News Scan for Jun 17, 2015

CDC lab-mishap reporting delay
New Saudi MERS case
Good polio news
Malaria drug candidate

Report: CDC to take 3 years to release lab-mishap information

In the wake of several lab missteps involving dangerous pathogens, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said it will take 3 years to release detailed information on lab incidents throughout the country, USA Today reported yesterday.

The CDC, responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, said, "This request by USA Today likely involves thousands of records, and there are over a million pages of documents in the queue ahead of this one. These all need to be carefully reviewed for security, confidentiality and other restrictions and thus the time needed to respond will be significant."

The agency had granted expedited status for the request, which was filed on Jan 6, and initially said it anticipated responding by Jun 4. In the past year the CDC has disclosed three serious lab accidents involving Ebola, highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu, and Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax. And on May 28 USA Today revealed that its investigation of high-containment labs turned up hundreds of accidents, safety violations, and "near misses."

The CDC also refused to release a 14-page summary report about incidents that occurred in its labs in 2013 and 2014, even though the document was offered for immediate release last month, the story said. On May 26 the CDC offered a version of the report with information redacted, provided USA Today would accept it "as a final response." The newspaper declined that option.

Two high-ranking congressmen, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said yesterday in a joint statement, "CDC should be transparent, cooperative, and publicly accountable, and that would include properly responding to Freedom of Information Act requests in a timely fashion. When it comes to lab safety, there is no room for time or error lapses again."
Jun 16 USA Today story
May 29 CIDRAP News scan on USA Today investigation


Saudi Arabia reports new MERS case in Hofuf

The Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH) today confirmed another MERS-CoV case in Hofuf, the nation's leading hot spot in recent weeks.

The case involves a 28-year-old male healthcare worker, the agency said. He is hospitalized in stable condition, and any possibility of contact with other patients with MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) is under review.

In typical fashion, the MOH supplied no other information on the patient. It did add, though, that a previously reported 56-year-old Saudi man from Hofuf has died from the disease. He was not a health worker and had preexisting disease.

Since the beginning of the month, 17 of 21 confirmed MERS cases in Saudi Arabia have been in Hofuf, which lies in the northeastern part of the country, not far from Bahrain and Qatar near the Persian Gulf.

Saudi Arabia has now confirmed 1,035 MERS-CoV cases, including 458 deaths. Six patients are undergoing treatment, and 1 is in home isolation.
Jun 17 MOH update


Ethiopia halts polio transmission; funds released for vaccine efforts

In polio news, Ethiopia has successfully interrupted the transmission of wild polio virus (WPV), and Rotary International is devoting $40.3 million for immunization activities in 10 countries.

In Ethiopia, an external assessment team of experts from the CDC, Rotary, the US Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization (WHO), and others confirmed interruption of WPV after a Jun 8 through 12 mission in the country, the WHO Regional Office for Africa said in a statement yesterday. The team assessed all three countries reporting imported WPV cases since 2013: Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

The assessment team noted significant improvement in outbreak response since cases were first reported but pointed to a need for updated preparedness and response plans. Ethiopia's minister of health welcomed the team's findings and pledged ongoing commitment to vaccination programs.

Ethiopia's last confirmed WPV case was Jan 5, 2014, Kenya's was Jul 14, 2013, and Somalia's was Aug 11, 2014.

Meanwhile, Rotary is releasing $40.3 million in grants to ensure that polio vaccination campaigns continue in 10 countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Niger, Somalia, and South Sudan, the organization said in a news release.
Jun 16 WHO Africa statement
Jun 16 Rotary news release


Researchers note early-trial success of anti-malaria compound

In very early-stage research, scientists have discovered a compound that protects mice from malaria and could one day serve as a treatment option for people, the international team reported today in Nature.

In a quest for new therapies in the face of growing drug resistance in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum—including artemisinin, a key malaria-fighting drug group—the researchers identified a compound called DDD107498. The drug candidate effectively inhibited P falciparum in cell culture, and its effectiveness waned little against several drug-resistant strains.

The compound was not toxic to human cells, even at high concentrations, and it exhibited several good drug-like properties, such as metabolic stability and solubility in a range of media. It also showed comparable or greater efficacy than current malaria drugs when tested in mice.

The authors conclude, "DDD107498 represents a promising prospect for development as an antimalarial agent, with a potent activity profile against multiple life-cycle stages (sub-10 nM), a novel mode of action, and excellent drug-like properties. It has potential for single-dose treatment."

The compound is now entering advanced pre-clinical trials, the researchers wrote.
Jun 17 Nature study

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