Newsletter Digest: Canadian SMC, diabetes drug suspended, whooping cough

SMC network expands to Canada

Monday sees the launch of the Canadian Science Media Centre, representing the SMC network’s first beachhead in North America.

Former Discovery Channel TV producer Penny Park will run the centre which will be nationally focused and feature content in both English and French and operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Already collaboration among the existing Science Media Centres is strong, so we look forward to welcoming the Canadians onboard and swapping expert contacts and ideas and working together on joint online briefings for journalists in both countries on internationally-significant research-related stories.

The network will expand again before the end of the year when SMCs in Tokyo and Copenhagen join the network, giving the SMCs a truly global footprint.

The SMC network so far:

NZ SMC (Auckland)

UK SMC (London)

AusSMC (Adelaide)

Canadian SMC (Ottawa)

Diabetes drug suspended in Europe, US

Overnight the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended the suspension of marketing authorisations for the anti-diabetes medicine Avandia (Rosiglitazone).

The medicine, which has been linked to a higher heart attack risk, will stop being available in Europe within the next few months. Avandia is available on prescription in New Zealand, but is not government funded. The SMC understands the drug isn’t widely used among New Zealand type 2 diabetes sufferers.

Dr Ellen Strahlman, chief medical officer at Glaxo Smith Kline, which makes Avandia, said the drug was safe when used correctly.

“There has recently been a rigorous scientific debate about the medicine, which has resulted in a divergence of scientific opinion about its possible benefits and risks. As a company, we believe that Avandia has helped millions of people manage their diabetes, and that it is a safe and effective treatment option when used appropriately.”

Associate Professor, Richard O’Brien, a Senior Endocrinologist at the Austin Hospital and Clinical Dean of Medicine at the Austin and Northern Clinical Schools, University of Melbourne told the AusSMC:

“My own personal view is that the data suggesting an increased heart attack and stroke risk with rosiglitazone are unconvincing. However, given that an alternative agent, pioglitazone, is available, it is perhaps not surprising that the regulators in Europe have acted to withdraw rosiglitazone. In the USA, regulators have severely restricted its use to patients with low cardiovascular risk who are already taking the drug, or to new patients who are not able to take pioglitazone.”

Further comments from scientists are available on the Science Media Centre website and at the AusSMC.

Confusion over whooping cough figures

Whooping cough has been in the media around the world as some countries reporting outbreaks of the disease which can be prevented through immunisation.

According to CBS: “California reported more than 4,200 cases so far this year, putting the state on track to break a 55-year record for infections. Nine people have died – all of them infants”.

In Australia, which is in the midst of a whooping cough outbreak, the disease has been blamed for the death of a five week old baby in Adelaide. The AusSMC has some expert commentary on that.

So what’s the situation in New Zealand? Well, the Ministry of Health moved this afternoon to correct some figures that have been circulating in the media. This from the MoH’s immunisation manager, David Wansbrough:

“Recent media stories about whooping cough (pertussis) were mistakenly based on information which is significantly out-of-date.

“The media stories appear to be based on a six-year old Ministry of Health press statement, which can be seen here.

“These stories include numerous verbatim quotes from that 2004 media release, and also cite old data as if they were current.

“The stories say the number of whooping cough cases “spiked in August” with ‘more than 350’ reported cases – which was in fact correct for August 2004. In August 2010 there were 79 reported cases in New Zealand, down from 110 in August 2009.

“The cumulative number of cases reported to the end of August 2010 was 621 – nearly 250 fewer cases than were reported in the equivalent period last year.”

Upcoming events of interest

Mental Health: Are we on the right track? – 25-26 September, Dunedin – A conference to explore the interface between mental illness and normal emotional responses, for example depression and sadness, and discuss alternatives to drug therapy.

“Eros” by Caroline Lark  – Ends 25 September, Christchurch – A comedy of contemporary manners, with a taste of nanotechnology.

17th Australasian Weeds Conference – 26-30 September, Christchurch – The conference will feature a special workshop on Use of sequencing, bar coding and other molecular techniques to study invasive weed taxonomy, systematics and genetics.

How effective are complementary cancer therapies? – 28 September, Wellington – Medical researcher, doctor and commentator Professor Shaun Holt will discuss the effectiveness of complementary therapies for cancer.

Special Lecture: The Challenge of the Human Brain – 30 September, Hamilton – Professor Richard Faull will talk about our new knowledge of the human brain, and the new strategies it opens up for fighting brain disease.

Putting the 2010 Canterbury Earthquake into Context: The Why and How – 5 Oct, Hamilton – Lecture by visiting US geophysicist Kevin Furlong.

Forestry GIS Conference 2010: Mapping Out NZ Forestry’s Future – 6 October, Rotorua – Scion-sponsored conference on applications of GIS in New Zealand forestry, including case studies on innovative use of the technology. Free to the public.

ERMA NZ – Submissions close on genetically modified pine application (Scion) – 6 October – The application is now open for submission from the public. Submissions close on 6 October 2010.

For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC’s Events Calendar