Category Archives: National Institutes of Health

Apr 29 2014
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NIH Spearheads Private/Public Collaboration to Improve Care for Several Serious Health Conditions, Including Alzheimer’s

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today released the 2014 update for the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, which includes a determination to accelerate efforts to identify the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease and to develop and test targets for intervention. That acceleration has new momentum this year with the announcement several weeks ago by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that it has formed a first-if-its-kind partnership—the Accelerated Medicines Partnership (AMP) with ten pharmaceutical companies and several nonprofit organizations—to help identify and validate new diagnostics and drugs for several diseases that impact tens of millions of Americans and their families. The three other conditions are Type II diabetes, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

“Despite the fact that there have been huge revolutions in science from discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA, to recombinant DNA, to all sorts of interesting technological advances...it still takes too long and costs too much and we fail too often in the development of new drugs,” said Kathy Hudson, PHD, deputy director for Science, Outreach and Policy at the NIH, in a conversation with NewPublicHealth.

Hudson said a key development that drove the creation of the AMP is a new center at NIH, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which she says will work on how to “create new methods and new approaches that will decrease the failure rate and decrease the timeline for delivering new, important medicines to patients’ medicine cabinets.” Hudson said it currently takes about 15 years and more than $1 billion to develop a new drug and the failure rates are quite high at every step because of safety and because of efficacy.

“The new partnership effort is really targeted towards trying to boost the success of the pipeline by improving efficacy. What we’re exploring in this partnership is using a whole bunch of different new approaches and new technologies to try to identify higher quality targets that can enter the drug development pipeline,” said Hudson.

The private sector drug firms will match NIH dollars one-for–one. The other key contribution, according to Hudson, is that “industry scientists and NIH scientists and academic scientists all come at these problems with slightly different perspectives and experience and expertise, and by combining those together we’re really getting a research plan that is distinctive from what any one of us would have generated by ourselves.”

Hudson said another critical issue that is helping the collaboration is the fact that “the ground rules have been so clearly laid out about us working in a precompetitive space, about all of the data being broadly shared not just with the participants but with the entire scientific community.” Even with the collaboration, identifying and testing new compounds will take years. How to commercialize successful products will be part of the ongoing discussions.

>>Bonus Link: Read more about the Accelerated Medicines Partnership

Dec 3 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 3

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NIH to Direct Additional $100M Toward Research in an HIV Cure
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced plans to invest an additional $100 million over the next three fiscal years in research directed toward a cure for HIV. Over the past three decades, NIH-funded research has led to the development of more than 30 antiretroviral drugs and drug combinations targeting HIV. Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that growing knowledge about HIV, along with the development of new treatment strategies, makes the moment “ripe to pursue HIV cure research with vigor.” “Although the HIV/AIDS pandemic can theoretically be ended with a concerted and sustained scale-up of implementation of existing tools for HIV prevention and treatment, the development of a cure is critically important, as it may not be feasible for tens of millions of people living with HIV infection to access and adhere to a lifetime of antiretroviral therapy,” he said in a statement. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Hong Kong Announces First Human Case of H7N9 Avian Flu
H7N9 avian flu appears to have spread from mainland China, with Hong Kong reporting its first human case of the deadly avian flu strain. A 36-year-old Indonesian domestic helper is in critical condition after travelling to Shenzhen and buying, slaughtering and eating an apparently infected chicken. Earlier this year a report of human infection in Shanghai was quickly followed by the confirmation of more than 100 cases. While closing down live poultry markets in the area caused the number of new cases to drop, the World Health Organization has confirmed a total of 139 cases and 45 deaths. Ko Wing-man, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, said Hong Kong has raised its level of preparedness for an avian flu pandemic to "serious," and the city has suspended the importation of live chickens from certain Shenzhen farms as it also investigates its own stock. Read more on infectious disease.

Study: ‘Benign’ or ‘Healthy’ Obesity May Not Exist
Despite what some health professionals believe, “benign obesity” may not exist, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. People who are overweight or obese without health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes or other metabolic issues are still at increased risk of major health problems when compared with metabolically healthy, normal-weight people. The researchers looked at the results of eight studies covering more than 61,000 people, finding that in follow-ups of at least 10 years later the people who were overweight but without the risk factors were still at an increased risk of 24 percent for heart attack, stroke and even death. One explanation could be that these overweight people without the risk factors actually do have the risk factors, only at low levels that are difficult to detect, and that then become gradually worse. The results indicate that physicians should look at both body mass and metabolic tests when determining a patient’s health. Read more on obesity.

Jun 4 2013
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NIH-Funded Research to Explore Intractable Public Health Concerns

New funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is aimed at improving treatment for bacterial infections, treating alcohol dependence and determining effective drugs for long-term diabetes treatment.

  • Antibiotic Resistance: Duke University has been awarded $2 million by the NIH for a clinical research network focused on antibacterial resistance. Funding could rise to close to $70 million by 2019. According to the NIH, bacterial infections resistant to antibiotic drugs were first reported more than 60 years ago and since then have become more common in both health care and community settings. In some cases, no effective antibiotics exist. The funding will be used to conduct clinical trials on new drugs, optimizing use of existing ones; testing diagnostics and conducting research on best practices for infection control.
  • Alcohol Dependence: A new study funded by the NIH and published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine finds that the smoking-cessation drug varenicline (brand name Chantix), significantly reduced alcohol consumption and craving among people who are alcohol-dependent. “Current medications for alcohol dependence are effective for some, but not all, patients. New medications are needed to provide effective therapy to a broader spectrum of alcohol dependent individuals,” said says Kenneth R. Warren, PhD, acting director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of NIH. Participants who took varenicline, compared with those taking a placebo, decreased their heavy drinking days per week by nearly 22 percent.  
  • Diabetes: The NIH is currently recruiting volunteers for a study to compare the long-term benefits and risks of four widely used diabetes drugs in combination with metformin, the most common first-line medication for treating type 2 diabetes. The study is important because if doctors find that metformin is not effective enough to help manage type 2 diabetes, they often add another drug to lower blood glucose levels. However, there have been no long-term studies on which of the add-on drugs are most effective and have fewest side effects. The study will compare drug effects on glucose levels, adverse effects, diabetes complications and quality of life over an average of nearly five years and will enroll about 5,000 patients at 37 study sites.
Feb 4 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: February 4

USDA Releases New Regulations on Snack Foods Sold at Schools
New rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would require snacks sold at schools to be lower in fat, salt and sugar and include more nutritious items such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits. The rules also require a limit of 200 calories on food items not sold in the school cafeteria. According to Reuters, the rules would apply to about 50 million children who are part of the school lunch program. “These proposed nutrition standards, the first update in more than 30 years, are long overdue and badly needed,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The proposed regulations will be open for public comment once the rule is published in the Federal Register, which is likely to be this week. The final rule would probably not take effect before the fall of 2015. Read more on obesity.

Flu Shot May Protect Older People Against Heart Attacks
A new study from researchers at the University Of Iowa College Of Public Health suggests that the flu vaccine may provide protection against heart attacks in older adults, especially people over age 80. The researchers suspected acute infection caused by flu may trigger events leading to heart attacks and strokes, so they created a set of time-series models using inpatient data from a national sample of more than 1,000 hospitals and used flu activity to predict the incidence of heart attack and stroke. The team produced national models, as well as models based on four geographical regions and five age groups and across all models, and found consistent significant associations between heart attacks and influenza activity.

Flu Season 2013 Update: The most recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that while there is still widespread flu activity in much of the country, an increasing number of states are starting to see a decline in reported flu cases.

Read more on flu.

Public Health School Partners with Churches to Improve Healthier Living
As part of a project led by the University Of South Carolina Arnold School Of Public Health, about 1,250 members of 74 African Methodist Episcopal churches in South Carolina participated in a program to help members lead healthier lifestyles through increased physical activity and healthier food choices. The five-year project was funded by the National Institutes of Health and found that members of churches who were part of the healthier lifestyle training were more likely to engage in physical activity and eat more fruits and vegetables than members from churches that did not undergo the training. The study's findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “Churches are natural partners to help eliminate health disparities in the African-American community, says Sara Wilcox, PHD, director of the school’s prevention research center. “For many, especially in the South, the church is the center of their life and is a trusted institution.” Read more on prevention.

Feb 1 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: February 1

New CT Device Offers Improved Imaging, Substantially Reduced Radiation
A new type of CT scanner from National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers and engineers at Toshiba Medical Systems offers improved image quality while reducing the amount of potentially harmful radiation to patients by as much as 95 percent. This device will enable doctors to better diagnose conditions such as heart disease, according to coauthor Andrew Arai, MD, chief of the Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Branch at the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Author Marcus Chen, MD, a clinician in the NHLBI’s Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging Laboratory, said the “improvements could help clinicians identify problems in even the smallest blood vessels or enable them to conduct complicated tests like measuring blood flow in the heart while limiting radiation exposure.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the CT scanner, which still requires additional study. Read more on heart health.

Study: Black Patients Less Likely to Receive Kidney Transplants before Needing Dialysis
Patients who are black or do not have private insurance are less likely than others to receive a kidney transplant before having to go on dialysis, according to a new study in Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. The study was conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, including lead author Morgan Grams, MD, who told Reuters it shows "just another disparity" for African American patients. Douglas Scott Keith, MD, head of the kidney transplant program at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville and not part of the study, said studies "over the last 10 to 15 years have consistently shown that minorities have poorer access to transplantation. This article basically shows that it's persisting, it hasn't gotten much better.” African American patients are about 56 percent less likely than white patients to receive a kidney transplant before needing dialysis. Read more on health disparities.

Medical School Conflict of Interest Policies May Affect New Doctors’ Prescription Habits
Doctors who graduate from medical schools with policies restricting gifts from pharmaceutical companies may be less likely to prescribe new medications over current options, according to a new study in the BMJ. "Our findings suggest that conflict of interest policies, which have been increasingly adopted by medical schools since 2002, may have the potential to substantially impact clinical practice and reduce prescribing of newly marketed pharmaceuticals," wrote Marissa King, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale University School of Management, and colleagues. The researchers say further study is needed to determine whether the measures affect the prescription of all new medications, or if the effect is more selective. Read more on prescription drugs.