Friday, May 11, 2007

NHS holds up cancer drugs

The UK has one of the worst records over access to cancer drugs as stark inequalities exist across the world, a Swedish study says. Researchers ranked the UK in the bottom group for its "slow and low" uptake of drugs after analysing the sales of 67 treatments in 25 countries. The US, Austria, France and Switzerland were the best, the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm School of Economics said. But the UK government said it had speeded up the drug approval process.

The researchers said getting new treatments to patients quickly and in large numbers was reflected in the survival rates. France had the highest five-year survival rate in Europe at 71% for women and 53% for men, compared to 53% and 43% in the UK respectively. The research was funded by drugs firm Roche, but independent experts said that did not invalidate the findings.

The greatest differences in uptake, measured by the proportion of patients given the drugs and how quickly they came on to the individual markets after being produced, was seen in bowel and lung cancer drugs. The US's uptake of bowel cancer treatment bevacizumab was 10 times the European average, the researchers said. In Europe the likes of France and German had higher than average use, compared to "very low" in Italy and the UK.

For lung cancer, uptake of erlotinib was 10 times higher than the European avearge in the US and three times higher in Germany. Uptake in Australia, the UK, Norway and Poland was slow.

In the UK, the first sale of breast cancer drug trastuzumab was in autumn 2000, nearly two years after it hit the market in the US and a full 12 months after it was given in Switzerland and France. Along with the UK, New Zealand, Poland, Czech Republic and South Africa were ranked at the bottom of the overall league.

Lead researcher Dr Bengt Jonsson said: "It is our hope that this report will inspire policy-makers and decision-makers to take action to address these imbalances so that access to new innovative cancer drugs does not become dependent on the patient's couintry of residence. "Cancer research continues to grow, with many new drugs and treatments expected to be introduced in the coming years. "Countries need to address urgently how they are going to accommodate newer drugs into health care systems and pay for them."

In the NHS, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has responsibility for recommending if new drug treatments should be provided by the health service. The system has been heavily criticised because of a backlog in assessing treatments and for restricting access to them. But a Department of Health spokesman said NICE was essential in ensuring that the NHS used the most effective treatments. And he said measures had been taken to speed up the approval process for key drugs. "We are making good progress in ensuring cancer patients have access to the drugs they need. "For example draft guidance was available within two weeks of Herceptin for early breast cancer being licensed." [And the guidance was not to use it generally!]


What a crock!

Do I really need to comment on this? Don't we all start moving our eyes at a great rate as soon as we get out of bed? We even move them when we are dreaming, in fact

Moving your eyes from side to side for 30 seconds every morning can boost memory by up to 10 per cent, a study suggests. Students who took part in the eye exercise tests found that their memory recall was boosted by a spot of eye jiggling. The exercises work, it is thought, because the eye movements cause the two hemispheres of the brain to interact more efficiently with each other.

Research led by Andrew Parker of Manchester Metropolitan University, identified the potential exam revision technique while studying false recall. “This could be important in situations where we feel uncertain, unclear or maybe even just confused about what we may have done or said,” he said. “It may help someone recall an important piece of information for an exam or for a shopping list.”

He presented 102 university students with recordings of a male voice reading 20 lists of 15 words. The subjects were then handed a list of words and asked to pick out those that they had just heard. On average, the students who had moved their eyes from side to side performed 10 per cent better than the rest. Up and down eye movement was of no use at all to recall. Contained within the lists were “lure” words that were not in the spoken list but were similar to some of those that were. Students who had moved eyes sideways were 15 per cent better at ignoring the misleading words.

Dr Parker said: “Our work shows that true memory can be improved and false memory reduced. One reason for this is that bilateral eye movements may improve our ability to monitor the source of our memories. He said that people are often confused over whether a memory is real or imagined, such as whether a bill was paid or a door locked. “The problem is to determine the source of one’s memory — real or imagined. Bilateral eye movements may help us to determine accurately the source of our memory,” he said.

He came up with the idea of testing students and getting them to move their eyes after previous research indicated that some memories are dependent on the level of activity between the brain’s two hemispheres. The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Brain and Cognition, anticipated a reduction in false memory but were taken aback to find that the eye movements assisted recall of true memories. “The effects are so counter-intuitive,” Dr Parker said. “That such a straightforward experimental manipulation can bring about enhanced memory for studied information and lower the number of memory errors is quite exciting.”

More work has to be done to establish in what contexts the technique will be effective and whether it really will help in an exam. But he added: “If one does forget something then it will do no harm to try moving one’s eyes from side to side — to see if it does make a difference.”


Just the sight of a chicken can offend in Britain

A playwright has been told he must warn audiences his one-man act features a roast chicken - for fear of offending vegetarians. Doug Devaney, 41, of Roedale Road, Brighton, has toured the city for years with his play Mein Gutt, a black comedy about a man's losing battle against obesity. But the vegetarian Sanctuary Cafe in Hove has told him the show can only go on if the audience is warned beforehand that there is a dead chicken involved.

Mr Devaney said: "I phoned up as a matter of courtesy to let them know I used a chicken as an essential part of the show but they got back to me a few days later to say I would have to give the audience a warning. "I've heard of strobe lighting or nudity being cause for audience concern but never sugar-roasted chicken. "Do people really need that much protecting? I wonder what they do when they walk past the rotisserie at Asda? "I'm happy to do it - I just consider it weird. Will Shakespeareans have to warn theatre-goers about eye-gouging in King Lear from now on? It takes some of the surprise of theatre away and how sensitive are we?"

Sandra McDonagh, who organises events at the Sanctuary Cafe, said: "Essentially we just don't want to cause offence so we want to give out a warning beforehand. "I had to run it past the cafe owners and they asked for a warning in case somebody stands up and says, I wasn't told about this'. "People would definitely assume there was no meat on the premises but it will be nowhere near the kitchen or any food preparation area. "There will always be one person who will be sensitive enough to complain. I have come across staunch vegans in my time who will kick off about most things and it's better to cover yourselves."

The play, which Mr Devaney said was about "the way people change their attitude to you when you become a man of size", will be performed every Friday throughout the Brighton Festival Fringe at 9.15pm in the cellar room.

Source. (H/T Interested Participant)

A great excuse to put insurance premiums up

Lloyd's of London, the world's oldest insurer, offered a gloomy forecast of floods, droughts and disastrous storms over the next 50 years in a recently published report on impending climate changes. "These things are fact, not hypothesis," said Wendy Baker, the president of Lloyd's America in an interview on Monday. "You don't have to be a believer in global warming to recognize the climate is changing. The industry has to get ready for the changes that are coming."

In a report on catastrophe trends Lloyd's is disseminating to the insurance industry, a bevy of British climate experts, including Sir David King, chief scientist to the British government, warn of increased flooding in coastal areas and a rapid rise in sea level as ice caps melt in Greenland and Antarctica.

Northern European coastal levels could rise more than a meter (3 feet) in a few decades, particularly if the Gulf Stream currents change, the report says. Floods, which now account for about half of all deaths from natural disasters, could multiply and become more destructive, with annual flood damages in England and Wales reaching 10 times today's level, according to some studies. At the same time, drought patterns that are already forming in some parts of the world are going to get worse, particularly in southern Africa. Even the lush Amazon may dry up, and with less vegetation, more carbon dioxide will leak into the atmosphere, making the global warming problem even worse, the Lloyd's study says.

Baker said Lloyd's has formed a partnership with American International Group, the world's biggest insurer, Harvard University's Center for Health and the Global Environment and the Insurance Information Institute, a research group. The four will hold a forum in the fall of 2007 to look at the severity and consequences of future natural catastrophes


Green car crashes

An electric car beloved of green-minded celebrities and promoted as the environmentally friendly alternative for city drivers may be banned after failing a basic crash test carried out by the Department for Transport. The Government is so concerned by the lack of protection offered by the G-Wiz that it rushed out a statement last night stating that it was urgently seeking a review of the European regulations covering the sale of the cars.

The tiny car, made in Bangalore, India, has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity in London because it is exempt from the congestion charge and parking fees in dozens of car parks. Several celebrities, including Jonathan Ross, Kristin Scott Thomas and Bamber Gascoigne, have bought one and have publicly praised its very low emissions and the ease of parking it in the tightest spaces. A total of 750 are already being driven in London and another 100 are about to be delivered to customers.

Reva, the Indian company which makes the G-Wiz, did not have to carry out the crash tests which are compulsory for cars because its vehicle is technically defined as a quadricycle. Until the G-Wiz was introduced, most quadricycles were four-wheel motorbikes and were considered a special case which could be exempted from minimum occupant protection standards. But Reva describes itself as a car company and markets the G-Wiz as a greener alternative to a conventional car.

The DfT decided to buy a G-Wiz and carry out its own crash test after becoming concerned by the rapid growth in sales. It found "serious safety concerns" after crashing a G-Wiz at 35mph into a deformable barrier, which is the normal test for cars.

Stephen Ladyman, the Transport Minister, said: "The safety regulations that govern this type of vehicle were designed at a time when it was thought they would cover four-wheeled motorcycles and some small, specialised commercial vehicles. Not city runabouts that resemble small cars. "But, given increasing environmental concerns, new vehicles that qualify as quadricycles have come to the market and are becoming more popular for urban use. Therefore it is right that we reconsider the regulations for this type of vehicle and whether safety regulations should be made more stringent. "Now we have the initial findings of our tests we will be taking this up with the European Commission and manufacturers, and will publish more information when the full programme of tests is complete."

The DfT carried out the test on April 24 and received the preliminary results last Friday. They were so poor that it decided to act immediately rather than wait for a few weeks until the full report was available. The Government has found itself in an awkward position because it has encouraged drivers to switch to low emission cars and has exempted the G-Wiz and other electric vehicles from paying vehicle excise duty. A DfT spokeswoman said: "We want to help people explore environmentally friendly forms of transport but they must be safe." She added that a further crash test would be carried out on another electric car classed as a quadricycle. She refused to name the model.

GoinGreen, the British company which imports the G-Wiz, said it had a very good safety record, with no reported deaths or serious injuries associated with the 2,000 vehicles sold in Britain and India to date. Keith Johnston, the company's managing director, said the G-Wiz tended to be driven short distances in cities at low speeds. It is certified to travel on motorways but has a top speed of only 45mph. He added that the review requested by the Government should consider raising the maximum weight for quadricycles to allow safety features to be added. The G-Wiz only just complies with the existing weight limit, which is 400kg without the battery. "We could add airbags but that would add to the weight," he said. Mr Johnston said that Reva had done some simulated crash tests but he did not know the details


Deadly food fanaticism: "A vegan couple were sentenced to life in jail yesterday for the murder of their malnourished six-week-old son, who weighed just 3rlb (1.6kg) when he died. Jade Sanders and Lamont Thomas fed the boy, who was named Crown Shakur, a diet largely consisting of soy milk and apple juice, the Atlanta court heard. The child was born in a bath-tub in the couple's home and never taken to see a doctor. He was dead when his parents took him to a hospital across the street from their flat on April 25, 2004. He was so emaciated that doctors could count his bones through his skin. The couple maintained during the trial that they did the best they could for the boy while adhering to their vegan lifestyle, a strict form of vegetarianism that does not allow the consumption or use of any products linked to animals." [May they rot!]

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