Archive by date | April 2010

Cancer vaccine approved

A controversial prostate cancer vaccine has become the first therapeutic cancer vaccine to receive regulatory approval in the United States.

On 29 April, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Provenge (sipuleucel-T) for the treatment of advanced hormone-resistant prostate cancer. Stock in Dendreon, the vaccine’s Seattle, Washington-based manufacturer, rose 27% on the announcement.

Man who would be king closes alternative medicine charity

The heir to the British throne has closed his controversial alternative medicine charity, just days after a former member of staff was arrested over fraud allegations.

In a statement, Prince Charles’s Foundation for Integrated Health said, “Whilst the closure has been planned for many months and is part of an agreed strategy, the Trustees have brought forward the closure timetable as a result of a fraud investigation at the charity. The Trustees feel that The Foundation has achieved its key objective of promoting the use of integrated health.”

The Foundation was not popular with many scientists, as it often seen as interfering on behalf of treatments with no evidence base. Notably, Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, became involved in a spat with it after he criticised its efforts to promote unproven treatments (see, for example ‘Meddling’ Prince nearly cost health don his job or Prince of Wales charity may face investigation over ‘vendetta’ claims)

Ellen Raphael, director of the group Sense About Science, said in a statement, “If this marks the end of an organisation that for more than 20 years has been the vehicle for the Prince of Wales’ interference in policy and restricted the development of evidence-based medicine, then the public has everything to gain, however this has come about.”

A telescope for spotting global crises

Posted for Phil ‘Crystal’ Ball

The good news is that your future can be predicted. The bad news is that it’ll cost a billion euros.

That, at least, is what a team of scientists led by Dirk Helbing of the ETH in Switzerland believes. And as they point out, a billion euros is small fare compared with the bill for the current financial crisis – which might conceivably have been anticipated with the massive social-science simulations they want to establish.

This might seem the least auspicious moment to start placing faith in economic modelling, but Helbing’s team proposes to transform the way it is done. They will abandon the discredited and doctrinaire old models in favour of ones built from the bottom up, which harness the latest understanding of how people behave and act collectively rather than reducing the economic world to caricature for the sake of mathematical convenience.

Genome sequencing goes clinical

Getting your entire genome sequenced – until now something reserved for a select few – is about to become open to many. Already, for $50,000, consumers can have their genomes sequenced, as did former biotech CEO John West and his entire family recently (see reports in The Times, Genetic Future).

But easy access to sequencing raises a head-scratcher of a question: What’s a doctor to do if a patient walks in with a copy of her sequence and asks to be treated on its basis? An article published in The Lancet today tries to answer that question, proffering the first attempt at a complete clinical analysis from the genome sequence of a relatively healthy person.

Genetic nondiscrimination law invoked **Update

A woman in Connecticut has filed a complaint against her employer for genetic discrimination, saying essentially that she was terminated due to her increased risk for breast cancer. According to several legal experts, this appears to be the first publicly filed complaint invoking the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), a law passed with much support in 2008 that would forbid employers from using employees’ genetic information against them. According to reports, 39-year-old Pamela Fink tested positive for mutations in her BRCA2 gene that are associated with increased risk for breast cancer in 2004.  Read more