coatings with improved durability and resistance to abrasion. These exploit the fact that molecules with multiple branches tend to cling together more strongly, making them resistant to wear. But hyperbranched polymers also have other properties, such as low viscosity, which makes them suitable for applications such as flexible electronic displays.

But perhaps the most exciting property of hyperbranched polymers is the sheer range of compounds that can be made by manipulating the terminal side chains of the molecule to change its chemical character. This is now being exploited in a new generation of vaccines and other compounds designed to give people long term protection against infectious disease. At the ESF workshop delegates heard from Dr. Ulrik Boas from the University of Copenhagen how hyperbranched polymers can provide scaffolding for constructing new adjuvants, which are substances that upon injection activate a person’s immune system against a particular pathogen. Boas reported that hyperbranched polymers can be used to interact with PAMPs (Pathogen Associated Molecular Patterns), which are motifs on the surface of microbes that can be used by the immune system to identify and then destroy them.

The workshop also revealed industrial applications building on existing work, with Dr. Christopher Plummer from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland explaining that hyperbranched polymers were capable of being tuned to highly specific levels of key attributes such as solubility, miscibility (ability to mix), as well as viscosity. The key point is that the chemical and physical properties of a molecule are determined by the surface characteristics rather than the internal structure, and hyperbranched polymers have large numbers of terminal branch points on the surface capable of being changed. As Plummer pointed out, this brings scope for improving on existing materials, for example designing ultra strong epoxy-resins that can undergo secondary toughening by addition of a hyperbranched polymer compound, whose low viscosity makes the mixing easier.

But the greatest public interest in hyperbranched polymers is being generated by the medical potential, and another exciting application on this front could lie in their use to combat currently incurable diseases involving formation of plaques comprising wrongly folded proteins, such as Alzheimer’s and prion diseases like CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jacob) disease. Highly branched molecules called dendrimers have already been shown capable of interacting with the proteins that combine together in plaques to cause these diseases, with evidence that this process can be inhibited, according to Barbara Klajnert from the University of Lodz in Poland in the workshop’s first presentation.

Many other topics were discussed, and the workshop set the stage for future collaboration among Europe’s leading research groups in this highly promising field. The ESF Exploratory Workshop, Hyperbranched polymers as novel materials for nanoscale applications:insight from experiment, theory and simulations (HYPER-NANO) was held in Fodele in Greece during May 2008.



September 21, 2008

Nanoscale chemical reactors

From the release:

19 September 2008

Introducing the next generation of chemical reactors

Unique nanostructures which respond to stimuli, such as pH, heat and light will pave the way for safer, greener and more efficient chemical reactors.

Being developed by a consortium of UK universities, the nanostructures can regulate reactions, momentum, and heat and mass transfer inside chemical reactors. This technology will provide a step change in reactor technology for the chemical, pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.

Professor Yulong Ding of the Institute of Particle Science and Engineering at the University of Leeds explains: “This research programme is an important step towards producing the next generation of smart “small footprint”, greener reactors. The responsive reaction systems we are investigating could make the measurement systems currently used in reactors redundant.”

The technique is being developed through a collaborative research programme initiated by Professor Ding together with Dr Alexei Lapkin at the University of Bath, and Professor Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow.

The programme involves designing and producing molecular metal oxides and polymers as building blocks, and engineering those blocks to form nanoscale structures, which are responsive to internal and / or external stimuli such as pH, heat or light. The structures can be dispersed in fluid, or coated on the reactor walls.

As conditions inside the reactor change, the nanostructured particles will respond by changing their size, shape, or structure. These changes could in turn alter transport properties such as thermal conductivity and viscosity, and catalyst activity – and hence regulate the reactions.

Professor Ding also believes that these systems also have the potential to eliminate the risk of ‘runaway’, where a chemical reaction goes out of control.

The three-year programme, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), brings together leading experts in the fields of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Particle Science & Engineering.

Notes for editors:

1. The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Leeds comprises five Schools:

Civil Engineering; Computing; Electronic and Electrical Engineering; Mechanical Engineering and Process, Materials and Environmental Engineering. All schools in the Faculty have the highest 5 or 5* Research Assessment Exercise ratings, top teaching assessments and strong industrial connections. There are approximately 3,000 students in the Faculty, 80% undergraduates and 20% postgraduates. Two-thirds of our students are from the UK with the remainder representing over 90 different nationalities.

2. The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries. With a total annual income of £422m, Leeds is one of the top ten research universities in the UK, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. It was recently placed 80th in the Times Higher Educational Supplement’s world universities league table and the University’s vision is to secure a place among the world’s top 50 by 2015.

3. Founded in 1451, the University of Glasgow is one of the top 100 universities in the world with an international reputation for its research and teaching and an important role in the cultural and commercial life of the country. The University is a major research powerhouse, with annual research contract income in the top ten of UK universities. An exceptional 96 per cent of its research-active staff are in areas which have been independently assessed as producing research of international importance.

4. The University of Bath is one of the UK’s leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching.

View a full list of the University’s press releases: http://www.bath.ac.uk/pr/releases

5. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. www.epsrc.ac.uk/