GOLDEN EGG: Michael Tucker caused a media stir when he facilitated the birth of twins using frozen eggs.
IN PRAISE OF PESTICIDES: Bruce Ames argues that eliminating man-made chemicals from food and the environment does little to prevent cancer.
In-house research organizations of the top 20 revenue-producing pharmaceutical companies in the United States did not bring a single new product to market from 1990 to 1994, according to a new industry study from Chicago-based Andersen Consulting. In the period examined, each company on average brought 0.45 new product to the market, says Pradip Banerjee, a partner at Andersen who orchestrated the report, entitled "Reinventing Drug Discovery: The Quest for Innovation and Productivity." (Executive briefings on the report can be obtained by contacting Joanne L. Beardslee at Andersen Consulting; E-mail address: email@example.com.) Banerjee argues that pharmaceutical companies must adopt new strategies and bring more drugs to market to remain competitive into the 21st century. "Most new pharmaceutical products have been developed in small, independent laboratories and at educational institutions only to be licensed to the major pharmaceutical firms," Banerjee explains. "There is no correlation between the size of the research organization and their productivity. Productivity seems to be determined by the organization of the research division, especially how well they use new technology and information systems." Companies like Glaxo Wellcome Inc., based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., already have reexamined their research strategies. As part of its Redesigning Drug Discovery Program, the company increasingly is using robotics for drug screening, bioinformatics databases for discovering new correlations, and multidisciplinary teams for developing research strategies for disease groups. A highly cited Glaxo Wellcome discovery providing possible molecular evidence linking obesity, diabetes, and heart disease was a product of this new research approach, according to Jürgen Lehmann, a member of the research team (Hot Papers, The Scientist, Oct. 27, 1997, page 12).
A comprehensive look at health differences among racial and ethnic groups suggests no single factor but does strengthen the argument that race is not a biological definition. The report, Racial and Ethnic Differences in the Health of Older Americans (Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 1997), emerged from a workshop hosted by the National Research Council (NRC) and funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Factors like socioeconomic status and access to health care have more to do with health than race, maintains the report's coeditor, Linda Martin, vice president for research development at RAND, a nonprofit public policy research institute in Santa Monica, Calif. In models controlling for both race and class, "race pretty much disappears," says Martin. Differences the studies found included death rates for young blacks that were twice as high as for young whites. That gap between races closes and eventually disappears as the groups age. The study also indicated that blacks have poorer access to health care, a factor that could contribute to their illnesses later in life. Getting more explanations for health differences among these groups could prove difficult because of gaps in nationally representative data, a lack of full measures to compare life histories, and legal limits to linking survey data to genetic information. Martin also notes that intermarriage between different races blurs boundaries and makes it difficult to pinpoint people as belonging to one group or another. The report is available on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu/readingroom.
Targeting the gene mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 4 (MKK4) may prevent tumors from forming (see Hot Papers, page 12). Researchers suggest that the gene acts as a tumor suppressor by signaling damaged cells to commit suicide. During in vitro tests of human cell lines, damaged MKK4 genes did not tell bad cells to undergo apoptosis (D. Teng et al., Cancer Research, 57:4177-82, October 1997). "By preventing apoptosis in an injured cell, you may be allowing an injured cell to live," says David H.F. Teng, a researcher at Myriad Genetics Inc. in Salt Lake City. Injured cells that lack the brakes MKK4 provides through apoptosis not only live but also prosper, dividing out of control, ultimately resulting in cancerous tumors. The gene's role in cell regulation makes it a good target for developing therapeutic anti-tumor development agents, says Teng. "If a damaged MKK4 gene's function could be restored through gene replacement or augmentation, one primary step leading to cancer might be eliminated." One key may be gaining a better understanding of the signaling mechanisms. MKK4's signaling mechanism appears to be a linear reaction, but there may also be some crosstalk between other signaling pathways, which could complicate development of a therapeutic agent. The gene is known to be involved in colon, breast, pancreatic, and testicular cancer.
RESEARCH GEMS: Ben and Kathy Stout display their jewelry made from the pupa cases of caddisflies.
LOFTY GOALS: The law and business sectors of biotech have a new journal that aspires to New England Journal of Medicine editorial standards.
In 1963, a young American biologist named Daniel Hunt Janzen was doing field research in Mexico when he learned of a National Science Foundation-funded course on tropical biology to be taught in Costa Rica. He took the course, and his conservation biology research in the tiny country since then has now been recognized by the $430,000 Kyoto Prize, scheduled to be presented on November 10 by Japan's Inamori Foundation. Janzen, the Thomas G. and Louise E. DiMaura Term Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, acquired 250,000 acres of low-grade coastal ranch and farmland in Costa Rica in 1985 and began replanting the tropical dry forest destroyed there centuries ago. The Costa Rican government set aside the area as a national park, where Janzen still spends eight months annually. He established a comprehensive biodiversity inventory and wildlands management system, a key project of which is "carbon fixation," using trees to absorb pollutants from burning of fossil fuels for energy. "I view my work as a pilot project, something to generate interest and action from large companies in the big countries," he says, "but it's not going to happen until the U.S. government steps up to the plate and begins to contribute, because we are the largest carbon-producing nation in the world." Other 1997 Kyoto Prize laureates are French composer Iannis Xenakis and the joint developers of the world's first microprocessor, Federico Faggin of Italy, Marcian Edward Hoff, Jr., and Stanley Mazor of the United States, and Masatoshi Shima of Japan. Janzen plans to use his cash award to set up an endowment for the conservation area.