O/T Space Science: NASA’s Juno To Dive Just Above Jovian Polar Cloudtops Saturday Morning…

August 25, 2016 - Leave a Response

This too (just like the July 4 orbital insertion) may be a white-knuckle ride — as this first closest range dip will splatter the Juno craft with radioactive particles moving at near light speed — and likely at least a few microscopic sized “mini-projectiles”, traveling at perhaps a tenth of light speed. At those speeds, and at the right angle of attack, a particle could penetrate the titanium strong box and wreak havoc with the electronics. Not likely, but possible.

So, we will hold a good thought, along with the hot coffee in our coffee mugs, bright and early Saturday. Grin. About this time next week, we should see the first high res images — of the raging storms — at Jupiter’s polar vortex. Whoosh. Here is the NASA mission page update:

. . . .This Saturday at 5:51 a.m. PDT, (8:51 a.m. EDT, 12:51 UTC) NASA’s Juno spacecraft will get closer to the cloud tops of Jupiter than at any other time during its prime mission. At the moment of closest approach, Juno will be about 2,500 miles (4,200 kilometers) above Jupiter’s swirling clouds and traveling at 130,000 mph (208,000 kilometers per hour) with respect to the planet. There are 35 more close flybys of Jupiter scheduled during its prime mission (scheduled to end in February of 2018). The Aug. 27 flyby will be the first time Juno will have its entire suite of science instruments activated and looking at the giant planet as the spacecraft zooms past.

“This is the first time we will be close to Jupiter since we entered orbit on July 4,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Back then we turned all our instruments off to focus on the rocket burn to get Juno into orbit around Jupiter. Since then, we have checked Juno from stem to stern and back again. We still have more testing to do, but we are confident that everything is working great, so for this upcoming flyby Juno’s eyes and ears, our science instruments, will all be open. . . .”

Onward then — on a walk home; then get a couple of good nights’ sleep, and rise early Saturday — for some biking, before fly-bys. Smile. Be excellent to one another.


A Slow News Week At Merck — Smallish Collaboration With BioThera Announced…

August 25, 2016 - Leave a Response

So the dog days of summer are upon us (as all my recent off-topic postings might suggest) — and it is a slow news week nearly everywhere in the land of bioscience. I too am easy, breezy and in need of nothing new, truth be told. [Nope, I cannot stomach the notion of posting about Martin Shkreli appearing on cable news TV, to defend Epi-Pen price gouging. No feeding the trolls!]

But in keeping with our past practice, here is one smallish Phase II (hoping to make it to Phase III) clinical trial agreement. Do go read it all, as it does involve Merck’s single best flagship product:

. . . .Under this new collaboration, a Phase 2 clinical trial is anticipated to enroll up to 95 patients who have either advanced melanoma no longer responding to initial treatment with a checkpoint inhibitor therapy or TNBC whose disease has progressed following treatment with one or more lines of therapy for metastatic disease. Biothera will be the sponsor of the study, which is planned to begin in the fourth quarter of 2016. Merck will provide clinical supplies of Keytruda for the planned studies. Other terms of the collaboration were not disclosed. . . .

Yes — a slow news week, indeed. But as you might glean, I do spend these slower moments reading science, and connecting it to the sorts of poetry long-forgotten by most. And in mind of that, just three years ago this week, Seamus Haney (that Nobel winner, and grand black Irishman!) left our company. I’ll close here — with a short bit one of my favorites of his, then:

…And after the commanded journey, what?

Nothing magnificent, nothing unknown.

A gazing out from far away, alone.

And it is not particular at all,

Just old truth dawning: there is no next-time-round….

Travel well; and do travel light, my friends.


Yet Another “Shepherded” Exo-Planet? We Find Proxima b Far More Alluring Than Our Blue Dot…

August 25, 2016 - Leave a Response

Ah — “To burn at a distance, or to freeze nearby. . .” the old poem recites, but in fact, in the hunt for more worlds like ours, the opposite is true.

We are looking for ones that are neither — neither burning, nor freezing. No, just right. The news of Proxima b is well covered in the video at bottom (and sketched in, to the left of what we Americans call the Southern Cross, in the night sky — inside the tiny box). Do go watch the video for more. And now permit me a late night tangent: 

For my part, this late evening (and countless ones before it) — I find I prefer the unwasted grace of. . . mystery. Mystery of irises flashing golden flecks at the edges, and dark sienna in the middle — to the science of blue-eyed Earth-certainty. We are finding that these blue worlds are as common as common might be. 

And so in contrast, I will stand with Sweet Will [modified ever so slightly below], and declare that the rarer and darker one — is most oft’ the finer one, thus: 

Shakespeare | Sonnet CXXX

My lady’s eyes are nothing like the sun

Coral is no more pink than her lips’ pink

If snow be white, then her skin cinnamon

If hairs be fine wires, resplendent filamented dark wires grow upon her head

And in no perfume is there more delight

Than in the far-away sighs that from my lady seep

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That no music hath a more pleasing sound

I grant I never saw a goddess go, yet

My lady, when she walks, scarcely treads on ground

So, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare. . . .

So it is, all in the eye of the beholder, to the edited Sweet Will. . . and to me, as well.

And the science of Proxima b? Right here (as advertised):

O/T — A Wide Smile: 25 Years Ago This Morning, A Preposterously Generous Open Invitation Was Offered…

August 23, 2016 - Leave a Response

On this day in 1991: August 23, 1991 — Internaut Day No. 1, Tim Berners-Lee, later Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee — first opened what he came to call the world wide web. . . to, well. . . the world

For free. What an audacious gift of benevolence that was.

He opened it to new users — all of us, that is. All that appears here, for good or ill, flows from that gift.

So, Happy 25th Anniversary, to you — oh venerable “www”! It is now hard to imagine (for most of us), how we ever got along without you. Here’s to hoping we will never have to.

And as peculiar as it may sound, many — if not most — of the people I have come to love dearly, are and remain deeply connected to me through (and at least in part, because of) this astonishing innovation.

Yet it is by voice and by sight and by deed that those bonds remain strong. So, I say thank you, Sir Berners-Lee!

Onward. Ever. . . onward.

Explaining The Price Ian C. Read Just Paid For Medivation…

August 22, 2016 - Leave a Response

Eye-watering. That’s how much cream — or premium — is in this price.

But as I said last night, Mr. Read simply had to play defense here. He could not let any of the other majors get these assets. Even if the Medivation pipeline doesn’t pan out — he had to keep the candidates out of the hands of the rivals Merck, BMS and Roche in particular. Why? On the chance that the Medivation pipeline does perform.

If these were to become next gen oncology blockbusters — in the others’ hands — Pfizer would be relegated to the back of the bus, for yet another decade — in oncology. So he is overpaying (in my opinion) — to play lock-out defense. Here’s Tracy Staton on it:

. . . .But at $14 billion, Pfizer is paying a huge premium. At $81.50 per share, the price beats analyst estimates of a “best-case” deal for Medivation. It’s a 30% premium to Friday’s closing price–and a stunning 180% more than Medivation’s stock price when the deal talk first emerged, as Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson pointed out in a Monday investor note. “This is a hefty bid,” Anderson said. . . .

The pharma world is a place where history doesn’t exactly repeat, but it sure does. . . rhyme. And the rest of the world is a surreal, strange, new and wonderfully familiar place this cloudless morning. . . smile.

UPDATED: Pfizer Has Offered A Whopping $14 Billion — For Medivation

August 21, 2016 - Leave a Response

In candor, I generally think Mr. Read tends to overpay for his assets. [Full rewrite and update here.]

And this rumored news has all the earmarks of being another one of those kinds of deals. Financial Times is reporting a rumor tonight — that Pfizer may announce a $14 billion buyout of Medivation — as early as tomorrow morning.

Last week, I had guessed it would go for between $12 billion and $13 billion, so this is premium pricing again, if the report is accurate.

I suppose one way to think about the high price here is to recognize that Mr. Read cannot afford to spend another decade bringing up the rear, in next gen oncology. That is, he cannot allow any of these other suitors to lock him out of Medivation’s pipeline — and put Pfizer in fourth place (or worse) in oncology for another decade. So, he has to bid over 15 times sales revenue for the asset. Yikes. Here’s a bit, from FiercePharma, and the very capable Tracy Staton:

. . . .The Medivation hunt may be all but over. Pfizer is close to striking an agreement to buy the California-based biotech in a deal worth about $14 billion, the Financial Times reports.

If Pfizer and Medivation do finalize a deal, it would wrap up a months-long buyout race that pulled in much of Big Pharma and Big Biotech along the way. With its blockbuster oncology med Xtandi ready to add to a buyer’s sales, plus a much-anticipated late-stage cancer candidate and a pipeline of other prospects, Medivation has been a sought-after prize in an otherwise slow summer for biopharma M&A. . . .

This would mean that Merck has been outbid. And that may turn out to be the very good news. Time will tell. . . now sleep well, all you samba dancers, fondly leaving Rio behind. . . smile. Pssst! A fun one is due up early tomorrow!

Local Planetary Science: Where You’ll Want To Be — Exactly One Year From Today, Starting At 11:15 AM CDT…

August 21, 2016 - Leave a Response

For a planetary event that happens only every 250 years or so, it is probably worth taking the day off, and getting on a plane to go see it. At least I think so.

Not since almost a decade before our founders met in Philadelphia, and signed our Declaration, has there been a full solar eclipse centered over North America. It will occur on the morning of August 21, 2017. And the sweetest spot (where the locally-observed solar altitude, relative to the nominal horizon, the full penumbral flaring and high-likelihood of clear skies — all converge) will be very near Nashville — just a little north, and east of it, actually.

It is hard to overstate how powerful a sign this sort of a celestial event (last time around) might have been — in the collective consciousness of the indigenous peoples of North America — then living on these upper Midwest plains. [But in a bit of reverently-intended historical license, I have at right imaged Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotȟake, whom we refer to as Sitting Bull, the Lakota chief — circa a century later.] So it is with some considered humility, and at least some silence, that we probably ought to observe this one, this time around.

[I’ve included the ghostly figure of Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotȟake, to remind us that dozens of these events occurred — on the same spot, over many millennia — while we “Americans” were not yet present. And I also mark it to take USA Today to task (gently) — for edit copy that appears blissfully unconscious of the history of our lands, prior to the arrival of. . . those white men.] In any event, we shall see — if USA Today revises its copy, eventually:

. . . .The biggest and best solar eclipse in [Post Colonial: my edit] American history arrives a year from today, and plans for celebrations, parties and festivities are already well underway.

Organizers of the Oregon SolarFest are calling it “a rare, mind-blowing cosmic experience,” while Nashville promises visitors “a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event.”

On Aug. 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will be visible from coast to coast, according to NASA. It will be the first total eclipse visible only in the USA since the country was founded in 1776. . . .

Check back here — just one year from now — for more (that will be a Monday). It ought to be well worth the trip. Ear to ear grins, as I walk in. . . .

O/T: This Is A Great American Story: Flint, Michigan’s Claressa Shields Achieves A Dream

August 21, 2016 - Leave a Response

I’ll mostly just point you the Detroit Free Press article I’ve quoted, below. [This concludes our weekend of “girl power” stories.]

But before I so conclude, I will also link you to the excellent long form documentary (on PBS’s “Independent Lens“) that covers the tough time she’s had — leading up to, and after winning gold last time around — in London, in 2012. Do watch it — very well made. And for now, there is this very bright resolution — to that earlier drama. Hopefully, this time ’round, the folks in Colorado Springs, at the USOC, will get her connected to marketing agents of note. That smile belongs on a Wheaties box.

. . . .Flint’s Claressa Shields made history this afternoon, becoming the first U.S. boxer to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals, defeating the Netherland’s Nouchka Fontijn in the women’s middleweight. . . .

This is gold medal story of survival, escaping from poverty and a difficult childhood, bouncing between 11 homes by the time she was 12, turning all of that pain into a champion boxer.

It is a story of growth and maturity.

After winning the gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Shields did not get the money or fame or endorsements that she expected. She was perceived to be strong, tough and fierce but didn’t have a marketing team behind her. After winning the gold medal, life didn’t get easier. When everybody thought Shields had become rich, there she was, going to a collection agency to pay her mother’s past-due water bill. . . .

With this win, Shields becomes the most successful U.S. Olympic boxer in history – the only one to win two gold medals. . . .

That is quite grin-worthy, indeed. Off now, to the train stations. . . keep it spinnin’ in good karma, one and all.

Long-Lingering Effects — On Young Pregnant Girls — In Ebola Ravaged Areas

August 20, 2016 - Leave a Response

As a reminder of how wise our current First Lady is — in choosing girls’ education, globally, as one of her focused priorities — and as part of the weekend’s theme here, of looking to empower young women, in education — we must report on some ongoing troubling news, out of Sierra Leone. [And this properly resides here, as Merck (among several others) makes and distributes an array of the contraceptives being only-sporadically deployed, in country, as well as the vaccine — and we’ve been covering the race for a reliable acute treatment, as well.] Right to it, then:

The effects of the Ebola crisis there will be felt for decades. Even as the education ministers get back to normal enrollment levels (which sadly are around 50 per cent of all school age eligible children), policies on pregnancies are likely to prevent a whole class of ebola survivors — young girls — from using formal education as a means to lift themselves out of poverty, and danger.

Here is the story of the continuing shunning of pregnant ebola girls — in Sierra Leone. Please do read it all.

Only recently has President Koroma relented — and started to re-admit pregnant teens from ebola ravaged areas back into school. But perhaps nearly half of them are still not being admitted, for the astonishing reason that they were the victims of sexual violence (and thought to be a bad influence in the classroom). It is not clear how many girls were (and are) affected by that portion of the ban. Official figures suggest at least five thousand, but experts mapping the situation indicate that the true figure may be far higher. Here’s a bit, from a slightly dated Amnesty International (PDF here) study, on the topic:

. . . .Visibly pregnant girls in Sierra Leone are banned from attending mainstream school and taking exams. This prohibition was declared as official government policy by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in April 2015, just before schools re-opened following the Ebola crisis. The exclusion of pregnant girls from mainstream education and from sitting exams pre-dates the outbreak of Ebola; however, the official declaration of the ban when schools re-opened has sparked renewed debate and concern about this issue in Sierra Leone.

The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone described the ban as discriminatory, stigmatizing and likely to worsen the marginalization of pregnant girls and women. . . .

MRK-New-Girl-Africa-Power-2016While it seems some 3,000 of those remaining 5,000 have now been re-admitted to schools, an additional approximately 2,000 girls (largely victims of sexual attacks) are still being shunted out of mainstream schooling in Sierra Leone.

From a mid August 2016 report, on this unfolding tragedy, and ongoing crisis:

. . .Teenage pregnancy has long been a problem, but the recent Ebola outbreak saw focus groups comprising of 1,193 children in total report a 47 percent jump in teen pregnancies, according to Save The Children, which trains nurses like Fullah to properly administer contraception and provide vital maternal healthcare services.

The actual reason for the increase in teen pregnancy is a source of contention among the government, NGOs, community leaders, and the girls themselves. But everyone agrees it is a bad thing indeed.

In Freetown, Save the Children health program officer Marget Tucker told Broadly, “During Ebola, schools were closed down, and this put girls at greater risk of teenage pregnancy.” Though reliable data in Sierra Leone is difficult to obtain, Tucker estimates that around 20,000 teenage girls became mothers during the Ebola crisis, with poorer girls and those with lower levels of education being more vulnerable to becoming pregnant. . . .

[As many of the girls’ mothers and fathers died of ebola, they were left without normal networks of protectors, and stable sources of food and clothing.] “Some of them had to etch out some means of survival and the only means of survival that they resorted to—most of them—was to have sex. Transactional sex, to be specific. . . .”

While there are micro-level financial issues at play here as well (raising the funds to pay school-books fees, etc.), we as members of the UNESCO, and as a nation able to influence WHO policy — ought to use the power of international aid policies (the purse strings), to more strongly encourage President Koroma to admit all school age pregnant girls to mainstream schooling. Goodnight then, to all here who might “burn at a distance, rather than freeze nearby. . . .” we will smile broadly, just the same — as it will all be well, in time.

Science Saturdays Post: Girls’-Power — In STEM “Chicago Icebox Derby” Challenge 2016 — Powered By ComEd

August 20, 2016 - Leave a Response

As I occasionally do on weekends, this morning I’ll highlight an important local science initiative, sponsored by the CEO of a utility here.

But it’s not just any CEO, and not just any science competition.

As the collage of images at right makes plain (from 2014 to 2016), this is about finding the science talents in all of us. But especially in those (even today), who are not as regularly encouraged to “play” — in the field of science and tech. This is a wonderful local STEM for girls event — and since founding in 2014 — has been largely under-appreciated by the science scene, nationally. So here’s my little boost.

In general, I am rarely a fan of the electrical utilities’ overall corporate governance structures — but in this particular case ComEd is getting it exactly right. So, Kudos to the kids, and to ComEd, and its CEO, as well. From the WSJ reporting overnight, then:

. . . .ComEd’s first female chief executive, Anne R. Pramaggiore, introduced the IceBox Derby in 2014 as a way to get more young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.

“It’s one thing to sit in a classroom to decide if you like math or not,” Ms. Pramaggiore said. “But we see them not only learn about the technical aspects of building a car, they learn about leadership.”

Career aspirations for this year’s racers range from Therese Jaeger, 17, who wants to be an aerospace engineer, to Morgan Jones, 13, who dreams of being a YouTube personality. . . .

Throwing a helmet on over her orange bandana, Taylor Clark sprinted to her race car, slammed down the accelerator and took off—at 15 miles an hour.

That is top speed at the third annual IceBox Derby, which featured battery-powered cars built by teenage girls using recycled fridges and go-kart parts.

“These refrigerator cars are on the move!” an emcee’s voice rang out, as parents and children cheered in the bleachers.

Earlier this month, 30 girls split on six teams vied for prizes including MacBook Airs and $3,000 college scholarships—seed money provided by race sponsor Commonwealth Edison Co., the local utility, meant to steer them toward studies in math and science. . . .

Many of these bright capable kids (Therese included) will almost certainly one day be sitting on the science panels, at NASA — offering explanations of the science behind their missions to Mars, and Jupiter, and Pluto, and beyond:

. . .a broad and ample road, whose dust is gold, and pavement stars, as stars to thee appear seen in the Galaxy, that Milky Way. . . .

— Milton

Onward now, with hot coffee at the ready, fresh icy OJ, a banana and cherry yogurt. Even on a gray morning — these simple pleasures blast sunshine into my attitude (as do the pings, from old friends, near and far). . . smile.


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