Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. will announce this afternoon a partnership with leading Boston-area hospitals, medical schools, and universities -- in a novel attempt to address a major hurdle in medicine: the years-long gap between basic science advances and the testing of drugs in patients.
Under the unusual arrangement, the company will invest $100 million over five years and establish a research space in the heart of the Longwood Medical Area where Pfizer scientists will work in close proximity and team up with academic scientists. The new Center for Therapeutic Innovation, which will create about 50 new jobs, is part of a global Pfizer initiative to foster new kinds of collaboration with academia to accelerate drug development, a program that will be headquartered in Boston.FULL ENTRY
We have written a lot here about the work of Boston researchers analyzing the brains of NFL players for signs of a degenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Last week, a Boston University center confirmed a case in retired safety Dave Duerson, who suffered a loss of memory and impulse control in recent years and killed himself in February. His case was unique because he suspected the disease, caused by repeated head trauma.
Writer and internist Dr. Jan Gurley, who trained at Harvard Medical School and works in San Francisco, says the problem is common among the homeless, too. Assaults on the streets are a daily occurrence, she said.
She cites a study from Toronto in which 53 percent of homeless men and women surveyed at shelters in 2004 and 2005 were found to have suffered significant blows to the head. Twenty percent reported having five or more episodes of serious head trauma, and most said the first came before they were homeless.FULL ENTRY
James Collins was a junior at the College of the Holy Cross, running 80 to 90 miles a week as he worked to shave seconds off his 4:17 mile when he was sidelined with strep throat. He went to the infirmary, took a two-week course of antibiotics, and felt better.
Then, it happened again --13 times over the next two years, ending his college track career.
It seemed like a frustrating string of separate infections at the time. But about nine years ago, the Boston University bioengineer began studying the warfare between bacteria and antibiotics and reconsidered his youthful misfortune. Collins, 45, now thinks his body was a battlefield for a chronic infection caused by "persisters" -- bacteria that slip into a zombie-like state, evading medications until somehow they reawaken to cause the same infection again. In a study published today, Collins and colleagues report that they found a way to overcome the defenses of these bacteria that essentially play dead, by perking them up with a deceptively simple antibiotic sidekick: sugar.
"Could we wake these guys up, could we take a South Boston approach to killing persisters -- that is, can we get them up off the ground so we can punch them and knock them out," said Collins. The answer appears to be yes. In tests in a lab dish and in mice, the sugar revved bacteria up just enough so that a particular type of antibiotic could make its way into the cells and destroy them.
The research, published in the journal Nature, is preliminary, and scientists not involved in the work cautioned that further study is needed before this approach could be used in human patients.FULL ENTRY
Asthma rates are on the rise across the Northeast. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released numbers last week showing that, in states from Missouri to Maine, more than 9 percent of the population was diagnosed with the chronic respiratory disease. The Massachusetts rate grew from 9.5 percent in 2001 to 10.8 percent in 2009.
Boston researchers, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, are looking at what role our cold climate and indoor lifestyles may play, in a study focused on the potential link between asthma and low vitamin D levels.
The prevalence of asthma has been growing for years and specialists say there is no clear answer as to why. More than likely, there are many causes, said Dr. Megan Sandel, an associate professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University School of Medicine and a member of the advisory committee of the New England Asthma Regional Council.FULL ENTRY
A look at the morning's top health industry news.
Payment on call: Hospitals have been having a harder time getting doctors to put in on-call hours in recent years and more are offering extra payment for on-call hours as a result, the American Medical News reports. The number of physicians who were paid for their on-call time grew from 59% in 2009 to 65% last year.FULL ENTRY
A look at the morning's top health industry news
Malpractice settlement for UMass Memorial Hospital: A judge approved a $7 million settlement yesterday in the case of a Shrewsbury woman who said she was not provided with an amniocentesis during pregnancy. The lawsuit, which names four professionals at the Worcester hospital said the test would have detected a genetic disorder in her daughter, now 3, and caused her to abort the fetus, Travis Andersen of the Globe reports this morning. It also says that the woman does not speak English and was not provided with a translator.FULL ENTRY
The panel issued a report in March that said banning menthol additives in cigarettes would benefit public health. It found that the cigarettes, which make up about 30 percent of the US cigarette market and are the only category exempted from a ban on flavored tobacco, make smoking more appealing to young people and more difficult to quit.
Because the panel did not explicitly recommend a ban, however, stock prices for manufacturers soared after the report's release and the panel came under criticism from public health advocates.
Siegel said the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee basically took the industry argument that banning menthol cigarettes would create a black market. "Far from issuing a call for a ban on menthol cigarettes, then, the advisory committee has punted the issue back to the FDA," he wrote.FULL ENTRY
Dave Duerson suspected brain damage. When the 50-year-old former Chicago Bears safety shot himself in the chest in February, he left a note asking that his brain be studied.
Boston researchers yesterday confirmed Duerson’s suspicions. Dr. Ann McKee, a director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, said Duerson had a “moderately advanced” case of the degenerative disease caused by repeated head trauma.
Duerson brings to 15 the number of NFL players studied by the center for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. All but one were confirmed to have had the disease, identifiable by the buildup of an abnormal protein in the brain.
With so few examples of the disease and so little known about it, every case matters, said Robert Stern, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University and also a director at the center. Duerson’s is unique because of the self-awareness he displayed.
“This is the first time that anyone really felt ahead of time that they had this disease,” Stern said.FULL ENTRY
If you have been mulling over the state list of readmission rates we posted this morning, this may catch your interest. A one-page report published yesterday by the American Family Physician journal says one way to reduce those rates is to increase the number of doctors who choose family medicine.
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and the Robert Graham Center, a Washington, DC, think tank focused on family medicine, compared the proportion of family physicians and readmission rates in counties across the country. Where there were more family doctors, readmissions were lower.FULL ENTRY
A professor of pediatrics and community health sciences at Boston University School of Medicine has been named the new editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Howard C. Bauchner was selected as the editor of the leading medical journal after an international search, and will start the job in July. Bauchner is currently the editor of the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood. He also does research and publishes his own work, with an emphasis on clinical trials and promoting health.
"We are pleased that Dr. Bauchner will be the new editor of JAMA," AMA chief executive Dr. Michael D. Maves said in a statement. "JAMA is a world-class medical journal and we?re confident the journal will continue to grow and prosper under his leadership. The future of JAMA -- one of the AMA?s most treasured assets -- is in great hands."
About white coat notes
|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor
Elizabeth Comeau, Senior Health Producer