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.

Follow Up Friday: Ebola Edition — Where Are British Public Health Authorities, On The Delayed £4,000 Bonus For Pauline Cafferkey?

August 19, 2016 - Leave a Response

MRK-Cafferkey-Ebola-Pay-Delay-2016 Yet another month has rolled by, and still no service bonus for the Ebola hero and nurse named Pauline Cafferkey. We’ve been covering it, here — as an offshoot of stories surrounding Merck’s Ebola vaccine candidate.

What’s new is that the British Health authorities are now saying Ms. Cafferkey concealed her high tempurature, on return to the UK. What’s frustrating about that is that eye witnesses have consistently indicated (and PHE is now confirming) that PHE did not follow its own procedures, and encouraged the nurses to take each others’ tempurature. After waiting a bit, with an initial high reading, her temprature decreased, and PHE allowed her to fly on. I for one am uncertain how that conduct, even if proven, should merit discipline, of any sort. She was a pure volunteer in Sierra Leone, returning home. From The Guardian (UK), overnight then — a bit:

. . . .PHE had nurses at the airport to take the temperatures of the travellers, but, the Guardian has been told, not enough were stationed there.

One of the volunteers who returned at the same time as Cafferkey said they were encouraged by PHE staff to take one another’s temperatures and complete the forms.

Cafferkey’s temperature was high, so PHE’s staff were alerted, said the volunteer, who wanted to remain anonymous. Her temperature was taken six more times, but eventually, the volunteer said, Cafferkey was told she could board her flight to Glasgow. . . .

PHE was unprepared and did not follow correct procedure in managing the screening process,” the volunteer told the Guardian. . . .

Now you know — and, following my theme of yesterday, this too — volunteering to serve ones’ brothers and sisters half a world away, at great personal risk, is another “idea that should live on.” I will certainly keep a good thought for her, here. Off now, walking in, on a glorious Friday — at half past nine, almost on the dot. Grin. . . with fighter jets screaming overhed, in practice runs. . . .

Just A Short Reminder — All About “Ideas That Will… Live”

August 18, 2016 - Leave a Response

Exactly 39 years ago this afternoon, not far from King William’s Town, South Africa, Steve Biko and Peter Jones were stopped by the apartheid era security police, at a road-block.

They were then detained in Port Elizabeth under Section 6 of the then Terrorism Act. What happened after that can only fairly be called murder. Read it all here, from an inside South Africa historical perspective.

But what also happened after that, was a cascading chain of events, that ultimately led to the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, and his eventual presidency.

That very same day in 1977, I was finishing up a last graveyard shift in the hard rock mines, mailing off all I had earned to the university, and preparing to set off for my first year of college, where a whole new world awaited me — out of that small mountain town I was then leaving. [I had by then received all the benefit of American privilege, no doubt.] 

 Of course, I wasn’t then even remotely aware of these ongoing struggles in South Africa. But in the ensuing decade, along with most of the rest of planet, I became acutely aware of them, there and here. That was due in no small part to the life — and death — of Bantu Steve Biko.

So I’d ask you to stop a moment this afternoon, and ponder which ideas — here in our nation — should “live on.” Should we remain the most-free nation on Earth? Or should we build walls, conduct religious tests at our borders (and even more ominously, inside them)? The ideas written in our founding charter are too grand, too revolutionary, and hard-won, to sacrifice — to a thin-skinned petulant man-child.

Please — we all know so many who have died — that these ideas might live on: “out of many, one. . .” That is what our currency says (in the original Latin) — and it is in a very real sense the capital that has distinguished our nation, many times. Don’t turn your back on it, America. And do pause to thank Bantu Steve Biko, too. And thank all who came before — and after — him, who were willing to die for the ideas of pluralism, and the progress of humankind.

The eyes of the world are watching now — they are watching now…

“Catfished”?! — Martin Shkreli Was Invited To Palo Alto To Speak On Pharma Deal-Doing — By A Major Law Firm. No Longer.

August 17, 2016 - Leave a Response

All of this (below) transpired in a little over 30 elapsed hours. As it unfolded of course, we had graphics — so I’ve put up three small version images — click each to enlarge for full effect. [For now, we will call this whole story our Exclusive — thanks to PathoPhilia.]

It seems a prominent law firm has asked the CEO of Savant HWP, and an affiliate of Savant Neglected Diseases, to speak on a panel — about the deal he worked on, to secure an FDA approval for his firm’s Chagas candidate (and, it is STILL hoped, secure a coveted PRV, worth potentially hundreds of millions of dollars).

Next, it seems someone (unknown) also asked Martin Shkreli to describe his side of the deal, and observations on the KaloBios bankruptcy — a bankruptcy that was filed shortly after his arrest, last December. That was all some time on Monday night, with a BusinessWire newswire press release included.

By this afternoon, all references to the appearance of Mr. Shkreli — at that confab — had been scrubbed.

However, Mr. Shkreli’s Twitter feed still recites that he is seeking permission from the US District Court, in the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn) — essentially for relief from his bail conditions — to travel to Palo Alto to speak at the Dorsey & Whitney conference.

Problem is, he’s no longer speaking.
Was he “catfished“? That is, did they (or someone else) prank him? Or, did the equity partners at D&W (after a moment’s reflection) vote to “uninvite” him?

Or. . . did his criminal defense lawyer put the brakes on it, when he got wind of the travel request? We will likely never know.

But what a ride it was, over on the KaloBios Reviewed site, during the last two days — head there for all the blow by blow — with a sincere hat tip to PathoPhilia, for all the leads — and the reporting. Now you know.

In other circumstances, I might feel some pity for someone invited to the big Homecoming dance, only to be then left sitting on his doorstep. Tux on; boutonniere already pinned to his lapel. . . .

But not in these circumstances.

To quote an internet meme, of ten years passed, then: “BOOM goes the Dyn-O-Mite“!

Sleep well now, all you science majors, brimming with good will — this clearly doesn’t apply to you. Just the one.

Will Medivation Fetch More Than $12.5 Billion? It Rejected An Earlier Sanofi $10.2 Billion Bid

August 17, 2016 - Leave a Response

It is certainly becoming a go-go market for M&A — in the next gen immuno oncology space, in particular. Medivation’s candidates have impressed, as of late — in trials.

Just look at the pedigree of these names — orbiting the “nucleus” of Medivation (in 1950s style atomic time, no less!) — at least according to MSM published rumors.

Here is the Reuters bit on it overnight, but my guess is that something well north of $12 billion will be needed to win the bidding:

. . . .Merck & Co Inc is one of at least five pharmaceutical companies that submitted indications of interest in buying U.S. cancer drug company Medivation Inc earlier this month, according to people familiar with the matter. . . .

Sanofi SA, Pfizer Inc, Celgene Corp and Gilead Sciences Inc also put forward expressions of interest, the sources said. Medivation will have further conversations with potential buyers and ask them to firm up their offers, some of the sources said. . . .

Medivation, best known for its prostate cancer drug Xtandi, said in July it had agreed to share confidential information with potential buyers after France’s Sanofi agreed to drop a campaign to oust Medivation’s board of directors. . . .

Frothy markets make for big premiums — but if any sector supports such valuations, it is the oncology wing of the bioscience sector. Onward, for some later-evening cool outdoors symphony listening, then. . . grinning — as ever, with Mozart, Mendelssohn and Schubert on tap.

The Last Of “Fast” Fred’s “Five Stars” Falls: Merck’s Zontivity® Is Done, In US

August 16, 2016 - Leave a Response

FiercePharma has done a very nice job of covering this long-developing story, while I’ve been attending to other matters.

I’ll just quote some of theirs, and point you to mine — of May of 2014, when it was approved in the US with a very narrow label. At least two other strong competitors have come on market (and three more are about to) — in the US — since May of 2014. [Prior to May of 2014, Merck had already written off some $1.7 billion on the project — so this brings the total impairment charges to almost exactly $2 billion, over about five years, or $400 million per year. Ouch.]

Of course, our hearts go out to those families whose incomes and careers are ending here. We will keep them in our morning meditiations. But in truth, this one had long been expected. Here’s the FiercePharma item, and a bit:

. . . .Merck acquired Zontivity, or vorapaxar, in its 2009 buyout of Schering-Plough. It was a first-in-class PAR-1 drug designed to compete with the old standby clot fighter warfarin in stroke patients, and analysts had pegged its peak sales as high as $5 billion per year.

But as clinical studies progressed, serious bleeding risks emerged, dashing hopes of an approval for stroke patients and limiting its potential market. Its 2014 approval included a “black box” warning about those bleeding risks. . . .

Since then, newer clot-fighters have hit the market, including AstraZeneca’s Brilinta, approved for post-heart attack treatment, and Eli Lilly’s Effient. There’s also a range of next-gen warfarin rivals, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer’s Eliquis; Johnson & Johnson and Bayer’s Xarelto; and Boehringer Ingelheim’s Pradaxa. Those drugs have bleeding risks of their own, but reversal agents are nearing the market. . . .

Now you know — and I do think that is the last of Fred’s five favorite candidates — from the 2008 era. Not one made anything near what Mr. Hassan was literally pounding the table claiming it would. Onward, on a glorious late summer afternoon just the same — off, to the pop-up farmers’ fresh fruit stands, here in the city, on foot. . . . smiling ear to ear.

Federal Propecia® MDL Rescheduled Status Conference In Brookyln: Now October 18, 2016 @ 1 PM EST

August 15, 2016 - Leave a Response

A very minor update here — due to a conflict on the Court’s calendar — the next status hearing on the federal finasteride (branded as Propecia® and/or Proscar®) multi-district litigation has been moved up by a week.

Last week we reported a new slew of dates, this one is one week earlier than originally proposed:

. . . .A Status Conference is scheduled for October 18, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. in Courtroom 322 North before Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo.

Ordered by Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo on 8/12/2016. . . .

Now you know. Onward, on an easy start to the week — hunting mid-afternoon fresh food, on foot. . . smile.


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