Issue 13: New Flu Treatment, Worms, Cancer Cure, and more

New Flu Treatment in Japan is Wayyyy Better than Tamiflu

A Japanese pharmaceutical company named Shionogi recently announced that they have invented a drug that can kill the flu in one day. The drug is called baloxavir marboxil and is in stage 3 clinical trials. The drug has been fast tracked by the Japanese government and is expected to hit the shelves in Japan by May of this year. The drug is a neuraminidase inhibitor and works with a single oral dose while it’s closest competitor oseltamivir (tamiflu) takes 72 hours and requires two doses for 5 days. Plus tamiflu can also have the rare but deadly side effect of Stevens Johnson Syndrome (google this). Unfortunately for the US, Shionogi does not expect to bring baloxavir marboxil here until at least 2019.

picture of blue eye found on internet
A woman in Oregon presented a unique and terrifying case for doctors when it was discovered that she was only the 111th person in North American history infected with worms in her eye and the first reported case in North America of a specific cattle worm that jumped to infect humans. The type of worm, called callipaeda, typically feeds on the eye secretions of animals like cattle, pigs, and sheep. In this case the worms decided they had enough of the animals and wanted to branch out and try something new! The diagnosis was made by the patient and doctors removing the worms from the eye and sending them off to the CDC for identification. In the end the treatment was just to keep removing worms from her eye, interrupting their life cycle until they were gone for good. So next time you see some livestock, go say hello! You could be the next medical mystery for some terrified doctors.

Cancer Cure with Almost 100% Success in Mice  
Stanford University researchers are at it again. Recently they announced a new cancer ‘vaccine’ that was able to cure multiple types of cancer including breast, colon, and lymphoma in mice. Of the 90 mice with lymphoma that were treated 87 were cancer free after the first treatment and the remaining 3 stubborn little mice also became cancer free after a second treatment. The experiments were so successful that the team is now starting clinical trials in 15 human lymphoma patients. The therapy works by injecting the patient with two agents that stimulate the patient’s own immune system to attack tumor cells. The injection is made locally into the site of the tumor and contains a short piece of DNA called CpG oligonucleotide and an antibody that binds to the OX40 receptor on T cells.  

I Got 99 Problems But Weapons Grade Uranium Ain't One
The US Federal Government recently approved a Wisconsin company called NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes to produce a new device which will make the medical imaging isotope technetium-99. This is good news since the US has traditionally used a complicated supply chain to get it. First we ship weapons grade uranium from the US to research reactors in Australia, South Africa, and Europe where it is irradiated to make molybdenum-99. The molybdenum-99 will decay into technetium-99 in a matter of days, but before that can happen it has to quickly be transported back to the US and sent to hospitals. Considering the complicated supply chain, the possibility that the uranium could be stolen by pirates and made into nuclear weapons, and the fact that technetium-99 is used in 40,000 procedures EVERY DAY in the US, there have been several hospital shortages of the critical isotope with the most severe happening in 2010. NorthStar says it will be able to produce 10% of US technetium-99 by late 2018.

Speaking of Unnecessary Radiation
The FDA just cleared a new blood test that can detect mild traumatic brain injuries aka concussions. Normally a concussion diagnosis would be made based on history and a head CT. The problem with the latter is the radiation exposure. This new blood test measures ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase and glial fibrillary acidic protein that are released from the brain into blood within 12 hours of a head injury. The blood test has a specificity of 97.5% and a sensitivity of 99.6%.

First Deny Care
Cartoon taken from the Economist
For years, it had been suspected that medical insurance companies were not properly utilizing physicians to review medical records when determining care. This has been difficult to prove as processes regarding medical review are a guarded secret amongst insurance giants. This week, Aetna is being actively investigated by the state of California for inappropriate denial of care. A former employee of Aetna testified in a deposition that he never examined patient’s records before making a decision to deny or approve them. He only relied on information from nurses who reviewed the records as this was the company policy. This investigation is untimely for Aetna as the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice are still in the process of reviewing the CVS acquisition of Aetna.