In July, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), is set to classify aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, based on its analysis of all published evidence. Aspartame is a commonly used artificial sweetener in various food and beverage products. This decision does not provide guidelines on safe consumption amounts; this responsibility lies with the WHO’s Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). In the past, similar IARC rulings have sparked public concern, resulting in lawsuits and recipe alterations. JECFA is also reviewing aspartame this year, with results set to be announced the same day as IARC’s decision. For over 40 years, JECFA has upheld aspartame’s safety within accepted daily limits. However, the concurrent reviews by IARC and JECFA have raised worries about potential public confusion. IARC’s move is likely to rekindle debates about the safety of sweeteners and the agency’s role. (Reuters)
The Gates Foundation has announced plans to fund a Phase 3 trial for M72/AS01, a potential new tuberculosis (TB) vaccine, in what could result in the first new TB vaccine in over a century. The trial, which will involve 26,000 participants and take four to six years to complete, is set to begin next year. The M72/AS01 vaccine demonstrated promising results in a smaller trial in 2019. The existing TB vaccine, known as the BCG vaccine, doesn’t protect adolescents or adults, and TB remains a leading global cause of death. The disease primarily affects the world’s poorest, which has historically limited pharmaceutical companies’ interest in developing a new vaccine. The Gates Foundation has committed $400 million to the trial, and the U.K.’s Wellcome Trust is contributing up to an additional $150 million. (STAT)
Much of America is grappling with dangerous smoke from Canadian wildfires and heatwaves, with little respite expected for at least a week, according to meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center. The weather pattern responsible for extreme hot and dry conditions in Canada has led to 235 wildfires burning at record levels, and is also causing the smoky and hot conditions in the US. The only break in these conditions comes when low-pressure systems roll through, bringing bouts of heat and humidity. The pattern, termed “awfully unusual”, might be a result of climate change, though it’s still too early to confirm this. Climate change is, however, implicated in the Canadian wildfires, which have burned nearly 30,000 square miles. Both heat and smoke can be harmful to human health, and even when the sky looks clear, harmful pollutants can still be present in the air. (Associated Press)
Biotech industry leaders are expressing concern over the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which they believe could reduce innovation and interest in partnerships. The IRA caps prescription drug costs for Medicare patients at $2,000 per year and allows the federal government to negotiate prices for drugs under Medicare parts D and B from 2026, with varying durations of pricing protections depending on drug type. This has prompted significant pushback, with executives arguing that these changes could discourage the development of future drugs. This worry has been echoed at recent conferences, with attendees referring to the act as the “Innovation Reduction Act.” Various biotech firms and organizations have filed lawsuits against the legislation. However, the BIO International Convention saw a record-high number of partnering meetings, suggesting some resistance to these concerns. Meanwhile, lobbyists are targeting moderate politicians to address the controversial elements of the legislation. (Fierce Biotech)
Virgin Galactic is set to launch its first flight of paying customers to the edge of space, marking a key moment for the space tourism industry. The flight, which includes two Italian air force colonels and an aerospace engineer, will reach about 50 miles above the desert floor. This event positions Virgin Galactic alongside Blue Origin and SpaceX in the burgeoning commercial space travel market. The Italian team’s mission includes scientific tasks such as collecting biometric data and observing how liquids and solids mix in microgravity. The entire journey, offering a few minutes of weightlessness and a view of the Earth’s curvature, is expected to take about 90 minutes. Despite regulatory challenges and safety concerns, Virgin Galactic has a backlog of 800 customers and plans for monthly flights, charging $250,000 to $450,000 per seat. The company aims to eventually accommodate 400 flights annually. (Reuters)
Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency has been aiding sea turtles affected by climate change and other threats, through a rescue and rehabilitation program launched three years ago. To date, about 500 sea turtles have been released into their natural habitat. The latest release saw around 80 turtles, many equipped with satellite tracking devices, returned to the sea. Human activities, such as hunting, plastic pollution, vessel strikes, entanglement in nets, and coastal development, have contributed to a decline in all seven sea turtle species. Climate change, causing warmer oceans, shifting currents, and rising sea levels, poses further challenges. Despite this, scientists have noticed that turtles are adapting to changing conditions. In particular, the male turtle population remains healthy in the United Arab Emirates, where warmer temperatures usually result in a higher ratio of female turtles. Understanding such adaptation may provide insights into the future impacts of climate change. (Associated Press)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy. (@thebiologyguy)