The launch of Sovaldi, the $1,000-a-day pill for hepatitis C, is shaping up as the most successful ever.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the pill in December. And then Gilead Sciences was off to the races. The company said it sold $2.27 billion worth of Sovaldi in the quarter that ended March 31. $2.27 billion!
The boffo number beat Wall Street’s estimate for the quarter by more than $1 billion.
Sovaldi is the first hepatitis C pill that doesn’t have to be accompanied by interferon for some types of hepatitis. Sovaldi has been found to be remarkably effective, essentially curing 90 percent or more patients with a common form of hepatitis C in 12 weeks.
"Sovaldi’s profile has the potential to transform the treatment of hepatitis C, and the rapid uptake speaks to a significant unmet medical need," Gilead CEO John Martin told analysts and investors during a Tuesday conference call.
But the price of the drug has drawn fire. “The predicted costs of the new oral antiviral agents are as breathtaking as their effectiveness,” said an editorial in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. “Costs alone cast a pall over the stunning success in achieving the long-hoped-for goal of a safe and effective therapy for hepatitis C.”
Photo: Sovaldi, a daily oral treatment for hepatitis C, costs $1,000 a pill. (Courtesy of Gilead Sciences)
sciencesourceimages: Gilead’s logic must be that Sovaldi is much less expensive than a liver transplant. That’s how far gone most of these patients’ livers are. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)’ Transplant Living Web site, the estimated U.S. average back in 2011 of billed charges per liver transplant were $577,100.
Dirty Money: A Microbial Jungle Thrives In Your Wallet
Story by Michaeleen Doucleff/NPR
You may have heard that dollar bills harbor trace amounts of drugs.
But those greenbacks in your wallet are hiding far more than cocaine and the flu. They’re teeming with life.
Each dollar bill carries about 3,000 types of bacteria on its surface, scientists have found. Most are harmless. But cash also has DNA from drug-resistant microbes. And your wad of dough may even have a smudge of anthrax and diphtheria.
In other words, your wallet is a portable petri dish.
Made from plastic, Canadian $100 bills are resistant to liquids and tearing. But are they better than cotton-based bills at keeping dangerous bacteria at bay?i
And currency may be one way antibiotic-resistant genes move around cities, says biologist Jane Carlton, who’s leading the Dirty Money Project at the New York University.
The project offers an in-depth look at the living organisms shacking up on our cash. One goal of the work is to provide information that could help health workers catch disease outbreaks in New York City before they spread very far.
"We’re not trying to be fear mongers, or suggest that everyone goes out and microwave their money," Carlton tells Shots. "But I must admit that some of the $1 bills in New York City are really nasty."
So far, Carlton and her colleagues have sequenced all the DNA found on about 80 dollar bills from a Manhattan bank. Their findings aren’t published yet. But she gave Shots a sneak peak of what they’ve found so far.
The most common microbes on the bills, by far, are ones that cause acne. The runners-up were a bunch of skin bacteria that aren’t pathogenic: They simply like to hang out on people’s bodies. Some of these critters may even protect the skin from harmful microbes, Carlton says.
Other money dwellers included mouth microbes — because people lick their fingers when they count bills, Carlton says — and bacteria that thrive in the vagina. “People probably aren’t washing their hands after the bathroom,” she says.
Striking images of microbes living in termite guts.
Got directed to this image on an older guest post on Jonathan Eisen’s Tree of Life blog from a recent microBEnet post. The images are part of a collection by artist Kevin J. Carpenter. Check out his website for more detail on the images and the organisms shown.
When I Grow Up I Want To Be A…
Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a group of Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs, green) on their feeder cells (grey). ESCs are pluripotent, that is they are able to differentiate into any cell type. The type of cell they mature into depends upon the biochemical signals received by the immature cells. This ability makes ESCs a potential source of cells to repair damaged tissue in diseases such as Parkinson’s and insulin-dependent diabetes. However, research using ESCs is controversial as it requires the destruction of an embryo.
© Steve Gschmeissner / Science Source
Potable & Precious!
Conceptual artwork of the total volume of the Earth’s water. It is seen as a sphere, centered over North America. It dramatically shows how finite the water supply on Earth actually is. The sphere measures 1390 kilometres across and has a volume of 1.4 billion cubic kilometres. These figures were calculated by adding the volumes of water in the oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, ground water and water in both ice caps and the atmosphere. The largest percentage (97%) of water is held in the oceans, with ice caps and glaciers accounting for a further 2%. The average depth of the ocean is 3.8 kilometres.
How much of this water is drinkable?
The ninety-seven percent of the water in the oceans is salt water. This water is filled with salt and other dissolved minerals. Humans and many other animals cannot drink this water. Although the salt can be removed, it is a difficult and expensive process. Two percent of the water on earth is glacier ice which is locked up at the North and South Poles. This ice is fresh water and could be melted; however, it is too far away from where people live to be usable. It is both amazing and alarming to know that less than 1% of all the water on earth is fresh, potable water that we need to sustain us.
© Adam Nieman / Science Source
Earth Day 2014 - It’s A Small World After All
This image illustrates modern human impact on the planet. This is a map of the world showing major road networks (green) over land, shipping lanes over water (blue) and airline flight paths (white) superimposed over satellite images of cities illuminated at night (yellow).
Earth Day is celebrated each year on April 22nd. It was founded by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on this date in 1970. Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award in recognition of his work. Later this same year, President Richard Nixon and Congress established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in response to the public’s demand for cleaner water, air and land. EPA was tasked with the challenge of repairing the damage done to the environment and to establish guidelines to help Americans in making a cleaner and safer environment a reality.
© Félix Pharand-Deschênes, Globaïa / Science Source
One Good Tern Deserves…A Washing!
Deepwater Horizon Disaster This baby tern was stuck in an oil patch on Grand Isle Beach, Louisiana in June 2010. She was rescued by Chris Hernandaz who was the Street Superintendent of Grand Isle. The beaches had been cleaned two days before President Obama’s visit, but the oil returned after he left. Over five thousand barrels of oil a day leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, 80 kilometers from the coast of Louisiana, harming local wildlife and fishing industries.
As the fourth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon accident comes and goes, much of the region’s environment and marine life are still feeling the effects of the largest accidental oil spill in US history. The disaster took 11 lives and injured 17 others. An estimated 200 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days until it was capped on July 15, 2010 and finally sealed on Sept. 19.
© Julie Dermansky / Science Source
The Beautiful Blooming Barents!
In this natural-color image from August 31, 2010, the ocean’s canvas swirls with turquoise, teal, navy, and green, the abstract art of the natural world. The colors were painted by a massive phytoplankton bloom made up of millions of tiny, light-reflecting organisms growing in the sunlit surface waters of the Barents Sea. Such blooms peak every August in the Barents Sea.
The variations in color are caused by different species and concentrations of phytoplankton. The bright blue colors are probably from coccolithophores, a type of phytoplankton that is coated in a chalky shell that reflects light, turning the ocean a milky turquoise. Coccolithophores dominate the Barents Sea in August. Shades of green are likely from diatoms, another type of phytoplankton. Diatoms usually dominate the Barents Sea earlier in the year, giving way to coccolithophores in the late summer. However, field measurements of previous August blooms have also turned up high concentrations of diatoms.
The Barents Sea is a shallow sea sandwiched between the coastline of northern Russia and Scandinavia and the islands of Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, and Novaya Zemlya. Within the shallow basin, currents carrying warm, salty water from the Atlantic collide with currents carrying cold, fresher water from the Arctic. During the winter, strong winds drive the currents and mix the waters. When winter’s sea ice retreats and light returns in the spring, diatoms thrive, typically peaking in a large bloom in late May.
The shift between diatoms and coccolithophores occurs as the Barents Sea changes during the summer months. Throughout summer, perpetual light falls on the waters, gradually warming the surface. Eventually, the ocean stratifies into layers, with warm water sitting on top of cooler water. The diatoms deplete most of the nutrients in the surface waters and stop growing. Coccolithophores, on the other hand, do well in warm, nutrient-depleted water with a lot of light. In the Barents Sea, these conditions are strongest in August.
The shifting conditions and corresponding change in species lead to strikingly beautiful multicolored blooms such as this one. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image.
© NASA / Science Source
Living On The Edge!
These species of worms inhabits the edges of hydrothermal vent ‘black smokers’ 2,500-3,000 meters below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. They feed on bacteria that live directly off minerals released by the vents (a process known as chemosynthesis). The worms also host a population of symbiotic bacteria that may supply the worm with additional nutrients. Hydrothermal vents are found along geologically active zones deep underwater. The vents release super heated water and dense mineral deposits, forming huge towers that support a wide variety of fauna.
© Philippe Crassous / Science Source
Photos courtesy of Lawrie Brown
There’s something unsettling — freakish, even, about Lawrie Brown’s photos of everyday meals.
Yikes, that blue chicken is SO wrong!
"Auntie Em, Auntie Em!"
The U.S. has the most violent and greatest number of tornadoes of anywhere else in the world. This is mostly due to the unique geography and size of the continent. North America is a large continent whose north-south borders encompass the colder air of the Arctic and warmer tropical air of the Gulf. There are no major east-west mountain range to block air flow between these two areas. The portion of the U.S. where these competing air masses meet and many tornadoes are formed is known as Tornado Alley. Generally, the month with the most tornadoes is May followed by June, April and July. There is no defined “tornado season” as they can and do occur anywhere at any time of year if favorable conditions develop. There have been major tornado outbreaks in every month of the year.
© Mike Hollingshead / Science Source
Stupid Alarm Clock!
Three-dimensional (3-D) ultrasound scan of the face of a human fetus. The image was produced by a third generation 3-D ultrasound scanner called Voluson 730. 3-D scanning enables physiological disorders such as harelip and spina bifida to be diagnosed before birth. Once detected, it may be possible to perform corrective surgery while the fetus is still in the uterus. Ultrasound is a diagnostic technique which sends high-frequency sound waves into the body via a transducer.
© GE Medical Systems / ScienceSource.com
Hold Me, Kiss Me, Shock Me!
Kirlian Photography. It is named after Semyon Kirlian. In 1939 he accidentally discovered that if an object is place on a photographic plate and then connected to a high-voltage source, an image is produced on that photographic plate.The technique (also known as electro-photography, high voltage photography, radiation field photography or corona discharge) obtains a photographic image due to the high-energy interactions between the subject & an applied electric field. No external light source is used in Kirlian photography. Light emitted as photons from the electrical interaction causes the image to appear on the film. A controversial medical application of the technique involves correlating the physical & mental well- being of a subject with the image variation arising from differences in sweat rate & sweat composition on the skin surface.
© G. Hadjo / Science Source
It’s A “White Matter” Matter
This digitally enhanced axial (cross sectional) image was obtained from a special MRI sequence called Diffusion Tractography (DTI Scan for short). This technique allows us to map out the directionality of white matter fiber tracts in the brain by exploiting the preferential movement of water (protons) parallel to the direction of these white matter tracts (called anisotropic diffusion). Color coding by conventional uses red for right to left, green for anterior to posterior and blue for superior to inferior directions of the tracts. This technique can be used to study the effects of white matter diseases (like Multiple Sclerosis & Alzheimer’s Disease) on the fiber tracts and can also aid the neurosurgeon for preoperative planning by showing where certain important tracts are located in the area of surgery.
© Living Art Enterprises / Science Source
Our image SB4436 (Ebola Virus) is featured in the following article from NPR:
Ebola Drug Could Be Ready For Human Testing Next Year
by Richard Harris/NPR
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is terrifying because there’s no drug to treat this often fatal disease. But the disease is so rare, there’s no incentive for big pharmaceutical companies to develop a treatment.
Even so, some small companies, given government incentives, are stepping into that breach. The result: More than half a dozen ideas are being pursued actively.
And these are boon days for drugs that can treat viruses. Think of treatments for AIDS and Hepatitis C.
Potential treatments for Ebola pursue many strategies. These include conventional drugs, custom-built antibodies, and vaccines that are designed not simply to prevent the spread of a disease, but to treat it in people who are in the early stages of infection.
Each idea has shown some promise in animals. But nothing has yet passed critical human testing, so there’s nothing ready to be tried during the current outbreak.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is hopeful about this multipronged approach, but says, “I think it’s really too early to make a prediction about what is the more or less promising one among them.”
One challenge is that there are several different species and strains of Ebola-like viruses, so there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution.
But one experimental drug could conceivably fit that bill. It’s called BCX4430. Travis Warren at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases lab in Frederick, Md., has been working on this antiviral drug.