“How To Build A Mars Rover” — The Applied Sciences Story Of Curiosity’s Ride To Mars

March 11, 2017 - Leave a Response

This past August, in silence, we celebrated 40 full years since our first soft landing on Mars. And it was exactly ten years ago, yesterday, that the Mars Reconnaissance spacecraft entered orbit around the red planet.

By August of this year, the Curiosity rover will have been on-site, driving around on Mars — and drilling, and sending data back to Earth — for five full years. . . long beyond the expected lifespan of its applied science marvels.

Available on AmazonTV is a new documentary — in an hour (or so) of high def — all about Curiosity’s jaw-dropping journey, and ongoing work. Do go see it — free to Amazon Prime members.

. . .Mars, a coal of fire is rising

Rising slowly in the summer twilight sky

Fierce it glows beyond the pine trees,

With a redness all its own,

Rising lonely, while the night breeze

Stirs the branches, with a moan. . . .

Catherine Cate Coblentz,
Mars Hill, Lowell Observatory
Flagstaff, Arizona 1924

And here’s a two minute trailer:

This is of course offered in our continuing series of posts aimed at highlighting careers in STEM, and in our post series about the wonder that space science offers to younger viewers, more generally. Onward — with a perma-grin, ear to ear. . . Whoosh, I’m out.


Merck Receives FDA Request For Additional Data, In MSI-H Indication — For A Keytruda® sBLA…

March 10, 2017 - Leave a Response

While this (MSI-H) is not one of the highest burden cancers in the US, it is worth noting that this indication had been granted both (i) a priority review, and (ii) breakthrough status by FDA, in late 2015.

Now the FDA staffers are asking for more data. The would-be FDA complete response date should have been March 8, 2017. That date miss would more than occasionally suggest some smallish off-target effect was emerging, in the data — or there were questions about the efficacy, in this patient population. I suspect that it will all sort itself out, but this has to be disappointing news, to Kenilworth. From OncLive, then:

. . . .The sBLA for pembrolizumab is based on results from 5 open-label, multicohort phase I/II trials that evaluated pembrolizumab in patients with MSI-H tumors. The specific regimen would be a fixed dosed of 200 mg of pembrolizumab every 3 weeks.

In November 2015, the FDA granted a breakthrough therapy designation to pembrolizumab as a potential therapy for patients with MSI-H metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC). . . .

As ever, very rare is the biologic that progresses in a straight line — this we all know, from painful experience. Onward.


“Roll, Tide Roll. . .” — That’s What’s Happening With The Existing TROs — Against Muslim Ban 2.0

March 9, 2017 - Leave a Response

Let’s just pull the lens back a bit, away from the bark on the various trees in this federal legal forest — and pan up, to get a glimpse from high above the canopy.

What we’d see. . . is that 45 is headed to yet another well-deserved defeat, as early as March 15, in the federal courts in Honolulu, Hawaii. And in the days after that, elsewhere in our great nation, from coast to coast.

And while it is a bit of a jarringly-switched metaphor, I will also proclaim: “Roll tide, roll.” Let justice be done. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have wanted it to come out just so. . . . Here’s a bit from today’s NPR reporting (as I am just now returning to my office, from federal court myself):

. . . .”The bottom line is that the court issued, and we obtained, a temporary restraining order on the original executive order,” [Washington State AG Bob] Ferguson told NPR’s Robert Siegel ahead of the announcement. “Yes, the revised one is more narrow — that’s a success. But the core constitutional problems remain the same.”

Ferguson added: “The intent behind the executive order targeting those Muslim countries still remains, and that is unconstitutional. . . .”

[Editor’s Note: Another news report captured his remarks in this way:]

“. . .We’re asserting that the president cannot unilaterally declare himself free of the court’s restraining order and injunction,” Ferguson told reporters at news conference Thursday. “This is not a new lawsuit….It’s our view that that temporary restraining order that we’ve already obtained remains in effect. And the burden is on the federal government to explain why it does not.”

You cannot tweet your way out of it,” Ferguson added. “It does not work that way in a courtroom. . . .”

Indeed, it doesn’t. [Tonight’s filing, here — a 16 page PDF file.] And so — it is quite well with my soul that I will soon end this [another] long march, this way — head held high, smiling and letting justice roll down on those quite wicked, and those quite-small minds. . . . let it end, thus. Out.


Merck’s Earlier Substantial Help — With China’s BioScience Oncology Darling BeiGene — Has Paid Off Handsomely

March 9, 2017 - Leave a Response

I just noticed that earlier in the week — in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China — BeiGene has signed a deal to build a $330 million world-class biologics manufacturing facility.

Regular readers will recall that Merck rode along, as “shotgun” — in the IPO of BeiGene, in February 2016. During the ensuing year, Merck has seen its overall percentage ownership of the company decline, as it lightened up, in an orderly fashion — even as the per share price marched pretty much steadily northward. It went out at $28.62, about thirteen months ago — and now sits at just a few pennies shy of $40. Sweet.

So — Merck still holds about 6 per cent of BeiGene — and that is a nice, solid, liquid cash trove — on tap, for other international projects as they arise. In the mean time, it is a pretty safe place to store a 40-something per cent capital gain, in just over a year. As I say, very sweet. [Off the grid this afternoon, making a pro bono federal court appearance, related to the latest ACLU efforts against Agent Orange, here.]


O/T: Taking A Sentimental, But Soulful Lunchbreak — Away…

March 8, 2017 - Leave a Response

. . .away from all the ugliness that swirls through 45’s politics. [Exactly three years ago this morning, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, with 239 souls aboard. To date, nothing definitive in the way of human remains connected to wreckage has been found.]

Now I am beaming — simply beaming, as I look at clear(er) southern skies. Whoosh.


The State Of Hawaii Offers A Muscular Argument For Extending The TRO — Against Ban 2.0

March 8, 2017 - Leave a Response

[UPDATED: The able federal District Court Judge Derrick Watson, sitting in Honolulu, has granted the TRO scheduling order, and set in motion arguments — to conclude by March 15, 2017 at Noon local, in Hawaii. Onward.] Oh my. Good morning. . . . The State of Hawaii is now on file, and so. . . I’ll set out just a few of the Constitutional bases for the to-be-extended TRO first, then a solid statutory one, below. But make no mistake — Ban 2.0 will fail. Utterly.

I want to particularly point out the last paragraph in blue, below — as we haven’t mentioned it since late January. That is the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that President Lyndon Johnson signed, as amended — in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, in 1965. It did away with harsh quotas — and tests based on nationality or religious affiliation. Mr. Trump cannot change that without an entirely new act of Congress. He simply lacks the power. Here is the full 40 page PDF motion for the extended TRO, and the bit:

. . . .Plaintiff Ismail Elshikh, PhD, the Imam of the Muslim Association of Hawai‘i, joins the State in its challenge because the Executive Order inflicts a grave injury on Muslims in Hawai‘i, including Dr. Elshikh, his family, and members of his Mosque. . . .

The White House originally indicated it would sign the new Executive Order on Wednesday, February 29, 2017, but then postponed the announcement. One Administration official told a news outlet on February 28 that a reason for President Trump’s delay in signing an updated Executive Order was “the busy news cycle,” and the desire of the President that the new order “get plenty of attention. . . .”

A senior Administration official told a different news outlet on March 1, 2017, that a related reason for the delay in releasing the updated Executive Order was the “positive reaction” to President Trump’s “first address to Congress” on the evening of Tuesday, February 28, 2017. That article reported that “[s]igning the executive order Wednesday, as originally indicated by the White House, would have undercut the favorable coverage,” and the senior Administration official “didn’t deny the positive reception was part of the [A]dministration’s calculus in pushing back the travel ban announcement.”. . .

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the Federal Government from officially preferring one religion over another.

Sections 2 and 6 of President Trump’s March 6, 2017 Executive Order, as well as Defendants’ statements regarding the Executive Order and their actions to implement it, are intended to disfavor Islam.

Sections 2 and 6 of the Executive Order, as well as Defendants’ statements regarding the Executive Order and their actions to implement it, have the effect of disfavoring Islam.

Through their actions described in this Complaint, Defendants have violated the Establishment Clause. Defendants’ violation inflicts ongoing harm upon Dr. Elshikh, his family, and members of his Mosque, as well as other Hawai‘i residents and the sovereign interests of the State of Hawai‘i. . . .

The March 6, 2017 Executive Order was motivated by animus and a desire to discriminate on the basis of religion and/or national origin, nationality, or alienage.

The Executive Order differentiates between people based on their religion and/or national origin, nationality, or alienage and is accordingly subject to strict scrutiny. It fails that test, because it is over- and under-inclusive in restricting immigration for security reasons. The statements of President Trump and his advisors also provide direct evidence of the Executive Order’s discriminatory motivations. . . .

The Immigration and Nationality Act provides that “[e]xcept as specifically provided” in certain other subsections of that Act, “no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” 8 U.S.C. § 1152(a)(1)(A). . . .

Mr. Trump is. . . only a man. Not a king. Mr. Trump serves us, the people, not the other way around. Onward.

[Late afternoon update — in the Ninth Circuit, the Trump administration has dropped its appeal of the nationwide TRO there. The litigation now continues in the trial court in Seattle — I’d expect motions from the State of Washington lawyers, much along the lines of those filed by lawyers for the State of Hawaii, overnight. I’d expect much the same, in Brooklyn and Alexandria, Virginia as well — soon. Now you know. End of update.]


Muslim Ban 2.0: New TRO Motion Being Filed Overnight, In Hawaii Federal District Court

March 7, 2017 - Leave a Response

We just learned that — right now — in Honolulu, Hawaii, 45’s new executive order (signed yesterday), is being slated for a very rapid briefing and hearing schedule, so that a determination on it may be made prior to the March 16, 2017 effective date, in the Continental United States.

I’ll have more tomorrow, once the TRO motion proper is filed, in Honolulu — but I expect that it will aim squarely at the First Amendment violations in the new order (the ones I and others have been pointing to, and talking about). Here’s a bit of the scheduling, in a five page PDF file:

. . . .Namely, the parties propose that: Plaintiffs file their Second Amended Complaint, Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, and any declarations in support thereof on March 8, 2017; the Government files its Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order by 6 AM Hawaii Standard Time on March 13, 2017; Plaintiffs file a Reply by 12 Noon Hawaii Standard Time on March 14, 2017; and both parties prepare to appear at a hearing in this Court with telephonic access available on the morning of March 15, 2017. The parties have also agreed, if it is acceptable to this Court, to seek leave to allow both parties to file briefs of up to 12,000 words for Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in Support of their Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and the Government’s opposition thereto. . . .

Given that the Executive Order will become effective at 6:01 P.M. Hawaii Standard Time on March 15, 2017, the proposed briefing and argument schedule will enable the Court to consider Plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order before the Executive Order is scheduled to take effect. . . .

Now you know — be excellent to one another, until morning, then — Hawaii time.


“Tweeter-In-Chief” Working On New “System” For US Drug Pricing Competition? Y A W N.

March 7, 2017 - One Response

I think Anderson Cooper has hit upon a supremely elegant idea, here: he has muted 45’s twitter feed.

I mean it’s not like we won’t collectively read about it, in the morning.

And almost none of 45’s scree amounts to anything more than a narcissist’s self-justification, of one sort or another.

Even so, apparently bio-science and drug stocks are down (albeit marginally) this morning, largely across the board, because 45 claims (by tweet!) to be working on a “new system” — that will (he says) increase US drug price competition. Uh-huh.

[I would bet real money that 45 is fecklessly, and entirely clue-free — about the multi-billion dollar all-out price war, now underway in the US Hep C space, between Merck, and Gilead and Abbvie — as just one example. . . . Sheesh.]

I think “mute” makes a lot of sense. In fact, I’ll think I’ll. . . give it a try.


Pressing “Pause” — On Comments — On The GOP Replacement “Plan”…

March 6, 2017 - Leave a Response

I will likely not offer much comment on the “plan” unveiled this evening — for quite a while yet. It isn’t even half-baked, in my view.

It makes little sense to debate the particulars of the “plan” — given that the GOP presently very clearly lacks enough votes to pass it, in the Senate.

I say this, and it turns out that there are at least two fundamental, structural sticking points left to solve: (i) four GOP Senators have written a letter saying that if their states’ Medicaid expansions are curtailed, they will not vote for the “plan” — and that puts the GOP six votes short of the needed votes, in the Senate; and (ii) separately, the overall cost of the plan (still unknown — awaiting non-partisan OMB estimates) will be a reason many House GOP members might bolt on it.

Said another way, even if only two of the four Senate “defectors” actually bolt (and even if all the House GOP-ers hang in there, and back it). . . it will still fail to become law. Word.


[U] I Have Read The “New” Executive Order. It Is A Dead Letter. Period.

March 6, 2017 - Leave a Response

Well. . . over some delicious miso soup and sashimi, at lunch — it took me all of five minutes to read — and re-read — the “new” order.

The problem 45 faces is. . . simply insurmountable. His own very public statements, along with (notably) those of Rudy Giuliani cannot be washed away. They are powerful evidence of a violation of the First, and Fourteenth, Amendments.Once “rung” — in the poetic language of the Supremes — that bell cannot be “unrung“. Mr. Trump, verbatim, then:

. . . .December 7, 2015: We will have a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. . . .

That is the evidence — and no amount of lipstick on this pig will. . . suffice.

The “Three Day Condor” predicts this new order will suffer the same fate as the first one. And that will be. . . a victory for our federalized (republic) system of checks and balances, for the US Constitution, for our democracy, and ordered liberty. More than 240 years of US history hangs in the balance here — these are momentous times, indeed. But ones the founders left us well-equipped to address. Thank you, Messrs. Hamilton and Jefferson — and countless others. . . .


UPDATED @ 3:10 PM EST: The administration has already filed papers in at least three federal courts on both coasts, arguing that those courts should let the New Muslim Ban go into effect on March 16, 2017, thus: “Rather, the Order applies only to those who are overseas and without a visa. That grouping presents the highest concern with respect to the adequacy of visa screening procedures, circumstances for which the courts afford “considerable deference to the President’s policy determinations.” Washington, 847 F.3d at 1164. Nor is there any immediate harm presented to that grouping. They do not have visas and do not have an entitlement to one. Indeed, even if there were some legal right, there is no imminent harm from a temporary suspension where visa applicants normally must wait a period of months or longer to apply and/or be issued a visa or travel document if found eligible. See Declaration of Emily Chiang ¶ 13 (ECF No. 8) (“The process of getting a visa for her mother who lives in Iran was long and arduous. It took six months to get an appointment with the embassy. Her appointment was in August and she finally received her visa in early January.”)….

The portion I bolded, above — completely mischaracterizes the existing federal law. The Trump administration cannot change the law, simply by making a false assertion about it. The New Muslim Ban will be a dead letter. [The administration’s ED NY version of the filing (in 17-cv-0480) of this afternoon, may be found here.]

Here endeth my sermon, for this day.