Black markets, drugs, and terrorists

While it may sound like the plot for the latest Mission Impossible film, we assure you it’s real life. Five companies—AstraZeneca, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Roche—are under investigation by the US Department of Justice for their alleged involvement in an Iraqi corruption scandal. The investigation follows a lawsuit filed on behalf of American service members which alleges these companies sold and donated medical supplies to the (then) corrupt head of the Iraqi Ministry of Health, who then sold these supplies to fund terrorist militias. Obviously, the companies are denying their involvement in the unsavory terrorist aspect of this story, and the defendant’s filing in the lawsuit points out that the US government encouraged these sales and donations at the time. This action thriller writes itself…

Trade wars don’t include cancer drugs

US stock markets have been roiling over a possible trade war between the world’s largest economies, the US and China. American President Donald Trump proposed nearly $50B in tariffs on Chinese goods, leading Chinese leaders to propose some of their own, but one product they’re not interested in taxing is foreign cancer drugs. China does have the world’s largest population of cancer patients after all. Drugmakers like Roche, Novartis and AZ should be pretty happy with the zero-tariff arrangement, while Chinese leadership hopes the move will push local pharma to improve their technological capabilities. Why can’t we go back to the good ol’ days when both the Chinese and Americans could ask “War, HUH, yeah, what is it good for?”

Natural (Born) Killer cells

From the “this is really cool” department comes a research study where scientists discovered immune cells called Natural Killer cells. These cells accumulate in tumors and release chemicals that attract specialized dendritic cells (cDC1)—white blood cells known for triggering anti-cancer immune responses—to the tumor. Researchers are hoping these molecular ‘magnets’ can improve cancer immunotherapy. Know what they’re not hoping for? To run into these two at a local diner. According to the authors, “Genes associated with Natural Killer cells and cDC1 correlated with cancer patient survival in a dataset of over 2,500 patients with skin, breast, neck and lung cancers. A similar correlation was seen in an independent group of breast cancer patients, with a particularly positive outcome for women with triple negative breast cancer, which typically has a poor prognosis.” BTW, AstraZeneca has a pretty good site for learning more about immunotherapy.

What is former U.S. VP Joe Biden’s son’s name?

The answer is Beau. How do we know? Because the Cancer Moonshot has been renamed the “Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot” in honor of the VP’s late son who died from brain cancer. Armed with $1.8B in funding, VP Biden recently gave an update on the project. One highlight is how the National Cancer Institute created the Genomic Data Commons, which archives cancer patient data using Amazon’s cloud computing software. Researchers have accessed this information about 80 million times, so that is a lot. In another initiative, companies like AZ, Novartis, Pfizer, and Celgene, just to name a few, are contributing to the Blood Profiling Atlas in Cancer (BloodPAC) consortium. Go team.