Killer of bad guys

Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent issues affecting healthcare, costing thousands of lives and billions in medical costs each year (click here for the CDC’s list of the scariest strains.) It’s an annoying problem. R&D produces a new antibiotic and within some years the little buggers have already figured out how to not get killed by it (very sick video of that process here.) Well at least we have a new weapon that they might have some trouble fighting against. Malacidin is a distant relative of a newer antibiotic called daptomycin which up until now has evaded bacterial resistance. While discovering a new antibiotic is immediately cool and helpful, discovering a class that can avoid being useless after its introduction would be huge.

The eyes have it

What is “it,” you ask? Spark Therapeutics’ new gene therapy Luxturna which can cure blindness in a single treatment. The condition causing the blindness only affects a few thousand people, so the FDA has designated it as an orphan drug. The single dose and orphan drug aspects of this gene therapy combine for a rather expensive R&D bill, and translate into a bit of sticker shock at the selling price: $425,000 per eye. Spark is trying out some interesting commercialization practices to get the drug to patients, like giving rebates to patients whose eyes don’t see better over time. They’re also considering selling the therapy directly to insurance companies so that health care providers don’t have to pay and store the treatment without a guarantee it’ll ever be used.

Big Sugar’s not-so-sweet research practices

Cristin Kearns, assistant professor at the UCSF School of Dentistry, stumbled across a decades-old research paper that shows a link between high-sugar diets and both high triglyceride levels and cancer in rats. But she had to stumble across the study because it was never published in a scientific journal. Oh, I almost forgot…the study was sponsored by the sugar industry. The implication, of course, is that the organization, now called The Sugar Association, buried the findings to avoid likely negative commercial implications. In response, The Sugar Association has stated that the study was never published, in part, because it was significantly delayed and over budget. In other words, they probably wouldn’t have published the study even if a high-sugar diet showed health benefits. As King George once said, “If you buy that I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free.”

Body brokers or broken bodies?

A Reuters special report released last week looks at the business of post-mortem body donation. You know how organ donation has a bunch of regulations surrounding it so that shady practices like organ harvesting before death (warning: graphic but fake) don’t occur? Well Americans may be surprised to know there’s little regulation protecting your body after you’re gone. While the UK has bodies (ha) like the Human Tissue Authority, in the US your torso could end up being defrosted by an unemployed guy using a hose… and he wouldn’t even be breaking any major laws. Don’t get us wrong, body donation is a very important aspect of scientific research and should continue—which is exactly why we should get serious about regulating it. Happy Halloween!

Crowdsourcing consortium causes competing companies’ collaboration

Transparency and drug discovery don’t usually go together, what with patents, IP and paywalls hiding useful knowledge from researchers working on similar problems. But the Structural Genomics Consortium has a different approach. That’s right, crowdsourcing has made its way to drug discovery. The SGC partners with six research universities, nine of the largest pharma innovators, and government agencies to provide open source data about protein structures that can be used to develop hard-to-design drugs. They’re currently using the approach to, ahem, stick it to Huntington’s (see, it’s funny because they’re literally trying to bind molecules to the protein that causes the disease.) For a small contribution of $8 million—cheap by R&D standards—any organization can nominate proteins to the SGC’s master to-do list.