Science  23 Jul 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5683, pp. 461

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  1. A Global Prescription for New Malaria Drugs

    The world should do more to exploit a new, potent family of antimalaria drugs while preventing the resistance problems that have sidelined older drugs, according to an Institute of Medicine report released this week.

    Derived from a Chinese plant, a group of compounds called artemisinins has become increasingly popular in Asia over the last 10 years as an effective and safe alternative to chloroquine and other mainstays against malaria. Now, the artemisinins should be made available worldwide— especially in Africa, where malaria kills 1 million people annually—the panel says, but only in combination with other, existing drugs, to keep resistance at bay. A global agency should procure drug combinations from pharmaceutical companies and resell them at the current price of chloroquine—10 to 20 cents per treatment course—the report recommends. Countries signing on to the plan would halt the sale of single-drug therapies.

    “The key message is spot on,” says Sylvia Meek, technical director of the nonprofit, London-based Malaria Consortium. And given the recent surge in global health spending, the plan's $300 million to $500 million price tag “doesn't seem so shocking,” says Meek.

  2. Cancer Nanotech Plan Gets Nod of Approval

    After initially questioning the idea, a National Cancer Institute (NCI) advisory board has endorsed a plan to put $145 million into a new nanotechnology initiative over 5 years.

    The nanotech plan, part of NCI Director Andrew von Eschenbach's strategy for eliminating death and suffering from cancer by 2015, would develop nanoscale devices and materials for detecting and treating cancer. It includes creating three to five new centers and funding nano research and training grants. At a 24 June meeting, members of NCI's Board of Scientific Advisors told institute leaders that the plan seemed sketchy on details. They were also concerned about shifting money from R01 investigator-initiated grants at a time when NCI is facing flat budgets.

    But at a follow-up meeting on 12 July during which several nanotech experts gave talks, the advisers voted unanimously to approve a slightly scaled-back plan. It now includes provisions for sunsetting centers and an explicit set-aside of $38 million for R01 grants. Requests for applications will go out later this year.

  3. Builder Leaves Oxford Project Amid Animal Activism

    The construction of a $33 million animal research facility at Oxford University was thrown into disarray this week when one of the main building contractors, Walter Lilly and Co., withdrew from the project. Although neither Oxford nor the company would explain the move, it follows threats and vandalism attributed to animal-rights extremists.

    The withdrawal is “very disturbing news,” said officials at the Royal Society, which called on the government and law enforcement agencies to provide greater protection. A spokesperson says the university is committed to completing the building—which will house mostly rodents, but also some primates—by the end of 2005.

    Animal-rights campaigners have targeted the Oxford facility since construction began last January (Science, 18 June, p. 1731), and construction company shareholders received threatening letters last month. In January, a proposed primate research center at Cambridge University was cancelled in part due to the cost of protection from extremists (Science, 30 January, p. 605).

  4. Board Nixes Grad Student Unions at Private Schools

    The country's highest labor court has ruled that graduate students at private U.S. universities who work as teaching and research assistants don't have the right to bargain collectively. Last week's National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision knocks out an organizing bid by graduate students at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and reverses the board's 2000 stance. That decision had led to a successful union drive at New York University, the nation's first at a private school. Graduate students have formed unions at dozens of public universities.

    The 3-2 majority declared that the students' educational status takes precedence over their status as workers and warned that unionization posed “significant” risks to “our nation's excellent private educational system.” The dissenters complained that the decision “overlooked the economic realities of the academic world … and leaves graduate students without recourse to resolving labor disputes.”

    The vote came after the Bush Administration had filled a vacancy on the five- person board that had delayed several pending cases. The board is expected to rule shortly on similar cases at three other private universities: Columbia, Tufts, and the University of Pennsylvania.