Strep throat vaccine to begin human trials
Human trials will begin into the use of a needle-free vaccine developed by Australian researchers against the Group A Streptococcus bacteria. More than half a million people worldwide die from diseases caused by the bacteria, and Indigenous populations, including Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, are especially vulnerable, according to Dr Chris Davis from Griffith University, where the vaccine was developed. Researchers from the university’s Institute for Glycomics said that they will soon begin phase 1 clinical trials of the new vaccine after recently signing a collaborative and licence agreement with Chinese biopharmaceutical company Olymvax. The vaccine comprises new liposome technology which carries the drugs in minute spherical sacs that can be inhaled via the nose. This then activates immune cells lining the respiratory tract so they are able to fight off infection. Its needle-free delivery via the nose is thought to be the ideal way to target the bacteria in the upper respiratory tract in order to prevent cases of strep throat, which is linked with rheumatic fever and heart disease – still common in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. More on this story at doctorportal.

Patient’s own tissue key to pancreatic cancer fight
A team led by researchers from the University of Arizona is taking a new, patient-directed approach to treating pancreatic cancer. Rather than relying on conventional cell lines that have defined effective drug targets for other types of cancers, they are creating and sequencing cell lines from a cancer patient’s own tissue. Their results, published in Cell Reports, reveal that pancreatic tumours are more varied than previously thought and that drug sensitivity is unique to each patient. In the study, the team turned to a library of cancer drugs, representative of what’s available to patients, and tested each individually against a panel of different cell lines: either conventional pancreatic cell lines, which are often used by researchers and pharmaceuticals, or cell lines that the team developed directly from cancer patients. While conventional pancreatic cell lines were more sensitive to standard drugs used in pancreatic cancer treatment, cell lines from patients were not, with only a “handful” responding to any single-agent treatment. “Currently there are no targeted therapies directly against the hallmark mutations common in pancreatic cancer, and each patient derived model we tested had its own unique therapeutic sensitivities,” said the authors. “There’s a bit of frustration with the current personalised medicine approach [to pancreatic cancer]. If you sequence a hundred tumours from patients in the clinic, you might be able to treat one or two patients with the resulting information, because of the nature of pancreatic cancer genetics. Using new, patient-derived models fills in the gap for us and lets us guide our therapies with functional sensitivities to drugs, not with preconceived notions.”

Alcoholic rats reveal genetic links
Alcoholism could be genetic, a team of researchers from the United States has found. Scientists from Indiana University and Purdue University selectively bred two groups of rats – one which was alcoholic and one that didn’t drink at all – from one population. By sequencing the rat genomes and pinpointing differences between the two lines, the scientists were able to identify 930 genetic differences associated with alcohol use, according to their study, published in PLOS Genetics. The study results were verified in another pair of lines selected from the same initial population. They identified genes that had not previously been linked to alcoholism, including several that are involved with the formation of memories and reward behaviour. Many of these genetic differences were located in non-coding sequences, such as in promoters and introns, suggesting that differences in alcohol preference are primarily due to changes in regulatory regions of the genome. This indicates that the disease is not due primarily to differences in what the genes make, but the amount they make. The findings strengthen our understanding of the genetic basis of alcoholism, and if verified in humans, may point the way towards future genetic and neurological-based treatments for this difficult disease, the authors concluded.

Australia’s high rates of questionable online stem cell therapies
The University of Sydney has led the world’s largest ever review of the prevalence of direct-to-consumer marketing of stem cell therapies. Advanced economy nations led by Ireland, Singapore, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States have the highest number per capita of stem cell therapy clinics. Published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the new study reveals murky marketing practices and dubious claims from 417 unique websites advertising stem cell-based therapies in what experts call an “under-regulated industry”. “In the early days of this under-regulated industry, clinics were typically located in developing economies, where weak laws or lax enforcement enabled these businesses to operate with relative impunity,” said the University of Sydney’s Professor John Rasko, the study’s senior author. For years, stem cell experts called for the closure of a loophole allowing doctors to administer costly, unproven and potentially dangerous stem cell therapies in Australia, highlighted by a 15 July 2016 coroner’s finding that a Sydney woman’s death resulted from the “poor performance” of a doctor who gave her stem cell therapy. The study reveals that most websites (83%) offered adult stem cells, followed by stem cells of unspecified type (13%). The remainder offered embryonic, induced pluripotent or fetal stem cells (8%), or amniotic stem cells (1%). About half the sites (52%) did not indicate the donor source of cells. Websites were frequently imprecise about the medical conditions for which they offered interventions and used inconsistent terminology or categories of diseases across sites. Websites most commonly targeted anti-ageing and skincare stem cell applications (47%), indicating that marketers offered interventions for lifestyle or aesthetic, rather than strictly medical concerns. The highest number of clinics undertaking direct-to-consumer marketing was overwhelmingly found in the United States (187 clinics), followed by India (35), Mexico (28), China (23), Australia (19) and the United Kingdom (16). But taking into account the population (per 10 million citizens), Australia (8.1) was only behind Ireland (11.2) and Singapore (10.0), among advanced economies.

Top 10 drugs used in Australia
For the first time in 20 years, statins have not topped the list of the most costly drugs for the Australian Government to fund. Australian Prescriber has released the top 10 drugs used in Australia as well as the top 10 by cost to government. The figures are based on Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation PBS prescriptions. Atorvastatin dropped out of the top 10 by cost to government; however, it still topped the lists for daily dose and prescription counts. The most expensive drug for the government is adalimumab, a monoclonal antibody indicated for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis and hidradenitis suppurativa, which cost the government $311 616 305 for 176 062 prescriptions from July 2014 to June 2015. On the most prescribed list were two statins (Atorvastatin in number 1 and Rosuvastatin in number 3), as well as proton-pump inhibitors (Esomeprazole in number 2 and Pantoprazole in number 5), analgesics (paracetamol in number 4) and a type 2 diabetes medication (Metformin in number 6). More on this story at doctorportal.

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