Research and development


On April 11th 2012, the FDA finally took a step in the direction of protecting humans from the build-up of drug resistant bacteria.

Many don’t like to admit that bacteria are often smarter than even our best scientists. But the truth is that for every antibiotic we create, a stronger and more drug resistant strain of bacteria is generated.

NYTimes journalist Gardiner Harris writes, “Using small amounts of antibiotics over long periods of time leads to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs’ effects, endangering humans who become infected” (The New York Times). The New York Times also gives the estimate that 99,000 people die each year from infections they contracted at a hospital, and that the majority of these are due to resistant strains of bacteria.

Despite all of the research and data that has been collected, the US has done very little to cut back on the unnecessary use of antibiotics, specifically in the meat industry. Are we naively allowing industries interest to threaten the health of our entire population and especially of future generations?

The meat industry has been routinely including antibiotics in healthy livestock’s feed and water since the realization that it induced phenomenal growth.

One of the reasons antibiotics are not sold over the counter for human use is to reduce unnecessary use of such drugs that can create resistant strains of harmful bacteria. Until this April, however, there was hardly any regulation of antibiotic use for livestock.

The FDA announced on April 11th that in order for livestock to be given antibiotics, the antibiotics would need to be prescribed by a veterinarian. This was a victory in helping to preserve humans right to health. However, many more steps towards eliminating unnecessary antibiotic use are needed. Some are also concerned that both the meat and antibiotic industries will hold off making any changes in hope that the administration after the upcoming election will change the policy.

I am curious to see if people think this is a human rights issue where the government is failing to protect our right to health, or if people feel this is simply a policy issue.



Two drugs used to treat leukemia have been found to prevent the Ebola virus from replicating itself in someone’s body. The rare virus currently has no vaccine, treatment, or cure, and causes those who are infected to bleed to death 90% of the time. Ebola virus is most commonly associated with strains present in Africa, as well in the Western Pacific but with less severity. It can be contracted through direct contact of blood, secretions, organs, or bodily fluids of someone who is already infected.

The two drugs in question are imatinib and nolitinib, more commonly known as Gleevec and Tasigna respectively. However, what good is this if they are not even as affordable in countries that are comparatively more well-off like Korea as we saw in the Dying for Drugs documentary? Prices for one 100mg pill can range from $20-$30, and at least 50% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa receive less than $1 per day. This happens to be the region in which the Ebola virus is most prevalent.

Is it Novartis’ obligation under UN declaration to provide these drugs that would otherwise be completely inaccessible and unaffordable to those with the virus? Will it be more effective to manufacture the drugs under compulsory licensing or to distribute them in some other way? Compulsory licensing is used in extreme national emergencies, but the virus in itself calls for emergency medical assistance at all times due to the rate in which the body becomes infected.

The significance of all of this is that while rare, the virus is extremely deadly and highly contagious. It is also important to recognize that animals can also become infected and whether the subject is dead or alive does not matter. More testing is underway, but this is just some food for thought if researchers find that theses drugs are ultimately effective. After all this would be quite a breakthrough in the fight against the Ebola virus, as there is no treatment, but what good is it if it cannot be put to use where it is needed most?

On Tuesday The Supreme Court heard opening arguments in a case that, at it’s resolution, will set a strong precedent regarding corporate liability for civil suits brought by foreign nationals for human rights violations committed abroad.

The case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, involves a civil suit filed by 12 Nigerian Plaintiffs who allege that Royal Dutch Petroleum, a.k.a. Shell, “aided and abetted, and were otherwise complicit in, violations of international law;” specifically that the corporation “collaborated closely with Nigeria’s then-military government as it carried out a campaign of intimidation and violence” against the Ogoni people who opposed the development of their land for oil. At this stage the suit, filed under the umbrella of the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, is immediately concerned with whether foreign nationals have any right to try such claims through the United States Judicial System at all.

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In a reply to my post regarding fake anti-malaria medication, Marina touched upon an important issue in that the problem of counterfeit drugs is not only specific to the developing world, but it occurs right here at home as well. It reminded me of a segment from 60 Minutes that aired last March that highlighted this very problem.

Access to medicine is not just about providing treatment to those that need it most or cannot afford treatment otherwise, but it is also about obtaining the right treatment. In this context drug manufacturers are clearly driven by greed–whether its the US based company with outrageous prices which they refuse to reduce, or the counterfeit drug manufacturer abroad. What’s the bigger battle then? Is it the generic company that breaks patent law in order to provide cheaper medications or the counterfeit drug manufacturers that are harder to find if they are working out of their own apartments? To me, its the latter. I’d rather have generic drugs on the market that were quality checked rather than pills heated up in a microwave. The counterfeit drug market at the time of the video brought in about $75 billion dollars a year. Could this also be a reason pharma companies sometimes refuse to lower prices, since they are losing out on billions to the black market? The CBS 60 Minutes bit is worth a watch.  Here’s the transcript of the video in case it is more convenient for those of you that are interested.