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Government

Feds Go After Mylan For Scamming Medicaid Out of Millions On EpiPen Pricing (arstechnica.com) 116

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Over the nine or so years that Mylan, Inc. has been selling -- and hiking the price -- of EpiPens, the drug company has been misclassifying the life-saving device and stiffing Medicaid out of full rebate payments, federal regulators told Ars. Under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, drug manufacturers, such as Mylan, can get their products covered by Medicaid if they agree to offer rebates to the government to offset costs. With a brand-name drug such as the EpiPen, which currently has no generic versions and has patent protection, Mylan was supposed to classify the drug as a "single source," or brand name drug. That would mean Mylan is required to offer Medicaid a rebate of 23.1 percent of the costs, plus an "inflation rebate" any time Mylan raises the price of the brand-name drug at a rate higher than inflation. Mylan has opted for such price increases -- a lot. Since Mylan bought the rights to EpiPen in 2007, it has raised the price on 15 separate occasions, bringing the current list price to $608 for a two-pack up from about $50 a pen in 2007. That's an increase of more than 500 percent, which easily beats inflation. But instead of classifying EpiPen as a "single source" drug, Mylan told regulators that it's a "non-innovator multiple source," or generic drug. Under that classification, Mylan is only required to offer a rebate of 13 percent and no inflation rebates. It's unclear how much money Mylan has skipped out on paying in total to state and federal governments. But according to the state health department of Minnesota, as reported by CNBC, the misclassification cost that state $4.3 million this year alone.
Medicine

Microsoft Will 'Solve' Cancer Within The Next 10 Years By Treating It Like A Computer Virus, Says Company (independent.co.uk) 259

Microsoft is serious about finding a cure for cancer. In June, Microsoft researchers published a paper that shows how analyzing online activities can provide clues as to a person's chances of having cancer. They were able to identify internet users who had pancreatic cancer even before they'd been diagnosed, all from analyzing web query logs. Several months later, researchers on behalf of the company now say they will "solve" cancer within the next 10 years by treating it like a computer virus that invades and corrupts the body's cells. The goal is to monitor the bad cells and potentially reprogram them to be healthy again. The Independent reports: The company has built a "biological computation" unit that says its ultimate aim is to make cells into living computers. As such, they could be programmed and reprogrammed to treat any diseases, such as cancer. In the nearer term, the unit is using advanced computing research to try and set computers to work learning about drugs and diseases and suggesting new treatments to help cancer patients. The team hopes to be able to use machine learning technologies -- computers that can think and learn like humans -- to read through the huge amounts of cancer research and come to understand the disease and the drugs that treat it. At the moment, so much cancer research is published that it is impossible for any doctor to read it all. But since computers can read and understand so much more quickly, the systems will be able to read through all of the research and then put that to work on specific people's situations. It does that by bringing together biology, math and computing. Microsoft says the solution could be with us within the next five or ten years.
Medicine

Vanity Fair Blames The Failure of Theranos On Silicon Valley (vanityfair.com) 128

"I was only a day or two behind FBI agents who were trying to put together a time line of what Elizabeh Holmes knew and when she knew it," writes Vanity Fair, in what Slashdot reader PvtVoid describes as "a compelling story of hubris, glamour and secrecy about the unicorn Silicon Valley company that turned out to be founded on bullshit." Another anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Holmes raised $700 million "on the condition that she would not divulge to investors how her technology actually worked," according to an article detailing how Silicon Valley can "replicate one big confidence game in which entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and the tech media pretend to vet one another while, in reality, functioning as cogs in a machine that is designed to not question anything -- and buoy one another all along the way... In the end, it isn't in anyone's interest to call bullshit."

Theranos employed "hundreds of marketers, salespeople, communications specialists, and even the Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris," as well as a chief scientist who eventually became suicidal. But then the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services "discovered that some of the tests Theranos was performing were so inaccurate that they could leave patients at risk of internal bleeding, or of stroke among those prone to blood clots." A reporter at the Wall Street Journal says "It's O.K. if you've got a smartphone app or a social network, and you go live with it before it's ready; people aren't going to die. But with medicine, it's different."

He became suspicious after reading the answer that the company's CEO, a Stanford dropout, supplied for a question about their technology. "A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel."
Biotech

Ask Slashdot: Why Aren't Techies Improving The World? 537

Slashdot reader marmot7 isn't impressed by "the latest app that solves some made up problem. I'm impressed by apps that solve real problems..." I don't feel that developers, sys admins, finance people, even policy wonks focus on the problems that we need to solve to have a healthy functioning society. It seems like it's mostly about short-term gain and not much about making the world better. That may be just the way the market works.

Is it that there's no profit to be made in solving the most important problems? I'm puzzled by that as I would think that a good solution to an important problem could find some funding from somewhere but maybe government, for example, won't take investment risks in that way?

Is there a systematic bias that channels technology workers into more profitable careers? (Or stunning counter-examples that show technology workers are making the world a better place?) Leave your answers in the comments. Why aren't geeks doing more to improve the world?
AI

Should We Seed Life On Alien Worlds? (sciencemag.org) 231

Slashdot reader sciencehabit quotes an article from Science magazine: Astronomers have detected more than 3000 planets beyond our solar system, and just a couple of weeks ago they discovered an Earth-like planet in the solar system next door. Most -- if not all -- of these worlds are unlikely to harbor life, but what if we put it there?

Science chatted with theoretical physicist Claudius Gros about his proposed Genesis Project, which would send artificially intelligent probes to lifeless worlds to seed them with microbes. Over millions of years, they might evolve into multicellular organisms, and, perhaps eventually, plants and animals. In the interview, Gros talks artificial intelligence, searching for habitable planets, and what kind of organisms he'd like to see evolve.

"The robots will have to decide if a certain planet should receive microbes and the chance to evolve life," the physicist explains -- adding that it's very important to avoid introducing new microbes on planets where life already exists.
Medicine

Video Shows How Bacteria Invade Antibiotics And Transform Into Superbugs (npr.org) 87

guises writes: By making a giant petri dish out of bands of increasingly antibiotic-laced agar, a couple of microbiologists have created a means to watch bacterial evolution as it happens: colonies introduced to the dish expand to fill the areas in which they can survive and then mutate and spread into the areas in which they can not. It takes only eleven days for the bacteria to evolve sufficient resistance to survive in an area with a thousand times the concentration of antibiotics that would have killed the original colonies. And it makes a pretty neat video.
Biotech

Should We Kill All The Mosquitoes? (bbc.com) 470

If scientists could send Zika-carrying mosquitoes into extinction, should they do it? Several science and business journals are now exploring the question, and Slashdot reader retroworks asks if scientists will ultimately target "not just the most deadly species of the animal, but all 12 species of human-biting mosquitoes in the world, responsible for 500,000 deaths per year." The headline on today's [paywalled] Wall Street Journal article begs the question, "Why Not Kill Them All...?" [M]ore business journals are exploring private sector investments to eradicate the species of mosquito entirely, [and] most articles seem to find extinction of the indoors-attacking, dengue fever- and malaria-spreading Aedes aegypti a tantalizing prospect...

The BBC weighed the approach more carefully, noting that mosquitoes make rain forests uninhabitable (and consequences of human populations in rain forests are usually disastrous)... Will capitalism make the itch of mosquito bites be forgotten... Forever?

Biotech

Brain-Zapping Gadgets Need Regulation, Say Scientists (ieee.org) 51

the_newsbeagle writes: You can now buy gadgets online that send electric current through your scalp to stimulate your brain. Why would you want to do that? Because the easy technique, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), is being investigated as a treatment for depression, a rehab aid for stroke patients, a learning enhancer for healthy people, and for many other neuropsychiatric applications.

However, the technique is so new that companies selling brain-zapping gadgets aren't bound by any regulations, and experts are worried that consumers will end up buying devices that aren't safe or simply aren't effective. So scientists and some manufacturers recently got together to discuss the scope of the problem, and what can be done about it.

Earlier IEEE reported that "Professional basketball, baseball, and American football teams are also experimenting with it," adding that some Olympic athletes, including sprinters and swimmers, even used a premarket version of one brain-zapping device to prepare for the Olympics in Rio.
Biotech

FDA Bans 19 Chemicals Used In Antibacterial Soaps (nbcnews.com) 248

The Food and Drug Administration has ordered "antibacterial" ingredients to be removed from consumer soaps, citing a lack of evidence that they are effective in making soap work any better and that the industry has failed to prove they're safe. The banned chemicals include triclosan, triclocarban and 17 others (PDF) typically found in hand and body soaps. Companies have until late next year to remove the ingredients from their products, the FDA said. "Companies will no longer be able to market antibacterial washes with these ingredients because manufacturers did not demonstrate that the ingredients are both safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections," the FDA said in a statement. NBC News reports: "In 2013 FDA gave soapmakers a year to show that adding antibacterial chemicals did anything at all to help them kill germs. It made the rule final Friday. The FDA started asking about triclosan in 1978. Environmental groups and some members of Congress have been calling for limits on the use of triclosan. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued and the FDA agreed to do something about triclosan by 2016. There's no proof that triclosan is dangerous to people, but some animal studies suggest high doses can affect the way hormones work in the body. The proposed rule only affects hand soaps and body washes. Triclosan is often used in toothpaste and it's been shown to help kill germs that cause gum disease."
Biotech

'Longest Living Human' Says He Is Ready For Death At 145 (telegraph.co.uk) 314

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes an article from The Telegraph: An Indonesian man who claims to be the longest living human in recorded history has described how he "just wants to die". Mbah Gotho, from Sragen in central Java, was born on December 31, 1870, according to the date of birth on his identity card. Now officials at the local record office say they have finally been able to confirm that remarkable date as genuine. If independently confirmed, the findings would make Mr Gotho a staggering 145 years old -- and the longest lived human in recorded history.
"One of Mr Gotho's grandsons said his grandfather has been preparing for his death ever since he was 122," according to the article. Though he lived long enough to meet his great-great grandchildren, he's already outlived four wives, all 10 of his brothers and sisters, and all of his children.
Democrats

US Patients Battle EpiPen Prices And Regulations By Shopping Online (cnn.com) 396

"The incredible increase in the cost of EpiPens, auto-injectors that can stop life-threatening emergencies caused by allergic reactions, has hit home on Capitol Hill," reports CNN. Slashdot reader Applehu Akbar reports that the argument "has now turned into civil war in the US Senate": One senator's daughter relies on Epi-Pen, while another senator's daughter is CEO of Mylan, the single company that is licensed to sell these injectors in the US. On the worldwide market there is no monopoly on these devices... Is it finally time to allow Americans to go online and fill their prescriptions on the world market?
Time reports some patients are ordering cheaper EpiPens from Canada and other countries online, "an act that the FDA says is technically illegal and potentially dangerous." But the FDA also has "a backlog of about 4,000 generic drugs" awaiting FDA approval, reports PRI, noting that in the meantime prices have also increased for drugs treating cancer, hepatitis C, and high cholesterol. In Australia, where the drug costs just $38, one news outlet reports that the U.S. "is the only developed nation on Earth which allows pharmaceutical companies to set their own prices."
Biotech

Can Cow Backpacks Reduce Global Methane Emissions? (bloomberg.com) 190

Slashdot reader schwit1 shares an article from Bloomberg which argues "It's time to have a conversation about flatulent cows." "Enteric fermentation," or livestock's digestive process, accounts for 22 percent of all U.S. methane emissions, and the manure they produce makes up eight percent more, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency... Methane, like carbon, is a greenhouse gas, but methane's global warming impact per molecule is 25 times greater than carbon's, according to the EPA.
Cargill has tried capturing some of the methane released from cow manure by using domed lagoons, while researchers at Danone yogurt discovered they could reduce methane emissions up to 30% by feeding cows a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (mostly from flax seed). But now Argentina researchers are testing plastic "methane backpacks" which they strap on to the back of cows, and according to the article "have been able to extract 300 liters of methane a day, enough to power a car or refrigerator."
Earth

Wrong Chemical Dumped Into Olympic Pools Made Them Green (arstechnica.com) 180

Z00L00K writes: [Ars Technica reports:] "After a week of trying to part with green tides in two outdoor swimming pools, Olympic officials over the weekend wrung out a fresh mea culpa and yet another explanation -- neither of which were comforting. According to officials, a local pool-maintenance worker mistakenly added 160 liters of hydrogen peroxide to the waters on August 5, which partially neutralized the chlorine used for disinfection. With chlorine disarmed, the officials said that 'organic compounds' -- i.e. algae and other microbes -- were able to grow and turn the water a murky green in the subsequent days. The revelation appears to contradict officials' previous assurances that despite the emerald hue, which first appeared Tuesday, the waters were safe." I would personally have avoided using the green pools, but that's just me. "Hydrogen peroxide is sometimes used in pools -- often to de-chlorinate them," reports Ars. "Basically, the chemical, a common household disinfectant, is a weak acid that reacts with chlorine and chlorine-containing compounds to release oxygen and form other chlorine-containing compounds. Those may not be good at disinfecting pools, but they still may be picked up by monitoring systems. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used to disinfect pools but must be maintained in the waters -- not a one-time dumping -- and can't be used in combination with chlorine." Apparently, the green water irritates eyes and smells like farts.
The Military

How The Navy Tried To Turn Sharks into Torpedos (undark.org) 60

Long-time Slashdot reader v3rgEz writes: Documents recently declassified show one of the odder experimental weapons developed after World War II: Weaponized sharks. Guided by sharp electric shocks, the sharks were trained to deliver explosive payloads -- essentially turning them into living, breathing, remote-controlled torpedoes that could be put to use in the Pacific Theater.
Following years of research on "shark repellent," the Navy spent 13 years building a special head gear for sharks which sensed the shark's direction and tried to deliver shocks if the sharks strayed off-course. The journalist who tracked down details of "Project Headgear" published the recently-declassified information on MIT's journalism site Undark, noting that "The shark wasn't so much a 'torpedo' as a suicide bomber... "
Medicine

8 Paralyzed Patients Learn To Walk Again Using Virtual Reality (gizmodo.com) 17

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: In a new study published in Scientific Reports, eight patients paralyzed with spinal cord injuries exhibited partial restoration of muscle control and sensations in their lower limbs following an extensive training regimen with non-invasive brain-controlled robotics and a virtual reality system. Developed by Duke University neuroscience Miguel Nicolelis and colleagues, the system tapped into the patients' own brain activity to simulate full control of their legs, causing the injured parts of their spinal cord to re-engage. Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) work by establishing direct communication between the brain and a computer, which then allows patients to control external devices with their thoughts, including prosthetic limbs or exoskeletons. Earlier this year, Nicolelis showed that it was possible for a monkey to control a wheelchair with its mind, though with an implanted brain chip. In the new experiment, the system non-invasively recorded hundreds of brain patterns emitted by the brain, collecting these motor commands from those signals, and then translating them into movements. During the year long experiment, Nicolelis and his team investigated the ways in which BMI-based training could influence the ability of paraplegics to walk using a brain-controlled exoskeleton. To augment this process, they turned to virtual reality, which assisted with visualization and mind-body awareness. While in a virtual reality environment, and when hooked up to the exoskeletons, the patients could see virtual representations of the own bodies, and even receive tactile feedback.
Businesses

Google Ventures CEO and Founder Bill Maris Is Leaving (recode.net) 13

According to a report from Recode, the founder and CEO of Google Ventures (GV), Bill Maris, is leaving the firm and its parent company, Alphabet. Recode reports: "Sources say Maris is being replaced by David Krane, a managing partner for the venture arm and one of the earliest corporate communications managers at Google. Maris, an early web entrepreneur, founded Google's venture capital arm in 2009 and quickly built it into a formidable presence in Silicon Valley. In 2015, the firm managed upwards of $2.4 billion in capital. Although GV cut back on investments in Europe and with early stage companies, the firm is still willing to cut checks. For the first six months of this year, it passed Intel Capital as the most active corporate venture arm, according to CB Insights. Under Maris, GV has had some high-profile misses -- most notably, the disastrous app Secret. But those were outweighed by early bets in gigantic startups like Uber, Nest, Slack and Jet.com, which just went to Walmart for $3 billion. Lately, GV has upped its investment in startups working on health and biotech, a strong interest of Maris's." Recode followed up with Maris in a separate report and asked him several questions. When asked why he is leaving, Maris said, "I'm leaving because everything is great."
Earth

6 Million Americans Exposed To High Levels of Chemicals In Drinking Water, Says Study (businessinsider.com) 166

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: A new study out Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters looked at a national database that monitors chemical levels in drinking water and found that 6 million people were being exposed to levels of a certain chemical that exceed what the Environmental Protection Agency considers healthy. The chemicals, known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, are synthetic and resistant to water and oil, which is why they're used in things like pizza boxes and firefighting foam. They're built to withstand the environment. But PFASs also accumulate in people and animals and have been observationally linked to an increased risk of health problems including cancer. And they can't be easily avoided, like with a water filter, for example. You can view the chart to see the tested areas of the U.S. where PFASs exceed 70 ng/L, which is what's considered a healthy lifetime exposure.
Biotech

Scientist Who Sparked 'A Revolution in Chemistry' Dies at 70 (washingtonpost.com) 41

Ahmed Zewail pioneered a technique for using lasers to monitor chemical reactions, which the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said sparked "a revolution in chemistry and adjacent sciences." Slashdot reader Provocateur writes, "The Washington Post has the story...citing his prizewinning research in femtochemistry..."

Slashdot covered Zewail's Nobel prize in 1999, as well as his 2001 claim to have resolved Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. "Mathematics, mechanics, and chemistry were among the fields that gave me a special satisfaction..." he says in the Post's article, adding "for reasons unknown (to me), my mind kept asking 'how' and 'why.' "
Medicine

Stem Cell Researchers Can Now Combine Animal and Human Embryos In The US (sciencemag.org) 92

Slashdot reader sciencehabit quotes an article from Science magazine: The National Institutes of Health announced that the agency soon expects to lift a moratorium on funding for controversial experiments that add human stem cells to animal embryos, creating an organism that is part animal, part human. Instead, these so-called chimera studies will undergo an extra layer of ethical review but may ultimately be allowed to proceed.

Although scientists who support such research welcomed the move, some were left trying to parse exactly what the draft policy will mean. It is "a step in the right direction," says Sean Wu, a stem cell researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who co-authored a letter to Science last year opposing the moratorium. But "we still don't know what the outcome will be case by case," he adds. However, some see the proposal as opening up research in some areas that had been potentially off-limits.

Experiments could include using animals to grow human organs for transplants, although according to the article, some scientists "worry that the experiments could produce, say, a supersmart mouse."
Earth

Florida District Considers Releasing GMO Mosquitos After Cayman Islands Experiment (accuweather.com) 144

It's already underway just 364 miles south of Florida, according to the Associated Press. "The first wave of genetically modified mosquitoes were released Wednesday in the Cayman Islands as part of a new effort to control the insect that spreads Zika and other viruses," according to an article shared by Slashdot reader Okian Warrior: Genetically altered male mosquitoes, which don't bite but are expected to mate with females to produce offspring that die before reaching adulthood, were released in the West Bay area of Grand Cayman Island, according to a joint statement from the Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit and British biotech firm Oxitec.
"What could possibly go wrong?" asks The Atlantic, citing history's great pest-control fails in Hawaii and Australia. But a similar release is already being considered in the Florida Keys, though Accuweather reports it apparently depends on the results of a November referendum which could also "affect the likelihood of Oxitec trials taking place in other parts of the United States."

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