After Final Debate, Both Candidates Need to Embrace Markets in Medicine

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Posted: Oct 24, 2020 12:01 AM

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Safe to say, not too many Americans will change who they are voting for after last night’s debate. Unlike the previous debate, however, the candidates had some interesting things to say about policy. Biden accused Trump of trying to strip away healthcare coverage for more than 20 million Americans by attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA; aka Obamacare). Meanwhile, Trump accused Biden of trying to eliminate private insurance for more than 200 million Americans.

The expensive truth is that both candidates are pedaling big-government policies that will hike prices and decrease patient choice if enacted. Biden and Trump may not see eye to eye on much, but they must agree on expanding choice and competition in the U.S. healthcare system.

Slated to cost an estimated $750 billion in extra spending over the next 10 years, Biden’s healthcare plan would be astoundingly expensive. Biden’s “Obamacare on steroids” approach would significantly increase subsidies for state healthcare exchanges and set up a “public option” to fill in present-day gaps in health coverage. As policy experts pointed out a decade ago during the original debate over Obamacare, it’d be next to impossible to design a public option in a way that wouldn’t drive private insurers out of business. After all, this taxpayer-funded entity could set healthcare premium prices far lower than any company ever could. In the private sector, setting prices below healthcare and administrative costs will result in near-instant bankruptcy.

A government-run organization, though, could simply tap taxpayers for a bailout if their prices prove to be too low. But even this slow-motion “public option” disaster would be a libertarian pipedream compared to what we’d actually get under a Biden administration. The former Vice President doesn’t operate in a policy vacuum, and policy advisors close to him such as running mate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), are likely to exert significant influence on any Biden agenda. Before dropping out of the race and endorsing Biden, Harris supported a Medicare for All plan that envisioned, “10-year transition plan away from the current healthcare system, at the end of which, “every American will be a part of this new Medicare system. They will get insurance either through the new public Medicare plan or a Medicare plan offered by a private insurer within that system.” This private component is supposed to be modeled after Medicare Advantage, which consists of plans subscribed to by seniors and sponsored (at least partially) by private insurance companies.

The Medicare Advantage program does offer some improvements relative to traditional Medicare plans, since private companies can compete with one another albeit in a strictly regulated framework. But, make no mistake, these “private” Medicare plans are still funded by taxpayers and private sponsors are strictly curtailed in what healthcare options they can offer patients. If Harris gets her way or at least has significant input in “Bidencare,” private

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Cyanobacteria: Small candidates as great hopes for medicine and biotechnology

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IMAGE: The team headed by Dr Paul D’Agostino will sequence 40 symbiotic and rare terrestrial cyanobacteria for the production of new active agents and to explore the potential for applications in…
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Credit: Paul D’Agostino

In order to unlock the genetic potential of unusual cyanobacteria for the production of new active agents and to explore the potential for applications in biotechnology, the team headed by Dr Paul D’Agostino has been awarded a competitive whole-genome sequencing grant from the Joint Genome Institute (JGI) in the USA.

An ever-growing global population, an increasing standard of living and environmental challenges such as anthropogenic climate change, ocean pollution, the declining availability of arable land and dwindling fossil resources – these are today’s global challenges. Therefore, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has dedicated the Science Year 2020/21 to the topic Bioeconomy with the aim of meeting these challenges with little heroes. The “stars” of bioeconomy are proteins, algae, microorganisms, and other tiny creatures with great impact.

At the Chair of Technical Biochemistry at TU Dresden, the researchers will now focus on some of the oldest of such little superheroes: cyanobacteria. There are about 2000 species of cyanobacteria and many of these species have been poorly researched. Dr Paul D’Agostino, Professor Tobias Gulder and their team – including cooperation partners Michelle Gehringer (TU Kaiserslautern), Michael Lakatos and Patrick Jung (both Hochschule Kaiserslautern) – hope that unusual cyanobacteria will yield promising results and make an innovative contribution to bioeconomy.

“Microorganisms produce valuable organic molecules with great potential for many applications. It is important to know that unusual organisms often also produce novel bioactive agents. The discovery of such new, bioactive molecules is essential if one thinks, for example, of new medical challenges such as the coronavirus and the progressive development of resistance to established active agents. Within the scope of this project, we therefore want to investigate the genetic potential of very unusual cyanobacteria for the production of innovative active pharmaceutical ingredients,” explains Gulder.

As a first step, the team will predict the potential of natural compounds by sequencing the genomes and subsequent bioinformatic analysis.

The results can then be translated into the targeted discovery of new molecules using modern methods of synthetic biology and biotechnology. As a final step, the project will focus on the production and characterization of these natural compounds and on the application of the enzymes producing these compounds as biocatalysts for the development of sustainable chemical processes.

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UK lab joins global network to compare coronavirus vaccine candidates

LONDON (Reuters) – A second British laboratory is joining a global lab network to assess data from potential coronavirus vaccines, set up by a major non-profit health emergencies group to establish the effectiveness of different vaccine candidates.

Earlier this month, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) set up the network, allowing scientists and drugmakers to compare vaccines and speed up selection of the most effective shots.

Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said on Tuesday the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) was joining the scheme, and had received funding from CEPI to develop an international standard for the COVID-19 antibody.

That means the NIBSC will produce a sample of antibody with a defined amount of biological activity that can be used by regulators and vaccine makers to calibrate their tests.

“This is an important initiative providing a service to vaccine developers globally and permits accurate evaluation of candidate vaccines for this pandemic,” Dr Mark Page, who is leading the work at NIBSC, said.

Public Health England is also involved in the CEPI scheme.

Hundreds of potential coronavirus vaccines are in various stages of development around the world, with shots developed in Russia and China already being deployed before full efficacy trials have been done, and front-runners from Pfizer <PFE.N>, Moderna <MRNA.O> and AstraZeneca <AZN.L> likely to have final-stage trial results before year-end.

CEPI itself is co-funding nine of the vaccines in development, including candidates from Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax <NVAX.O> and CureVac.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Mark Potter)

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