TIME ebola

There Are 53 Drugs That Could Treat Ebola

University of Utah Researchers Work Toward Cure For Ebola Strains
A container holds a Peptide that contains a potential new drug candidates for testing against a part of Ebola that is vulnerable to drugs, at the University of Utah on Oct. 14, 2014 in Salt Lake City. George Frey—Getty Images

New research raises prospect of treatments to be found in already available drugs

Scientists have identified 53 existing drugs that could be effective in fighting Ebola, according to newly published research.

There is currently no vaccine or drug available to treat the disease, which is one of the primary reasons the virus has been able to infect 18,603 people so far, and kill 6,915. A vaccine is undergoing clinical trials in humans, but a drug to treat people who already have the disease is critically needed. The experimental drug ZMapp has been used on a handful of Ebola patients, but resources of it are exhausted and it has not undergone adequate testing.

Running against the clock, some groups of scientists have decided that one of the most efficient ways to go about tackling the task of developing and distributing an Ebola drug is by screening drug compounds already available to see if any of those compounds could be used to create an effective drug.

MORE: Scientists Explore 10,000 Compounds for an Ebola Drug

In a new study published in the Nature Press journal Emerging Microbes and Infections, researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said they’ve identified 53 promising drug compounds. The team used high speed technology to scan through a library of 2,816 U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved compounds already used for other ailments. Their method, which uses a virus-like particle that contained Ebola proteins, was calibrated to identify drugs that could prevent Ebola from infecting human cells by 50%.

Among these 53 promising compounds are ones used in cancer drugs, antihistamines, antibiotics, and antidepressants.

The compounds will be tested in animals to see what effects they have on Ebola, as well as their side effects. If a drug is proven both safe and effective, the government may use it in Ebola zones.

As TIME reported in October, scientists at Emory University Hospital are taking a similar approach to their library of 10,000 drug compounds. They think it’s possible Ebola could be treated similarly to the the treatments they’ve developed for viruses like HIV and Hepatitis C.

TIME Drugs

Texas Lawmaker Proposes Lower Marijuana Possession Penalties

File picture shows marijuana plants at a indoor cultivation in Montevideo
Marijuana plants are seen at a indoor cultivation. Andres Stapff—Reuters

A new bill would make the possession of up to one oz. punishable with a $100 ticket

On Monday, Texas State Rep. Joe Moody introduced a bill that would remove criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working,” Moody said in a statement. “We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction.”

Under current Texas law, possessing up to two oz. of weed can yield six months of jail time and a $2,000 penalty. Under the proposal, adults caught with up to one oz. would get a $100 ticket, similar to a parking violation. Larger amounts would still lead to criminal penalties. The measure would make Texas the 20th state plus the District of Columbia to remove the threat of jail time for the possession of small amounts of weed.

The bill is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the pro-legalization group that spearheaded the passage of Colorado’s historic legalization measure. The bill is also the first in a series that the MPP expects to be introduced in Texas this year, the next attempting to legalize medical marijuana and the third attempting to legalize recreational marijuana.

The latter two are long shots, and the first won’t be an easy sell to the Republican-controlled legislature. Texas Governor Rick Perry has said he opposes legalization. He has intimated that he supports decriminalizing weed, but has also said that the state has “kind of done that.” In 2007, Texas passed a measure giving local governments the power to respond to marijuana possession with a summons rather than an arrest, but few counties have adopted it and someone issued a summons may still end up in jail.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, another pro-legalization group, says that Texas is in a tier of states that are the least likely to ease marijuana restrictions. These “third tier” states, he says, are ones in which “the legislature has never shown any want to move in this direction and/or there is an executive at the top who is going to oppose and veto any reforms.”

A poll commissioned by MPP in 2013 found that 61% of Texas residents would support a penalty reduction like the one Moody is proposing, while 58% would support the legalization of medical and recreational weed.

At a press conference on Monday, Moody was joined by representatives from other groups who support the bill, such as the ACLU of Texas and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition. Support from such libertarian-leaning conservatives will be crucial in the heavily Republican state.

“Texas doesn’t seem to be ready for a full legal market,” acknowledges Heather Fazio, a representative for MPP in Texas. “That doesn’t mean that the conversation shouldn’t be happening.”

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Arizona Abortion Arguments

The justices left in place a lower court ruling

(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court is refusing to allow Arizona to enforce stringent restrictions on medical abortions while a challenge to those rules plays out in lower courts.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that blocked rules that regulate where and how women can take drugs that induce abortion. The rules also would prohibit the use of the abortion medications after the seventh week of pregnancy instead of the ninth.

Planned Parenthood was among abortion providers that challenged the rules in federal court. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prevented the state from putting them in place during the legal challenge. Similar laws are in effect in North Dakota, Ohio and Texas. The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the restrictions in that state.

The rules would ban women from taking the most common abortion-inducing drug, mifepristone, after the seventh week of pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration approved its use in 2000 through the first seven weeks of pregnancy. It is prescribed along with a second drug, misoprostol.

Since the FDA approval, medical researchers and clinical trials have shown that mifepristone is effective in much smaller doses and for two weeks longer in a pregnancy, the challengers said. The second drug also may be taken at home.

Arizona’s rules would require that the drugs be taken only at the doses approved by the FDA in 2000 and only at clinics.

Planned Parenthood says that medical abortions now account for more than 40 percent of abortions at its clinics.

To justify the restrictions, Arizona and the other states have pointed to the deaths of at least eight women who took the drugs. But the 9th circuit said the FDA investigated those deaths and found no causal connection between them and the use of mifespristone or misoprostol.

TIME Infectious Disease

1 Million People Have a Disease You’ve Never Heard Of

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Photo Researchers—Getty Images/Photo Researchers RM

Chikungunya virus has infected over one million people this year, but Big Pharma still isn't stepping up

It’s a tale scientists are tired of telling: a disease that’s been carefully watched and studied for years is suddenly infecting an unprecedented number of people while promising drugs and vaccines sit on shelved, unfunded.

This time it’s not Ebola but a mosquito-borne disease called chikungunya, which causes debilitating joint pain and has infected more than 1 million people just this year. Originating in Africa, the virus has rapidly spread into the Caribbean and Central and South Americas, with a smattering of cases in the United States. Chikungunya is nothing like Ebola, but scientists who study it find themselves in a predicament similar to Ebola researchers: Despite decades of study, there’s still no way to treat or prevent it, due in part to a lack of interest from drug companies.

“[Chikungunya] is another example of an emerging infectious disease that we clearly have a light at the end of the tunnel for in a vaccine, and it’s pharmaceutical interest that really seems to be the road block,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is trying to get support for a chikungunya vaccine his team developed. “It’s the big dilemma. The frustration. Back when Ebola was not on the front pages, we didn’t have very many enthusiastic pharmaceutical companies.”

MORE: TIME Person of the Year: The Ebola Fighters

In late 2013, chikungunya hit the west for the first time, in St. Martin. Now, in Puerto Rico alone, there were 10,201 reported cases from May to August 2014. In prior years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would only see an average of about 28 cases of chikungunya in the United States brought by travelers who had visited affected countries, primarily in Asia. But so far in 2014, there’s been over 1,900 recorded cases stateside.

Often, chikungunya is compared to dengue fever, but while chikungunya is not often fatal, up to 80% of people infected will show symptoms, which can be excruciating, says Dr. Pilar Ramon-Pardo, a PAHO/World Health Organization adviser in clinical management. “People cannot move because it’s so painful. There are tears in their eyes,” she says. “Sometimes there’s not an appreciation for chikungunya because it has a low fatality rate, but it’s a real public health problem. The economic impact from disability is high.”

Chikungunya was first identified in 1952 in Tanzania, and the more recent outbreaks started emerging in 2003 in East Africa, then spread into Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and eventually to India, where millions of people were infected in 2006. In 2007, it touched down in Italy, at which point the CDC with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) doubled down to ensure countries were equipped to keep an eye on—and diagnose—the disease.

“We are very concerned about chikungunya moving into the Western Hemisphere,” says Dr. Roger Nasci of the CDC. “We have the two different species of mosquitoes in the U.S. capable of spreading the virus.” Massive outbreaks in the United States are unlikely; the temperate U.S. climate isn’t especially mosquito friendly, and widespread use of window screens and bug spray limit most Americans’ risk. Still, the disease takes a toll, and other countries are at risk of even more massive outbreaks.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently published results from a successful vaccine trial for chikungunya showing it’s safe but in order to take that vaccine to the masses, it needs to undergo an efficacy trial—and then it needs a distributor. Without a pharmaceutical partner, Fauci says a timeline for a chikungunya vaccine is “impossible to predict,” though the NIH is currently meeting with two undisclosed companies for possible partnerships.

A frequent source of funding for neglected infectious diseases, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, does not have any active grants or investment in chikungunya. Meanwhile, for Fauci, getting backing for chikunhunya is a “here we go again” task of trying to churn up interest in a disease that doesn’t make headlines. “It’s a theme that continues to recur among my colleagues and I,” says Fauci.

Read next: The Unexpected Animal Group Dying from Climate Change

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: December 12

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Gorbachev Wary of ‘New Cold War’

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tells TIME that the U.S. is to blame for starting a “new Cold War” with Russia and that President Vladimir Putin shouldn’t back down. “I learned that you can listen to the Americans, but you cannot trust them”

Congress Avoids Shutdown

Congress narrowly averted a government shutdown on Thursday night, squeaking through a $1.1 trillion spending bill with only hours to spare

CIA Chief Defends Agency

CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations

How Ridley Scott’s Exodus Strays From the Bible

The Biblical story of Exodus hits the big screen on Friday with the release of Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. Like any retelling of a classic, Scott’s blockbuster invites questions about the tale’s origin and meaning

Storm Hitting California May Be Worst in 5 Years

A storm described as perhaps the strongest to hit California in five years barreled in from the Pacific Ocean on Thursday and hammered the state with all manner of weather misery — hurricane-force winds, sheets of rain and heavy snow in the mountains

DOJ Allows Native American Tribes to Grow, Sell Marijuana

The U.S. Justice Department announced that Native American tribes would be allowed to grow and sell marijuana on their sovereign lands if they abide by the federal statutes laid out for the states that have already legalized the drug

Pope Francis Says There’s a Place for Pets in Paradise

Pope Francis confirmed during his weekly address in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square that canines, along with “all of God’s creatures,” can make it to heaven. “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ,” he said

Drug-Resistant Superbugs Could Kill 10 Million By 2050

Rising rates of drug-resistant infections could lead to the death of some 10 million people and cost some $100 trillion in 2050, according to a new report which called for “coherent international action” to regulate antibiotic use in humans, animals and the environment

Shonda Rhimes Slams ‘Racist’ Leaked Sony Emails

Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, took to Twitter on Thursday to condemn an email exchange between a Sony Pictures executive and an Oscar-winning producer that was leaked during the recent hack

Keira Knightley Is Expecting Her First Child

Just a day after Keira Knightley nabbed two big acting nominations, the star has more happy news: she is about three months pregnant. Knightley, 29, is expecting her first child with husband James Righton, of the Klaxons, whom she married last year

No Casualties in Ukraine Truce

A tentative truce between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine has resulted in the first 24 hours free from deaths and injuries since a civil conflict began in February, the Ukrainian President said on Friday

NYC Cops Want More Tasers

Law-enforcement experts are skeptical that a move to get 450 more Tasers on the street will address use-of-force concerns that have buffeted the NYPD. The talk of Tasers comes amid incidents that have put city cops under scrutiny for their use of force

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TIME Drugs

U.S. Justice Department Allows Native American Tribes to Grow, Sell Marijuana

Marijuana Tribes
A sample of cannabis appears on display at Shango Premium Cannabis dispensary in Portland, Ore. Don Ryan—AP

The ruling may spur help new waves of economic growth

The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that Native American tribes would be allowed to grow and sell marijuana on their sovereign territories if they abide by the federal statutes laid out for the respective states that have already legalized the drug.

Analysts say the ruling could provide a financial bonanza for the 556 federally recognized tribes across the U.S., according to the Associated Press.

“If tribes can balance all the potential social issues, it could be a really huge opportunity,” Seattle attorney Anthony Broadman told the AP.

[AP]

TIME Crime

Connecticut Postal Worker Said to Steal Drugs From Mail Sentenced to Prison

Man “profiled” packages passing through his post office

A postal worker in Connecticut with an apparent knack for identifying packages of drugs, accused of stealing and selling marijuana and cocaine, was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison.

According to the Hartford Courant, court records detailed how Edward Hogan, 38, “profiled” packages that passed through the Waterbury, Conn., post office by their size, original address, destination and postage value. If he found drugs, Hogan allegedly removed them, then later resealed and delivered the empty packages — and sold the drugs with his brother. Authorities said Hogan and his brother, Justin, who was sentenced last week to two years in prison, stole and sold more than 100 pounds of marijuana and some five pounds of cocaine.

Hogan had earlier pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement by a federal postal employee as well as to conspiracy to possess, with intent to distribute, 500 grams or more of cocaine. Law enforcement officials came across the scheme, they said, while following the trail of illegal drug shipments from Puerto Rico to Waterbury.

Read next: Postal Worker Stole “Because I was Bored”

[Hartford Courant]

TIME Addiction

Hawaii Teens Love Electronic Cigarettes

Popularity of a new tobacco product raises health concerns

It looks like vaping has a bright future in Hawaii.

Experimentation with electronic cigarettes among Hawaii’s high school and middle school students more than tripled from 2011-2013, according to a new state survey. Almost 8% of middle school students and 18% of high school students had tried electronic cigarettes in 2013 (up from 2% and 5%, respectively, in 2011), according to the survey of public school students by the Hawaii State Department of Health. It’s illegal in Hawaii to sell electronic cigarettes to children under the age of 18.

The latest federal data in 2012 showed that 10% teens have tried electronic cigarettes nationwide. New federal numbers on national teen use of electronic cigarettes will come out next week.

MORE: The future of smoking

Smoking of traditional cigarettes among high school students in Hawaii dropped from 2011-2013 and remained steady for Hawaii’s middle schoolers, according to the survey.

The health effects of electronic cigarettes are not well understood. Many in the health community fear that the rise in youth exposure to electronic cigarettes could re-glamorize smoking and become a gateway to traditional cigarettes. Electronic cigarette manufacturers have come under fire from Congress for marketing practices and flavors that seem geared at teens. The federal government has yet to regulate electronic cigarettes.

MORE: Electronic cigarette executives get schooled in Senate hearing

 

 

 

TIME Drugs

This Lifesaving Heroin Overdose Drug Just Got More Expensive

Why Naloxone prices are spiking 50% or more

The heroin overdose “miracle drug” is getting more expensive again.

Police departments are seeing a spike in the cost of Naloxone, the New York Times reports, with prices jumping by 50% or more. In Georgia, police saw kits with the drug go from $22 to $40.

Naloxone has always been subject to dramatic fluctuations in price and availability, restricting access for cash-strapped community organizations who distribute the drug across the U.S. The reasons for the volatility have always been complex and frustratingly opaque. But it may be from lack of competition: Only two companies, Amphastar, which makes a nasal spray, and Hospira, which makes an injectable, manufacture the drug.

MORE: This drug can stop an overdose so why is it so hard to get?

But demand for the drug is also going up: The latest price hike coincides with the proliferation of its distribution through police forces and community health programs. New policies across the country have put the Naloxone nasal spray into the hands of police officers to administer it to people overdosing. Recently passed laws in states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina also made it possible for doctors to prescribe the drug to friends and family of those addicted to heroin and prescription painkillers. Speaking to the Times, the president of Amphastar cited rising annual manufacturing costs for the increase.

Drug overdose has steadily risen to become the leading cause of injury death in the U.S., eclipsing automobile accidents, according to government data. Getting Naloxone into the hands of more first responders has been a priority for the Obama Administration in addressing what Attorney General Eric Holder has called “an urgent public health crisis.”

MORE: Heroin’s resurgence

TIME Addiction

Drug-Overdose Deaths Have More Than Doubled in the U.S.

Opioids and heroin are two of the greatest offenders

Drug overdose deaths more than doubled from 1999 to 2012, according to a new CDC National Center for Health Statistics’s report.

The new data shows drug overdose deaths from drugs like painkillers and heroin have risen from 6.1 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 13.1 in 2012. Drug overdose deaths involving heroin in particular have nearly tripled over the time period.

According to the report, in 2012 alone, there were 41,502 drug overdose deaths, of which 16,007 involved opioid analgesics and 5,925 involved heroin.

It’s no question America has a painkiller problem. An earlier CDC report from July revealed that 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers every day. The data also showed that doctors in the U.S. wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, which comes out to enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. States with overall higher rates were primarily in the south.

The city of Chicago has even gone after Big Pharma, filing a lawsuit in June 2014 arguing that pharmaceutical companies deceptively marketed opioid painkillers like Percocet and OxyContin to manage chronic pain, even though they have a low success rate come with a high addiction risk.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 3.25.14 PM
CDC/NCHS, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality File

 

The CDC recommends increase use of prescription-drug-monitoring programs that use databases to track prescriptions for painkillers so that states can identify problem areas where over-prescribing is more prevalent. The agency also recommends the implementation of policies that would lower prescribing rates to risky patients.

 

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