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Sat, 18 Jan 2020
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23andMe is cashing in on drugs it developed with your DNA. Should its customers get a cut?

23 and Me
© Reuters / George Frey
but those rounded edges looked so friendly...
Gene-testing company 23andMe has licensed a drug it synthesized using customers' DNA to Spain's largest pharmaceutical company, raising thorny questions of privacy - and property. Whose genes are they, anyway?

The Google-backed genetics firm licensed an antibody it identified and synthesized to treat psoriasis and other inflammatory diseases to Spanish drug maker Almirall SA after identifying the compound and shepherding it through animal testing itself, 23andMe announced last week. Almirall will conduct human testing and "commercialize the antibody for worldwide use." The deal's financial terms were not made public, but Almirall boasts annual revenues of nearly $1 billion and the 'biologic' drugs used to treat psoriasis are some of the most expensive medications in existence, costing patients up to $38,000 per year. It's safe to say 23andMe has cashed in handsomely on its customers' genetic material. Does it owe them anything?

The Almirall deal is the first time 23andMe has directly sold a product created from the genetic data of the 10 million-plus users who have submitted their DNA over the company's history. While the company claims 80 percent of its users have expressly consented to having their genetic material used for "drug discovery," its 'Therapeutics' division, which shares anonymized customer data with at least six biotech and pharmaceutical firms, has only existed since 2015, and it was only in 2018 that 23andMe inked the $300 million partnership with GlaxoSmithKline that gave one of the biggest entities in Big Pharma exclusive rights to paw through 23andMe customers' DNA for possible drug targets. Early adopters likely had no clue their genetic material would lead to such large sums of money changing hands.


'Culture of clickbait': Harvard law professor sues NYT for defamation over 'false statements' in Epstein donations story

New York Times headquarters

New York Times headquarters
A Harvard law professor has filed a defamation suit against the New York Times, alleging the influential newspaper soiled his reputation by distorting his publicly-held views on convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

The case was filed with the US District Court in Massachusetts on Monday by Lawrence Lessig - a policy activist and founder of the Creative Commons project - who says the Times used a "clickbait" headline to misinform readers in an article published in September, which led him to be unfairly "associated with the notoriety surrounding the Epstein scandal."

The paper's actions "are part of a growing journalistic culture of clickbaiting: the use of a shocking headline... to entice readers to click on a particular article, irrespective of the truth of the headline," Lessig's lawsuit reads.

"[The Times is] fully aware that many, if not most, readers never read past the clickbait and that their takeaway concerning the target of the headline is limited to what they read in the headline."

Comment: Mass media lives by the mantra "repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth". It comes as no surprise the Times will "defend vigorously" his claim against them. See also:

Green Light

Iran-Iraq-Syria plan to move ahead on historic transnational 'land-bridge' railroad, aims to link up with China's BRI

land bridge iraq
© Adapted from map by Franc Milburn in Strategic Assessment (Israel)
The northern (red) and southern (green) routes of the land bridge. The southern route has upper and lower branches that pass, respectively, through al-Qaim/Albu Kamal and al-Tanf.
In November 2018, Iran, Iraq, and Syria reached a provisional agreement to build a "land-bridge" railroad and highway corridor extending from the Persian Gulf in Iran through Iraq to the Mediterranean port of Latakia in Syria, a distance of 1,570 km (975 miles). In combination with the Belt and Road Initiative, it could transform the intervening three nations. The construction of the first phase of the project is soon to begin.

The first phase is to build a 32 km railroad between Shalamcheh in southwestern Iran on the Iraq border, and Basra, Iraq. This involves building a few sections of rail line that are needed, and a bridge that would arch over the Arvand Rud/Shatt Al-Arab, a marsh-influenced waterway below the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

The second, longer phase of the transport corridor would build the railroad, and some sections of highway, from Basra, 1,545 km to the Syrian port of Latakia on the Mediterranean.

Comment: Sowing chaos in the region does appear to serve a great many agendas:

Yellow Vest

French lawyers throw off their robes to back ongoing strike against pension reform

lawyers strike
© Reuters / Eric Gaillard
Striking lawyers' robes on a courthouse fence in Nice
Lawyers across France are discarding their robes in a dramatic show of solidarity, signaling they will not give up on what has become a two-month strike against unpopular pension reforms - even if it disrupts high-profile trials.

Bar associations in cities all over France have staged theatrical demonstrations to draw the public's attention to the longest general strike in decades, which has been underway since December 5. Videos posted on social media show the lawyers tossing off their robes, carrying a "coffin of justice," spelling out "SOS" with law books, and singing protest songs as they demand a retraction of the new pension system Macron's government recently unveiled.

The strike has disrupted some major trials, including that of former priest Bernard Preynat - the worst clergy abuse case to reach French courts so far. Preynat is accused of sexually abusing 75 Boy Scouts; while he admitted to the abuse in the 1990s, he was only defrocked in July after his superiors covered up for him. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, but the case is on hold due to the strike.

Comment: See also: Police crack down as striking workers and Yellow Vest protesters converge on streets across France

Star of David

Israeli police disguised as Palestinians get attacked by illegal Jewish settlers

illegal settlers israel palestine
© Mamoun Wazwaz/Apaimages
Israeli settlers express their anger in front of Israeli policemen in West Bank 31 August 2018
Israeli police officers impersonating Palestinian technicians were attacked by two teenagers in the illegal Jewish settlement of Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion located in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.

According to a right-wing NGO, the Honenu organisation, the two policemen were approached by the teens who enquired as to why they were there, after receiving no clear answer, one of the settlers struck an officer, while the other was sprayed with pepper spray. Both of the suspects have been arrested and questioned.

Haaretz has reported that the police have not issued a statement on the operation, only confirming that one policeman was lightly wounded.

Comment: 'Jewish Terror': Settler attacks on Palestinians increased by over 300 percent last year, many violent

Arrow Down

Slap on the wrist: FAA fines Boeing paltry $5.4 million as sacked CEO departs with $62 million

Boeing 737
© Reuters/Lindsey Wasson
737 MAX aircraft at Boeing facilities at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington, September 16, 2019.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has signaled that it will seek to fine Boeing some $5.4 million, accusing the multi-billion dollar company of wittingly installing defective parts on its ill-fated 737 MAX jets.

The FAA said Boeing had "failed to adequately oversee its suppliers to ensure they complied with the company's quality assurance system," in a statement on Friday, adding that it had "knowingly submitted aircraft for final FAA airworthiness certification after determining that the parts could not be used due to a failed strength test."

The aviation regulator announced in June that over 300 Boeing aircraft might contain faulty components which could injure passengers or prevent planes from landing safely, and said it would require the company to replace the parts.

While the company has taken a serious hit in quarterly earnings over the last year after a series of fatal crashes involving the 737 MAX - which has been grounded worldwide since last March - each year Boeing counts its profits in the billions, making the proposed fine a barely perceptible slap on the wrist.

Comment: Not much incentive to correct course or rout corruption when the consequences are so meager.


Sir Roger Scruton: A giant has passed

Roger Scruton
© TAC/DannyDelgado
Roger Scruton in 2019
I met Sir Roger Scruton for the first and only time last year at a banquet in Washington, D.C., where he was receiving a prestigious award. (It was an ordinary weekend outing for Sir Roger.) I happened to run into him at the cash bar.

"Sir Roger," I stammered, "I'm a huge admirer of your work." He asked what I did; I told him I went to school in Australia, and now worked for a venerable old British rag ("maybe you've heard of it?"), which was then launching an American edition. He listened politely, nodded, and said: "And yet you are Canadian?"

I'd never been accused of being Canadian before. That my boyhood hero should have been the first to do so — well, I think I mine was the greater honor that night.

We've not yet begun to realize the influence Sir Roger will have on my generation of conservatives: older Gen-Xers, Millennials, and older Zoomers. We were born too late to have any living memory of Russell Kirk or William F. Buckley or any of those extraordinary men who won a generation to the cause of conservatism. There's no one of that stature alive today, no one who could so possess the imagination or thrill the intellect of a young fogey, no one except Roger Scruton. And now he's gone.

Comment: Remembering Roger Scruton, R.I.P.

See also:

Stock Down

Devastating bushfires may cost Australia up to US$3.5bn & take toll on economic growth

Australian bushfire near Bairnsdale
FILE PHOTO: A bushfire near Bairnsdale in Victoria's East Gippsland region
Australia is expected to face up to AU$5 billion (US$3.5 billion) in losses as fires continue to rage across the continent, according to an Australian Westpac bank forecast.

The natural disaster could also cut 0.2 to 0.5 percent of the country's GDP, the bank said in its preliminary analysis released on Monday. The tourism and agricultural sectors have been hit hardest, while the most severely affected area accounts for around one percent of the nation's economy.


Blast rattles central Stockholm, another explosion reported in Uppsala shortly afterwards

Swedish police
© AFP / TT NEWS AGENCY / Christine Olsson
File photo
A posh district in central Stockholm was rocked by an explosion in the early hours of Monday morning. The blast was so intense it shattered windows and bathed the entire street in broken glass.

An explosive charge was reportedly placed on the gate outside a property in the area at roughly 1am local time in the Östermalm area. The blast, which completely destroyed one vehicle, damaged several others and blew the windows out of apartments along the entire street, could be heard several kilometers away.

No Entry

Texas governor to Pompeo: His state won't accept new refugees in 2020

Tex Gov Gregg Abbott
© unknown
Texas Governor Greg Abbott
Texas will not take part in the resettlement of refugees in 2020, according to Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), who informed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of his decision Friday in a letter.

The letter was written in response to President Trump's Executive Order 13888, which deals with enhancing state involvement in refugee resettlement. Gov. Abbott wrote in his letter:
"Since (2010), more refugees have been received in Texas than in any other state. In fact, over that decade, roughly 10% of all refugees resettled in the United States have been placed in Texas. Even today, the process of resettling continues for many of these refugees."
Abbott cites poor vetting as a reason for this decision.
"In June 2019, individuals from 52 different countries were apprehended here. And in (2018), the apprehensions included citizens from disparate countries like China, Iran, Kenya, Russia, and Tonga. Texas continues to have to deal with the consequences of an immigration system that Congress has failed to fix."