Headlines: February 5, 2010

Meg Larkin

            With a federal health care overhaul stalled, pharmaceutical companies face an uncertain regulatory climate.  Now that the $8 billion deal the industry struck with the White House has fallen to the side, election year politics may dictate the fortunes of pharmaceutical companies in the United States.  For example, as the New York Times pointed out, President Obama’s proposed budget includes “a new tax on profits from some patents and other intangible assets parked in overseas tax havens by American companies.”  This would have a tremendous impact on pharmaceutical companies who store a lot of assets overseas and was largely unexpected by the drug makers.

            The American Society for Radiation Oncology (Astro), is calling for greater safety measures for medical radiation.  According to the New York Times, “Even though the group says serious radiation accidents are rare, it says it will work toward a stronger accreditation program, expanded training, and an enhanced program to ensure that medical technologies from different manufacturers can safely transfer information.” The guidelines will focus on better reporting of adverse events and improved training for technicians and others administering the therapy. The announcement comes after the Times ran a series of articles on the injuries caused by improperly administered radiation therapy.

            In a dramatic departure from Bush Administration policy, military medical facilities will now stock the morning after pill.  The Pentagon’s Pharmacy and Therapeutics committee recommended the measure a couple weeks ago, and the recommendation was accepted on February 3rd.  Although the committee had proposed making the morning after pill available at military health care facilities in 2002, the policy was never implemented.  The morning after pill, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex dramatically reduces the risk of a pregnancy beginning. 

            Two Republican Congressmen who oversee federal money for AIDS patients are calling for an inquiry in to fraud and mismanagement complaints.  According to the Washington Post, “The lawmakers' probe focuses on federal funding provided under the Ryan White Act, which pays for medical care and support services for about 500,000 low-income people each year.”  However some of the groups that have been receiving federal money are accused of being grossly incompetent and mismanaging patient care.  Indeed, one clinic reciving government is run by a man who used to lead a large cocaine distribution ring in Washington, D.C.

            A patient in a persistent vegetative state in Belgium has shown signs of brain activity in response to simple commands.   The 29 year old patient who has been in a persistent vegetative state since he was in a car accident was able to respond to simple questions with brain activity as shown by an MRI machine. However, the study’s findings do not apply to all patients in a persistent vegetative state.  According to the report in the New England Journal of Medicine, there are indications that the Belgian patient’s ability is rare.  The MRI test has raised questions about whether patients in a persistent vegetative state could make decisions about their own care.

            Finally, a new study suggests that a serotonin deficit may be linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.   A team led by a Children’s Hospital Boston neuropathologist has examined the brain stems for 41 children who died of SIDS and the brainstems of 7 children who had died of other causes.  The finding has led some researchers to be hopeful that a treatment or test for SIDS may be available in the future, but in the meantime parents are advised to continue to minimize known risk factors. 


Meg Larkin is a second year student at Boston University School of Law.  Please feel free to email her with any comments, questions, suggestions or concerns.