Gene therapy: ‘Tame HIV’ used to cure disease

A pioneering treatment to correct errors in DNA, has transformed the lives of six boys with a deadly genetic disease, doctors declare. For people suffering Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS), a defective immune system leaves people susceptible to infections and bleeding.

A British and French study, published in JAMA, has used tamed HIV to correct the irregularities. A child wheelchair-user now has free mobility and there are improvements in other cases. The syndrome affects up to 10 children in every 1 million, almost exclusively boys.

Patients suffering the condition find that tiny bumps and scrapes can lead to wounds that are slow to close. Eczema is often present and they face repeat infections including pneumonia as well as some cancers and autoimmune diseases. It arises from an error in the genetic code that contains the building instructions for a key element in the immune system, a protein called WAS. The main therapy is bone marrow transplant; however that can only be considered when the donor is a close tissue match, such as from a sibling.

Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London, and Necker Children’s Hospital, in France have conducted trials to remove a part of the children’s bone marrow and purify it to find the cells that regenerate the immune system. Afterwards, the corrected bone marrow cells were then inserted back in the children. The outcome was so positive that in six out of seven boys, the therapy was a success. It reversed symptoms and drastically cut the number of nights spent in hospital.

Daniel Wheeler, who is now 15 and from Bristol, was the first British patient. His older brother died from the same condition when he was two-and-a-half. Their mum Sarah told the BBC News website: “Daniel was in and out of hospital, he had frequent infections of ear, chest, flare-ups and bruised joints, and lots of operations.”

Prof Adrian Thrasher, from Great Ormond Street Hospital, told the BBC News website: “I think it is very significant, it is another clear and powerful demonstration that a gene therapy approach is an effective one.” Prof Ian Alexander from the Gene Therapy Research Unit at Sydney’s Children’s Medical Research Institute in Australia said although the work was promising, it was “still early days”.

When all medicine, even Paracetamol, has risks, couldn’t interfering with genetic code bring huge dangers? Several trials have been abandoned as patients developed leukaemia when the modification turned healthy cells cancerous. But those trials did show one thing – the underlying principle worked. Could gene therapy be about to come in from the cold?

Ebola death toll: are we doing enough?

Since March this year, over 3500 people in western Africa have been affected by the Ebola virus, with over 1,800 people suffering fatalities. The virus, which is contagious, has affected the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone in this most recent outbreak.

Discovered in 1976, the causes for Ebola are not clearly defined, but are said to involve contact with an infected animal’s bodily fluids. Amongst humans, the disease is spread by bodily fluids and secretions – and because there is no vaccine, measures must be taken to slow contagion.

What more can we do?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), £360m is the very least needed to combat the current outbreak. They have warned that up to 20,000 people could be infected before the virus is brought under control.

Medecin Sans Frontiers (MSF), the international medical aid group, has stated that the global response to the crisis has been inadequate and that military intervention is necessary in the fight against Ebola. MSF believe that the only way to bring the outbreak under control is for military and civilian teams capable of dealing with a biological disaster to be immediately deployed.

These calls have been heeded by the French, who have sent 20 experts to the infected area – the UK must follow suit.  Although the foreign office has already donated well over £3m to the relief effort, more expertise and personnel is needed in the region.

Will there ever be a cure?

Ebola outbreaks have been sporadically appearing across Africa for over 35 years, yet the search for a vaccine is still ongoing. New medical research has uncovered possible ideas for trials, but there is no answer yet.

How can we stop the death toll?

If Western powers join together to provided financial aid and personnel then the death toll will slowly decrease. As the disease is not spread by regular everyday contact (such as shaking hands), in theory it is relatively simple to slow the transmission of the disease. This has not proved to be the case, primarily because the people in the region are afraid and do not know the correct preventative measures. These residents should be educated in how to stop the spread of the disease.

World superpowers should be investing their resources in Western Africa, because there is no telling how far the virus could spread. The region needs to be able to both treat and educate its people, and they cannot do it on their own.

GlaxoSmithKline faces criminal investigation for allegations of bribery…are large enterprises untouchable?

GlaxoSmithKline faces criminal investigations…

In an era where large companies control the majority of the different markets, the potential for serious crimes within such organisations are an unmeasured quantity.
When a multi-billion pound company is guilty of wrongdoing, it is often on a massive level. So are the
punishments they receive working as a deterrent?

A recent example

In 2014, GlaxoSmithKline, the UK’s largest pharmaceutical company, has come under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office regarding its sales practice in China.

This stems from officials being arrested in China for allegedly bribing hospital officials and doctors. The case has now been taken up by the SFO as a result of a UK act which is in place to dissuade such crimes.

This legislation, the Bribery Act 2010, allows UK companies to be prosecuted for bribing foreign officials. It also gives the UK government the power to prosecute for “Failure of commercial organisations to prevent bribery.”

Do these big companies recover?

Government efforts to monitor and prosecute wrongful operations in multi-national corporations are often difficult to put into practice. This is because the amount of money each company earns is enormous. Large fines don’t work as a strong deterrent and a prison sentence can only punish individuals, who are replaceable.

Another allegation of malpractice abroad for GSK occurred in 2000/2001 for which they were eventually fined $3bn in 2012 – because of the aggressive manner in which they pushed an anti-depressant drug in the US market.

Their tactics included publishing in a misleading medical journal and bribing doctors with meals and spa days.
They received a penalty of $1bn in criminal fines and $2bn in civil fines.

Yet, GSK remains a multi-billion pound institution and are being investigated once again. Did the previous punishment send a strong enough message?

Fear of repercussions

It must be time to search for alternative punishment for corporate misdeeds, especially when a financial disincentive does not seem to work.

One suggestion is to completely ban companies from trading in a designated market place. If GSK had known they faced the threat of being banned from the US in 2012, they may have been more aware of the tactics being employed by their staff.

However, large corporations often provide jobs for many across the country. They pay higher rates of tax too. So if you exclude a company of such a size from your market then you are effectively removing their input into your economy.

Conclusion

Economies are held together by these companies and often have free rein because governments do not want to lose their money.

If they threaten to change their headquarters to another country, those in power sit up and listen. If they protest against proposed tax increases, prime ministers change their mind. When they get an unprecedented fine, they just make more money.

Large companies hold a lot of financial power. Whilst, this shouldn’t make them untouchable, clearly it does. It is of paramount importance this philosophy doesn’t spread to smaller organisations.