SMC Science Deadline: Cancer drugs, bad berries, COP21 and four new science media projects

By Sciencemediacentre.co.nz received 3 years ago

Categories: Science
Age: 19 until 30 year 31 until 64 years 65 and older
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Issue 354, 04 Dec 2015

In this issue:

Expensive drugs
Climate update
Bad berries
New science media
Policy updates
New from the SMC

Quick Links

SMC Alerts
Media Registration
About us
Contact the SMC
Top news from scimex.org  the Science Media Centre's news sharing platform.

Insects as effective as bees for pollination

Greenhouse gas culprits caught on camera

Singing your way to sex

Weight gain between pregnancies linked to stillbirths

Mystical experiences - all in your head?

New from the SMC

  Expert Rections: Transparency needed in cancer drug markets   In the News: First week of climate talks   Expert Reaction: Berries and Hepatitis A   In the News: PHARMAC not to fund melanoma drug   In the News: Leaders lay out commitments in climate talks – In the news

  Applications still open for Wellington two-day workshop in Feb 2016
Apply Here

New from the SMC global network

Expert Reaction: Epigenetic changes in the sperm of fat and lean men   Expert Reaction: Maternal weight gain, and increased risk of stillbirths and infant deaths   Expert Reaction: Caffeinated energy drink consumption and blood sugar and insulin levels   Expert Reaction: Screen time and physical activity during early adulthood linked to midlife cognition
Australian SMC
Expert Reaction: C-section and asthma risk   Expert Reaction: Federal Government‘s Mental Health Plan   Briefing: Power battle – Comparing electricity costs into 2030

Drug prices lack transparency

Experts are calling for greater transparency and fairness in cancer drug pricing.
A new study published today in the journal Lancet Oncology reveals discrepancies between drug prices in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The researchers, including a New Zealander, looked at the costs of more than 30 drugs and found that there was wide variation in the prices different countries paid for the same drug.
For example, the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine costs just $43USD per vial in Greece, but the same dose costs over $200USD in New Zealand.
The authors also noted drug pricing data was scarce and not always transparent due to confidential discounts and arrangements.
“As policy-makers cannot consider such agreements because they are confidential, they risk overpaying when setting prices through external price referencing,” says lead author, Dr Zaheer Ud-Din-Babar from the University of Auckland’s School of Pharmacy.
"Our study supports those policy-makers and researchers that call for higher price transparency.“
Melanoma drug controversy
The research comes amidst discussion over drug purchasing agency Pharmac's decision not to fund expensive melanoma drug Keytruda.
Experts contacted by the SMC noted that confidential pricing agreements may in fact be helping New Zealanders in the long run.
"The authors argue that this lack of transparency means organizations that set prices through external price referencing risk overpaying - which makes sense,” said  Dr Nisha Nair, a Public Health Medicine Specialist at the University of Otago Wellington.
“But the flipside is that this ‘lack of transparency’ probably allows organizations that set prices through other means (such as tendering for supply, or negotiating for ‘packages’ of drugs) to pay less than other countries. Pharmac is one example of such an organization.”
"Perhaps the question is do we keep things confidential and protect our own backyard? Or make everything more transparent for the possibility (not the probability) that other countries might pay less, and in that process, almost certainly pay more ourselves?"

Read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.

Pressure grows in Paris talks

Negotiators are being pushed to agree on a draft document to be further discussed at a high-level meeting next week.

The number of working groups has been decreased to accelerate negotiations and meet the deadline for next week.
According an official statement “ a new text is expected on Thursday evening or Friday morning [local time].

“By Saturday lunchtime, negotiators have to present a draft agreement that is as legible as possible, with a maximum of settled options, before Ministers take over on Monday.”
According to RNZ's Chris Bramwell, who is reporting from Paris, "One of the main problems is around finance - how much the richer, more industrialised countries should pay the poorer, emerging economies to help them adapt to, and mitigate, climate change."
You can read a round up of recent related COP21 coverage on the Science Media Centre website.
Journalists seeking to get in touch with New Zealand experts, both in Paris and New Zealand, for reaction and comment can contact the SMC.

We will also be collating announcements, news coverage and expert reaction on the Science Media Centre website under the COP21 tag, available here.

Policy news & developments

Water report: The Land and Water Forum have published a new report recommending to exclude livestock from waterways.
Cancer data: The Ministry of Health has published the latest data collected in national cancer registries.
High value food: Funding for seven projects in the High Value Nutrition National Science Challenge, totalling $7 million, has been announced.

Hep A cases prompt berry recall

Authorities have traced the cause of several cases of Hepatitis A to a particular brand of frozen imported berries, prompting a product recall.
Yesterday the Ministry of Primary Industries directed company FSL Foods to recall their Fruzio Mixed Berries sold in 1kg and 500 gram bags. The product contains blackberries and strawberries.
The recall comes after an announcement from MPI on Monday saying they were investigating packaged imported frozen berries as a possible source of four human cases of Hepatitis A.
Despite the recall, MPI is advising consumers to briefly boil any frozen berries before eating them, or ensure that cooking exceeds 85 degrees Celsius for one minute.
"Our investigation is ongoing and, at this stage, our advice concerning all imported frozen berries stays the same," says Peter Thomson, MPI’s Director, plants food and environment. “We are not able to rule out further recalls."
Earlier this year an outbreak of Hepatitis A in Australia was linked to pre-packaged berries, and there was concern in New Zealand last year when a Hawke’s Bay fruit packhouse worker was diagnosed with Hepatitis A.
Consultant microbiologist Dr John Brooks, told the SMC that the virus, spread by fecal contamination, does not colonise plants and fruits and cannot multiply on them.
“If frozen berries have indeed caused the four recent cases seen in New Zealand, it is because the berries have been contaminated with faeces during handling.”
“The contamination has most likely come from an infected food handler, but might have come from human waste used for field irrigation or from faecally contaminated water used in processing.
Despite berries already being linked to the Australian Hepatitis A outbreak, Dr Brooks said there is nothing peculiar about berries.
“Any food may be contaminated if infected handlers are careless about personal hygiene.  A person known to be suffering from Hepatitis A should not be permitted to handle foods for others.”
Read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website. Food safety specialist Dr John Brooks also participated in a live chat with Stuff.co.nz at lunchtime today.

Quoted: New Zealand Herald

"While it's sad for the robins it's exciting to be making new scientific discoveries like this, and potentially uncover a new behaviour that might change the way we look at our national icon."
  Dr Rachael Shaw, from Victoria University Wellington, comments on never before seen tough territorial behaviour exhibited by a Kiwi attacking encroaching robins.

Four new science media projects 

From a sci-fi comic to a science comedy podcast, these four projects seek to engage the public with science in diverse ways.

The Science Communicator's Conference was held in Wellington this week and saw a wide range of presentations that show the growing sophistication and depth of thinking around science communication efforts in New Zealand.
One of the conference sessions saw Science Media Centre Director Peter Griffin showcase four fledgling new media projects with strong involvement from scientists. 
Read this Sciblogs post to find out more about Jiwi's Machines, Sci21, Astarons and Stupid Questions for Scientists.

New from Sciblogs

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
The problem with reasoned discussion - Ken Perrott looks at a few of our psychological foibles that make straightforward logical discussion so impossible.
Open Parachute
Homegrown science media projects - Peter Griffin presents four kiwi projects that involve scientists exploring innovative ways to communicate science.
Griffin's Gadgets
NZ Health Strategy – are the big prevention programmes really in there? The Health Strategy draft report gets a thorough check up from Nick Wilson and Tony Blakely.
Public Health Expert

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  100 Years of Nutrition - 1-4 Dec, Wellington. Joint Annual Scientific Meeting of the Nutrition Societies of NZ and Australia focusing on nutrition in war, as well as topical issues in food, nutrition and health of concern now and in the future.
  Great Barrier Reef Passions: Why history stories matter - 2-10 Dec, various locations. Iain McCalman takes a look at how stories of the Great Barrier Reef's past have become sources which are shaping the reef communities of today.
  NZ Geospatial Science Conference - 7-9 December, Christchurch. The programme includes many aspects of geospatial research and practice – including theory, technology, application, and innovation.
  The Art of Bioengineering - 15-19 December, Auckland. Exhibition featuring images inspired by the latest research work.

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