Bits and Pieces; Updates on Campath/Lemtrada, Health Care Reform and the National MS Society.

If you have been following this blog because you or a family member has Multiple Sclerosis you may know about the Sanofi takeover of Genzyme. Alternately, if you are one the many pharmaceuticals or investors or PR and advertising firms that visit us, you already do know that Sanofi completed the $20.1 billion buyout of Genzyme.

Which brings us to Campath (acquired from Bayer by Genzyme) now known, or trying to be known, as Lemtrada. We have written about it here because of the shameful desire to increase the price of a relatively inexpensive cancer treatment to $60,000 per year for Multiple Sclerosis treatment.

It is NOT YET APPROVED for use by the FDA. Campath/Lemtrada is still in clinical trials. Here is a link to the latest in their Clinical Trials.

At one point, Genzyme was giving Campath away for compassionate use in cancer patients. This was done by Genzyme to erase the yearly sales figures so that when the same drug rolls out (when approved) the $60,000 per year price sticker for Multiple Sclerosis won’t have a sales comparison number–of something much, much cheaper. Redefines the whole meaning of compassion, doesn’t it?

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Health Care Reform:

While the Affordable Care Act is not yet a law–we still have until 2014 for the whole thing to go into effect–the GOP is back to using their favorite catch phrase, “death panels.”

Here is a link to an article in Talking Points Memo about Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) raising the dirty spectre of death panels and rationing yet again. Just an FYI, Rep. Gingrey voted to abolish Medicare. I think the good doctor should know better than to espouse what he does, but here’s the quote:

“[U]nder this IPAB we described that the Democrats put in Obamacare, where a bunch of bureaucrats decide whether you get care, such as continuing on dialysis or cancer chemotherapy, I guarantee you when you withdraw that the patient is going to die,” Gingrey said. “It’s rationing.”

We’re the only democratic and industrialized nation in the world without a universal plan; a plan where anyone can buy into a risk pool and get themselves covered no matter what. We all get sick, it’s part of the human condition. It’s how we treat ourselves that defines our society.

My husband now, having been without insurance for six months, can finally apply to the new high risk pool–thanks to the Affordable Care Act. We ask the representative from Georgia, “What should we do, Dr. Gingrey?” Repeal the health care law like you and every member of the GOP want to do so that my husband (and all other Americans like him) will go without health insurance and health care?

Crying tort reform over and over, as Dr. Gingrey does, isn’t going to fix the system, but considering that the good doctor has himself been sued for malpractice several times, it becomes obvious why he repeats this so often. And why he’s introduced legislation into Congress that would limit damages for pain and suffering from malpractice cases. See H.R. 5 of the 112th Congress.

Dr. Gingrey has this to say about health care reform:

“Just one year has elapsed since the government takeover of our healthcare system and Obamacare has done nothing but create hardships for Americans and place burdens on businesses,” said Congressman Phil Gingrey. “Since its passage, state budgets have been crushed by rising Medicaid costs, businesses have struggled to keep their doors open due to onerous new administrative and tax burdens, and American citizens are being threatened with rising costs and less access to quality care. As we move forward in pursuit of a full repeal of Obamacare, we must stay committed to replacing it with meaningful, cost-cutting reforms that will improve health care, lower costs, and put Americans back to work.”

Government takeover of health care? A proven lie.

If government is so bad, why does Dr. Gingrey want to use government to sharply cut medical malpractice awards? Won’t the free market just sort things out on its own?

But if Dr. Gingrey is speaking about the government creation of a high risk pool to help my husband and all Americans with pre-existing conditions get access to health care by purchasing insurance that will cover them, then I suggest he re-read his Hippocratic Oath.

As for tax burdens and small businesses, small businesses love the Affordable Care Act because they get tax breaks. And read more here, from Fox News.

Are we being threatened by rising costs? Yes. Why? Because Dr. Gingrey and his GOP ilk refuse to expand Medicare to Everyone. A national health plan that would compete for customers may inspire the private health insurers to actually produce a good product. Competition does that. As it is now, the private health insurers have zero competition.

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Now onto the National Multiple Sclerosis Society:

We got a flyer from the National MS Society the other day about their teleconference series that, “is designed to support individuals with MS through the continuum of their work experiences; from staying employed, to retraining and on to post-employment options. Understanding how to access vital resources will help individuals make the best choices through any stage of their workforce journey.”

With all the money the National MS Society takes in (and spends), this piece of writing just sent me over the edge as it purports to say something without saying anything at all. They paid for that with your donation dollars. And it gets worse:

Applying Through Your Employer’s Long Term Disability Benefits When MS Progresses

Featured speaker Lisa Kantor, LLP from Kantor and Kantor will share her expertise as an advocate who has successfully represented people in Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) benefit claims for over 18 years. If you have MS and Long Term Disability Insurance through your employer, you will want to know how to apply for and access these vital benefits.

Let me just begin by saying that the whole reason I’m here writing this, the whole reason this Foundation exists is because of the way my husband was treated both by his Long Term Disability insurance carrier, CIGNA.

He was denied his benefits by CIGNA. Twice. We had no where to turn for help, including the MS Society at the time.

This sort of teleconference series makes the National MS Society look good, but doesn’t really help. And with all the money they have, imagine what they could do. They could start by lobbying Congress to fix ERISA–that would go a long way in helping not just those with MS but all who have been denied their benefits or who have been mistreated by their health insurer.

Listening to Ms. Kantor may be helpful, she may even gain a few clients from this teleconference, but she can’t help you “apply for and access these vital benefits.” She simply cannot and that has nothing to do with Ms. Kantor.

See, one cannot actually access their long term disability benefits. I wrote extensively about that over at Illness and Insurance Hell.

Your insurance carrier starts the process while you are still on short-term disability; they will insist you apply for Social Security benefits and prove that you have been through that process or else they’ll deny your claim. They will even offer you help with one of their attorneys to make sure you go through the Social Security process.

To make matters even worse, they will obfuscate the truth (that’s called lying) in the face of medical evidence; they make things up. And when they are threatened with legal action, they send photographers (bad ones I’d like to add) to your house to photograph you and your family. My husband has lesions on his brain and spinal cord, could the guy with the camera, snapping away at us, somehow disprove that?

Then, after all of that, they all attend conferences with federal judges (among others) to figure out how to defend against ERISA claims. Anything not to pay a claim.

Which brings me back to the Affordable Care Act, the Ryan plan to abolish Medicare and the GOP still trying to get rid of health care reform.

I ask this: If the GOP succeeds in repealing health care (doubtful) but say they do, then the provisions in the law that help people, that stop lifetime caps, give seniors free preventative care, that fill the Medicare donut hole, that stops insurers from retroactively cancelling your plan, that gives Medicare drug discounts–if the GOP stops all this then what good is that $8,000 Ryan Voucher?

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Multiple Sclerosis studies, especially about CCSVI, need to be done without ties to Big Pharma

A new article in the Annals of Neurology has made its way across various blogs and discussions about Multiple Sclerosis around the internet. It’s about CCSVI. And when we saw this article’s head line here, “Cerebrospinal Drainage Not Tied to Multiple Sclerosis,” along with the disclaimer:

Several of the researchers on this study disclosed financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, and Merck-Serono.

Our first reaction was that any study that is to be done (especially one involving a treatment that could potentially make MS drugs a thing of the past)  the authors need to be free of any ties to pharmaceutical companies. The authors are:

  1. Claudio Baracchini MD
  2. Paola Perini MD
  3. Massimiliano Calabrese MD
  4. Francesco Causin MD
  5. Francesca Rinaldi MD
  6. Paolo Gallo MD, PhD

Here are the full conflicts of interest from the article:

C.B. has received compensation for being a board member, expert testimony, payment for development of educational presentations including service on speakers’ bureaus, and has had travel/accommodations expenses covered or reimbursed by Pfizer, Guidotti, Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis.

M.C. has been a member of the board of Merk-Serono, Sanofi-Aventis, and Bayer-Shering; a consultant for Merk-Serono and Sanofi-Aventis; given expert testimony for Biogen-Dompé Italy and Bayer-Shering; received honoraria from Merk-Serono, Sanofi-Aventis, and Bayer-Shering; and had travel/accommodations expenses covered or reimbursed by Biogen-Dompé Italy, Merk-Serono, Sanofi-Aventis, and Bayer-Shering.

P.G. has been a member of the board of Novartis, Biogen-Elan, Merk-Serono, Sanofi-Aventis, and Bayer-Shering; has been a consultant for Biogen-Elan, Sanofi-Aventis, and Bayer-Shering; has given expert testimony for Biogen-Dompé Italy, Sanofi-Aventis, and Merk-Serono; has received honoraria from Novartis Farma, Biogen-Elan, Sanofi-Aventis, Merk-Serono, and Bayer-Shering; and has had travel/accommodations expenses covered or reimbursed by University of Padova, Novartis Farma, Sanofi-Aventis, Biogen-Dompé Italy, Merk-Serono, and Bayer-Shering.

P.P. has received honoraria from Biogen-Dompé Italy, Sanofi-Aventis, and Merk-Serono; and has had travel/accommodations expenses covered or reimbursed by Sanofi-Aventis, Biogen-Dompé Italy, and Merk-Serono.

All of the above pharmaceuticals make Multiple Sclerosis drugs and have a large stake in those drugs. They cost a lot of money. See more about how much money here, here and here. And here as well.

This Foundation is not going to go into the details of the findings of the study. That is best left to experts in this field.

And as we find discussions on this study, we will post them here like the one at the MS blog on About.com. I threw in my two cents as well.

This Foundation just wants to point out the conflicts of interest to demonstrate that studies like these need to be done by those free and clear of the ties as shown above, like being members of the board of Pfizer, Sanofi and Merck. Seriously.

Much more information about CCSVI at The Reformed Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The kind of Multiple Sclerosis research that should be well funded in this country, but isn’t.

José Antonio Lozano, Borja Calvo and Iñaki Inza, in the Computer Faculty of the UPV/EHU.

I found this article yesterday about some very important research that you may have never heard about. It is being done by the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) located within Spain.

Before I get into trouble with the people of the Basque region, please know that pinpointing your location within Spain is just recognizable for those unfamiliar with the country, region or your really good food.

Okay, on to the research. The University’s computer researchers, specifically the Intelligent Systems Team (working with the use and application of algorithms), are working with BioDonostia to find the genetic markers for Multiple Sclerosis.

Finding the genetic markers would give researchers the ability to find a cure for MS and also, possibly, a host of other autoimmune diseases. Finding a cure does not sit too well with companies who make millions (or as Mr. Termeer of Genzyme has postulated, billions) from just maintaining the disease.

Algorithms can even help to better understand certain diseases, as well as to find biomarkers related to their diagnosis and prognosis. This is one of the key functions of bioinformatics. In fact, four members of the Intelligent Systems Team (José Antonio Lozano, who is the director of the team, and Borja Calvo, Iñaki Inza and Rubén Armañanzas, the latter currently at the Polytechnic University of Madrid), are working closely with researchers from Biodonostia, the first health research body within the Autonomous Community of the Basque

Who or what is BioDonostia?

The BioDonostia Institute was founded in December 2008 by the Osakidetza’s (Basque Public Health System) Management Board and the Basque Foundation for Health Innovation and Research (BIOEF), Board of Trustees, focusing on fostering biomedical research. Its headquarters are in the Donostia Hospital, located on the Paseo Dr. Beguiristain in Donostia-San Sebastian.

Based on the tools developed by the Bioinformatics engineers at the University of the Country of Basque, BioDonostia is using the tools for medical research. It’s a cooperative research system where the objective isn’t a higher stock price, but actually working out a solution to our most basic human problems.

They have worked together on studies linked to Parkinson’s, frontotemporal dementia and muscular dystrophy. Nevertheless, as Mr Inza explained, “at present the most visible fruit of our work is with multiple sclerosis. We have published an article in an international journal (in the US Public Library of Science, PLoS ONE, in 2009) and there is a patent pending between Osakidetza (the Basque National Health Service) and the UPV/EHU”.

Mr Inza stated that “whoever finds the biomarkers for multiple sclerosis will receive a Nobel Prize”, to underline the difficulty of the challenge. But at least they believe that are taking steps in the right direction. In the words of Mr Borja Calvo, the Biodonostia researchers suspect that some of the molecules known as micro RNA could be linked to multiple sclerosis, or act as biomarkers, which is why they have taken samples and analysed their levels of expression. This was when bioinformatics came into play: “They generated these data, they passed them on to us and we aimed to construct a classificatory model which, introducing levels of expression into it, was able to predict if there was a disease or not, or the state thereof”. The results were quite good: “The models predicted the disease quite well and, on this basis, a series of validation phases has been initiated”.

I just wanted to highlight the fact that this research is taking place–but not in this country where we have a lot of money being thrown at Multiple Sclerosis: a lot of fundraisers, a lot of 501(c)(3)’s raising millions to fund research but also to fund salaries, rent on high priced real estate, brochures touting their work, and the other expenses with running a high profile foundation.

See the Susan G. Komen Foundation and their work blocking the Patients Bill of Rights in 1999, 2000 and 2001, which certainly runs counter to their work to help women suffering from breast cancer, as a prime example of high profile foundations working for themselves and not for their original charity-driven mission.

Could it be that money isn’t given to fund research to find a cure when so money is to be made from not finding a cure?

My understanding of finding the genetic marker for any disease would be, as Mr. Inza puts it above, worthy of a Nobel Prize. The rest of the article is here, and I urge you to read it. It is incredibly interesting, especially for you nerdy people out there like me, how these researchers are converting the genes into numbers and then using a DNA chip (which fits in your hand) to store the information. Your genome on a chip!

Now research that used to take decades on a single gene can be sorted out much more quickly. With the use of the chip, a researcher can begin to look at the genetic make-up of someone with Multiple Sclerosis and compare that DNA with someone without the disease and see where the genetic differences may lie. We hope they succeed quickly.

“When the DNA from a sample of a person’s body is inserted behind the chip, each gene goes to its allotted slot, as it were”, stated Mr Inza. Then images of colours, partitioned into these slots, are obtained. These colours represent “levels of intensity and are proportional to the level of expression of each one of these genes. These are translated into numbers”. José Antonio Lozano adds, “The numbers express a level of fluorescence, the intensity of the signal.” With these numbers, computer models enter the scene.