April 27, 2015

Research Roundup: resistance to antimalarials in Africa, R&D for bioterrorist attacks, and more

Senior Program Assistant

Scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have identified a mutation in Plasmodium falciparum—the parasite responsible for the majority of fatal cases of malaria—that makes the parasite more resistant to quinine and artemisinin, the leading antimalarials worldwide. The mutation was discovered in Kenya in 2013, where children were reported to still have the parasite in their blood after being treated for malaria. The mutation, found in the ap2mu gene, makes the parasite 42 and 32 percent more resistant to quinine and artemisinin, respectively.

Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-AZ), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, called on the White House to name a “single coordinator for agencies responsible for responding” to public health crises or bioterrorist attacks in a recent hearing. Former Senator Jim Talent testified before the subcommittee, asserting that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority has been “chronically underfunded” and that a key lesson learned from the Ebola outbreak is that “it is too late to develop countermeasures after an outbreak or attack has happened.”

The co-chairs of the Alliance for Biosecurity echoed this message in an op-ed published in The Hill last week. The authors, who serve as presidents of biotechnology companies Bavarian Nordic and Elusys Therapeutics, call for increased funding for biomedical research and development (R&D), specifically, consistent and multi-year investments in public-private partnerships.

Stephen Ostroff, acting commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), does not have any major changes planned for the agency, and will continue former commissioner Margaret Hamburg's efforts to regulate tobacco products and enhance food safety. Dr. Ostroff also stated that the FDA is currently consulting the House Energy & Commerce Committee on the draft of the 21st Century Cures Act. During her final speech as commissioner, Hamburg expressed concern that the legislation could weaken the FDA’s rigorous drug approval process, leading to inefficient or even unsafe products on the market.

Newt Gingrich, former United States representative (R-GA), called on Congress to double the National Institutes for Health (NIH) budget in an op-ed in the New York Times last week. Gingrich notes that 92 percent of NIH’s funding goes directly to research and that despite a 50 percent increase in grant applications, funding has either stagnated or declined each year since 2003. Gingrich asserts that “health is both a moral and financial issue” and that support for the NIH should be bipartisan. He admits that he is not usually a keen proponent of increased government spending, but that the government has a “unique” role to play in its ability to mobilize resources and due to the long-term health care savings realized by investing in research for treatments and cures.