ScienceInsider

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Expert panel to FDA: time to hold opioids to a new standard

    Oxycontin bottle on shelf

    A new expert report calls for the Food and Drug Administration to rereview all marketed opioids.

    Pureradiancephoto/iStock Photo

    To help bolster its campaign against an epidemic of opioid abuse that now kills about 90 people a day, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year called for help from an independent advisory panel. The resulting report, released today by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, makes some strong prescriptions. Among its assorted recommendations—from supporting state syringe exchange programs to increasing federal funding for neurobiology research—the panel suggests that FDA dramatically expand the types of evidence it requires from companies to show that an opioid is safe and effective, both before and after it gets market approval. The new framework would require companies to provide complex data on a drug’s public health impact—potentially including its ability to ensnare people at high risk of addiction as well as shift the dynamics of the illegal drug market. 

    FDA has already made some moves to fight opioid addiction. Last month, it asked drugmaker Endo International to withdraw its long-lasting painkiller Opana ER from the market after finding that the new formulation had led to increases in intravenous abuse. This week, it announced that it would subject a broader range of opioids to its Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy requirement, which includes requiring companies to do more to educate physicians about risks and prescribing practices.

    But an even broader overhaul is needed, says public health policy expert Aaron Kesselheim of Harvard University, one of the members of the panel that drafted the new opioid report. He recently spoke with ScienceInsider about the panel’s recommendations. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

  • House bill gives NIH 3% raise, blocks cuts to overhead payments

    National Institutes of Health building

    A House subcommittee's budget proposal for the National Institues of Health is much more friendly to the agency than that of the Trump administration.

    Lydia Polimeni, National Institutes of Health

    The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH's) budget would get a modest 3.2% raise, to $35.2 billion, in a draft spending bill released by a House of Representatives committee today. To the relief of U.S. research universities, the measure would also explicitly block a proposal by the Trump administration to slash by two-thirds the payments that NIH disburses to cover the overhead costs of the research it funds. Furthermore, the bill ignores a Trump plan to abolish NIH’s widely lauded global health center.

    Although the $1.1 billion increase is only about half of the raises Congress has given the agency the past 2 years, the Trump administration had proposed cutting NIH’s budget by $7.5 billion, a drop of 22% from this year’s level. The White House had argued that this could be accomplished without much impact on number of grants or research overall by slashing how much NIH compensates universities for “indirect costs,” the administrative and facilities costs associated with the direct costs of a project, from 28% of its overall extramural research spending to a flat rate of 10% of a total individual grant.

    The plan deeply worried universities and research institutions, which now individually negotiate indirect rates for their institutions with the government. They argued that even at current levels, these payments don’t come close to covering the full cost of utilities, ethics review boards, animal care facilities, administrative staff, hazardous waste disposal, high-speed computers, and other services needed to support NIH-funded research projects. Universities warned that any cuts could force many institutions to curtail NIH research on their campuses.

  • Cholera vaccination campaign in Yemen is dropped

    Cholera-infected children in a busy hospital

    Among the many affected by cholera throughout Yemen, these infected children lie on the ground in a hospital in Sanaa.

    KHALED ABDULLAH/REUTERS/Newscom

    The government of Yemen has suspended a request for cholera vaccine to fight the deadly outbreak that since 27 April has infected a reported 320,199 Yemenis and killed 1742. One million doses of the vaccine had been allocated from a global stockpile and immunizations had been set to begin this month; now, the first half-million doses that were en route to the country will be rerouted to other at-risk countries.

    “Plans for a cholera vaccination campaign planned in Yemen have been suspended based on a decision of the government,” Tarik Jašarević, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson in Geneva, Switzerland, wrote to ScienceInsider in an emailed statement, adding that the decision was made in consultation with Yemeni government partners, including WHO, which advises the Ministry of Health. The news was first disclosed during a press briefing by a United Nations aid committee in Geneva on 11 July.

    Jašarević noted that “in an outbreak setting, the impact of [oral cholera vaccine] is greatest when used to protect communities that are not yet affected. … There are few such areas in Yemen now.” Since the epidemic began last October, there have been cholera cases in 21 of 23 of Yemen’s governorates. 

  • Competition helps college students find a place in science

    Reavelyn Pray sitting and smiling in a laboratory

    Reavelyn Pray is spending the summer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, before starting classes at the University of Houston in Texas.

    Courtesy Reavelyn Pray

    Reavelyn Pray was taught that students like her didn’t become scientists. But thanks to a lot of hard work and timely help from heavy hitters in the scientific community, Pray is a lot further along toward her goal than the naysayers ever thought possible.

    As a poor, Hispanic student growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, Pray found school to be a refuge from an unstable family situation that resulted in her becoming homeless at age 16. And although math and science were her favorite courses, she and the other low-income minority students in her classes were repeatedly told that “becoming a scientist or an engineer are jobs that are too big for us.”

    For a while it seemed they were right. After graduating high school, Pray enrolled in a bioinformatics course at the local community college. But a year later she dropped out after becoming pregnant with her daughter, Emma, now 6 years old.

  • Q&A: Former Obama science adviser John Holdren on the White House science office and Trump’s science policy

    John Holdren speaks on science at White House in 2015

    John Holdren speaks on science at the White House in 2015.

    NASA/Bill Ingalls/Flickr

    Yesterday, ScienceInsider reported on developments at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology (OSTP), which under President Donald Trump is now dramatically smaller than it was under former President Barack Obama and without a leader. Today, we talk with physicist John Holdren, who for 8 years was Obama’s top aide on science and technology issues. He also led OSTP, becoming the office’s longest-serving director since the office was created by Congress in 1976.

    Holdren is now back at Harvard University, where he is a professor of environmental policy in both the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. He says he is troubled by what has happened to his office, and to science policy, under Trump. Holdren spoke with ScienceInsider about those concerns and about the role OSTP plays in supporting the president’s agenda. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.   

  • Trump nominates finance executive for DOE science undersecretary

    The White House

    The White House

    The White House

    President Donald Trump has nominated Paul Dabbar, an investment banker with J.P. Morgan Chase in New York City, to be the Department of Energy’s (DOE's) undersecretary for science.

    If confirmed by the Senate, Dabbar would succeed Franklin "Lynn" Orr in the post. Orr left the post this past January.

    According to a White House statement released today, “Dabbar is Managing Director for Mergers & Acquisitions for J.P. Morgan, and has over $400 billion in investment experience across all energy sectors including solar, wind, geothermal, distributed-generation, utility, LNG, pipeline, oil & gas, trading, energy technology, and has also led the majority of all nuclear transactions.”

  • House panel set to vote on bill that cuts or eliminates some DOE science programs

    US Capitol at night

    Patrick McKay/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    The House of Representatives appropriations panel will vote Wednesday on a Department of Energy (DOE) spending bill that largely rejects deep 2018 cuts to science programs proposed by President Donald Trump. But the bill still imposes reductions on some programs in the biological and environmental sciences. And it would eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and two of DOE four research “Hubs,” on solar power and batteries.

    A committee report on the bill released today offers details on the bill, which covers the 2018 fiscal year that begins on 1 October. A House appropriations subcommittee late last month approved the bill, which keeps overall funding for DOE’s Office of Science flat at $5.39 billion but imposes deep cuts on applied renewable energy programs. The full House spending panel will now vote on the proposal.

  • ‘Replication grants’ will allow researchers to repeat nine influential studies that still raise questions

    man smoking e-cigarette

    One replication study will look at the correlation between e-cigarette use and smoking among adolescents.

    mauro-grigollo/iStockphoto

    AMSTERDAM—Is experimenting with e-cigarettes among young people associated with a higher risk of smoking tobacco, as an influential study published 2 years ago in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found? Can exposure to a natural environment help you recover from stress, as researchers claimed in a landmark 1991 paper? And is the “10 commandment effect”—the phenomenon that reminding people of moral standards makes them less likely to deceive —real?

    We may soon have fresh answers to those questions, thanks to the first research fund specifically dedicated to replication studies. The Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) today announced the scheme’s first nine grantees ; all of them plan to replicate a study that had a major impact in their field but also raised questions—or eyebrows—for some reason. NWO has made €3 million available for the pilot program, to be awarded in three annual rounds.

    Two types of studies were eligible for funding: reproduction research, essentially a reanalysis of the data collected in a previous study; and replication, which involves the collection of fresh data using the research protocol for the original study. Applicants had to show that the study they wanted to replicate had “cornerstone” status in the field, and that the replication was relevant, with a special focus on impact on health policy and medical guidelines. 

  • Trump’s White House science office still small and waiting for leadership

    President Donald Trump examines a helicopter drone at a White House meeting with technology companies.

    President Donald Trump examines a drone at a 22 June meeting with technology leaders that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy helped organize.

    Olivier Douliery/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

    The 1976 law that created the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) lets presidents tailor the office to fit their priorities. Under former President Barack Obama, OSTP grew to a record size and played a role in all the administration’s numerous science and technology initiatives. In contrast, President Donald Trump has all but ignored OSTP during his first 6 months in office, keeping it small and excluding it from even a cursory role in formulating science-related policies and spending plans.

    OSTP is not alone across the government in awaiting a new crop of key managers. But such leadership voids can be paralyzing for a small shop. Trump has yet to nominate an OSTP director, who traditionally also serves as the president’s science adviser. Nor has he announced his choices for as many as four other senior OSTP officials who would need to be confirmed by the Senate. An administration official, however, told Science that OSTP has reshuffled its work flow—and that there’s a short list for the director’s position.

  • New Zealand aims to eradicate invasive predators, but winning public support may be big challenge

    Common Brush-tailed Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) juvenile in tree, New Zealand

    The brush-tailed possum may be cute, but the invader is posing a serious threat to New Zealand’s native species.

    Tobias Bernhard Raff/Minden Pictures

    AUCKLAND, NEW ZELAND—A year ago, the national government here announced a bold plan to rid the country of a trio of invasive predators that threatens native birds. Experts say the task will require new technologies—such as deadlier toxins and possibly even the release of genetically modified organisms—that have yet to be invented. But winning public support for using these new methods could be an even bigger task, scientists say.

    Moving any new control measures from the lab to the landscape will be “as much of a social challenge as it is a biological challenge,” says conservation biologist James Russell of the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

    With that in mind, scientists are eyeing a social experiment to rival the biological one: finding ways to include the public early and often in discussing predator control plans, and allowing people to have a say in which methods are deployed. 

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