Big Pharma and Big Profits: The Multi-billion Dollar Vaccine Market

The business of vaccines is soon to become a major source of profits for the world’s largest pharmaceutical corporations. A press release (Business Wire, January 21st 2016) published by says that Technavio, one of the leading technology research and advisory companies in the world predicts that pharmaceutical corporations who produce vaccines will reach an estimated $61 billion in profits by 2020

Today the vaccine market is worth close to $24 billion. The report titled ‘Global Human Vaccines Market 2016-2020’ gives an “in-depth analysis” of the possible revenues and “emerging market trends” globally. The report study indicates that the introduction of new products is fueling the growth of the market. Moreover, the significant expansion of the current product offerings is also expected to boost the market growth. Due to the increasing prevalence rates of various infectious diseases such as diphtheria, influenza, hepatitis, pneumococcal diseases, and meningococcal diseases, there has been a notable increase in the use of vaccines across the globe. What is interesting about the report is that Pharmaceutical corporations are targeting Latin America and the Caribbean with its new vaccines soon to be on the market. Merck & Co, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are expected to dominate Latin America and the Caribbean.

In terms of geography, the Americas dominated the global human vaccines market in 2015, accounting for about 45% of the total revenue. The US was the largest revenue contributor to this region in the same year, capturing a significant portion of the global market. The Americas will continue to dominate the human vaccines market during the forecast period because of the increase in the prevalence of infectious diseases and cancers. In addition, increase in strategic alliances with expected entry of novel vaccines, is also expected to propel the growth of the market in this region. The report also says that there are two types of human vaccines, Therapeutic (cancer, metabolic disorders, chronic illnesses, and infectious diseases) and Preventable human vaccines markets (pediatric vaccinations) that are estimated to reach $55 billion worldwide.

While the main fixation of anti-vaccine groups is an old, discredited study linking vaccination to autism, another is a conspiracy theory circulated online that both doctors and pharmaceutical companies stand to profit financially from vaccination—which supposedly leads to perverse incentives in advocating for the public to vaccinate. But that argument is historically unfounded. Not only do pediatricians and doctors often lose money on vaccine administration, it wasn’t too long ago that the vaccine industry was struggling with slim profit margins and shortages. The Economist wrote that “for decades vaccines were a neglected corner of the drugs business, with old technology, little investment and abysmal profit margins. Many firms sold their vaccine divisions to concentrate on more profitable drugs”

Maybe it was true at some point in time that manufacturing vaccines were unprofitable, but in today’s world, it’s all profits. What motivated pharmaceutical corporations to focus on the vaccine market in the last decade or so? Since 2000, the Gavi Alliance has provided vaccination for 500 million children in poor countries, preventing an estimated 7 million deaths. GlaxoSmithKline reported that 80 percent of the vaccine doses they manufactured in 2013 went to developing countries. Additionally, vaccines that could turn a profit in high-income countries—constituting 82 percent of global vaccine sales in terms of value, according to the World Health Organization.

Merck is the only pharmaceutical giant licensed to produce and sell the measles vaccine called Prodquad and theMMR II (also used for the measles, mumps and rubella) and Varivax, a vaccine for the chicken pox. According to Lam, all three vaccines combined amounted to more than $1.4 billion in sales profits for Merck in 2014. The controversialHPV vaccine, Gardasil also brought in $1.7 billion in profits for Merck. “While a spokesperson for Merck told The Atlantic that vaccines remained one of its key areas of focus—it generated $5.3 billion in sales in 2014—she did not comment on the profit margins” Lam wrote. Of course the Merck spokesperson would not comment on the profitability of vaccines because Merck would expose itself to more controversy. Analysts say that the profit margin is“between 10 to over 40 percent.” Lam also says that “while the vaccine industry is likely more profitable now than in the 1970s or 1980s, this is the result of global market forces”. Lam forgot to mention that billionaire couple Bill and Melina Gates pledged at least $10 billion for worldwide vaccination programs supposedly to combat polio and the measles, this is where Merck & Co profit. It is also well known that Bill Gates appointed the former president and CEO of Merck, Raymond Gilmartin to the board of directors of Microsoft which lasted for more than 11 years before he announced his retirement in 2012.

The U.S. gives more vaccines than any other country in the world. Our childhood schedule for under the age of one has twice as many vaccines as other developed countries. What else do we have? The highest infant mortality rate of any developed nation. Finland has the lowest. They only give 11 by age six. Mississippi has the highest rate of vaccination in the U.S.–highest infant mortality rate. These numbers do not lie. But you will not hear that on the media, and that is not what Senator Pan will tell you. What we have with vaccines is the highest profit margin pharmaceutical drug on the market. Drug companies make more money off vaccines than they do any other pharmaceutical drug, in terms of profit margin. There is a lack of rigorous safety studies. And they don’t have the incentive to do them because they have no liability. Vaccines are the only products in the U.S. that do not have liability. You cannot sue for injuries or death. But that is only in the U.S. Around the world, there are law suits because of serious injuries and deaths because from vaccines. In Spain over Gardasil. In Japan over Gardasil. The flu shot was taken off the market for under five in Australia after deaths and injury. Prevnar was banned in China. Pfizer’s vaccination program was kicked out of the country. France just pulled Rotavirus off their schedule after infant deaths and injuries.

With a forecast of $61 billion in projected sales, rest assured new vaccines will be developed for almost anything. Actor and comedian Jim Carrey did say that “150 people die every year from being hit by falling coconuts. Not to worry, drug makers are developing a vaccine”. With 271 vaccines in production, Jim Carrey’s comments, which were criticized by the mainstream media, may not be so farfetched after all.

 January 28th, 2016  
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Chinese researchers unveil brain powered car

China’s first mind-controlled car has been developed by researchers in the north-east port city of Tianjin.

Chinese researchers have developed what they say is the country’s first car that uses nothing but brain power to drive. The research team from Nankai University, in the north-eastern Chinese port city of Tianjin, has spent two years bringing the mind-controlled vehicle to reality. By wearing brain signal-reading equipment a driver can control the car to go forward, backwards, come to a stop, and both lock and unlock the vehicle, all without moving their hands or feet.

Researcher Zhang Zhao told Reuters the equipment comprises 16 sensors that capture EEG (electroencephalogram) signals from the driver’s brain. They developed a computer program that selects the relevant signals and translates them, enabling control of the car. “The tester’s EEG signals are picked up by this (brain signal-reading) equipment and transmitted wirelessly to the computer. The computer processes the signals to categorize and recognize people’s intention, then translates them into control command to the car. The core of the whole flow is to process the EEG signals, which is done on the computer,” said Zhang.

Associate Professor Duan Feng, from the university’s College of Computer and Control Engineering, led the project. He emphasized that the technology is aimed at better serving human beings, and that it might soon be possible to combine brain controlled technology and driverless cars, such as the Google Self Driving Car (SDC). “Driverless cars’ further development can bring more benefits to us, since we can better realize functions relating to brain controlling with the help of the driverless cars’ platform,” said Duan. “In the end, cars, whether driverless or not, and machines are serving for people. Under such circumstances, people’s intentions must be recognized. In our project, it makes the cars better serve human beings.”

Duan said worries about potential road accidents caused by the driver being distracted while their brain was in control of his team’s car were unfounded, because concentration was needed only when changing the vehicle’s moving status, i.e. changing lanes or turning. Whether such an application would be enough to persuade drivers to get behind the wheel and control a car with their mind is far from certain, though. The researchers say their initial idea was inspired by helping disabled people who are physically unable to steer cars. “There are two starting points of this project. The first one is to provide a driving method without using hands or feet for the disabled who are unable to move freely; and secondly, to provide healthy people with a new and more intellectualized driving mode,” Zhang said.

At present the vehicle, in collaboration with Chinese car manufacturer Great Wall Motor, can only drive in a straight direction, and there are no plans to put it into production.

via: reuters

 December 9th, 2015  
 Science, Uncategorized  
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Inside the Pentagon’s Effort to Build a Killer Robot

The defense program DARPA is working to create an artificial brain—but what will it mean for humanity if it succeeds?

Roboticists define artificial brains as man-made machines designed to be as intelligent, self-aware and creative as humans. No such machine yet exists, but Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) scientists like Dr. Kenyon believe that, given the rapid advances in DARPA technologies, one day soon they will. There are two technologies that play key roles in advancing artificial intelligence, and they are computing, which involves machines, and neuroscience, which involves the human brain.

Traumatic brain injury is as old as war. U.S. soldiers have sustained traumatic brain injuries in each and every one of America’s wars since the Revolution. During the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, of the 2.5 million Americans who served, more than 300,000 returned home with brain injuries. DARPA calls these individuals brain-wounded warriors. To address brain injuries sustained in modern warfare, DARPA has publicly stated that it has a multitude of science and technology programs in place. The agency’s longterm goals in brain science research, it says, revolve around trying to restore the minds and memories of brain-wounded warriors. But if the past teaches us about the present, it is clear that DARPA’s stated goals regarding its brain programs are not DARPA’s only goals. DARPA is not primarily in the business of helping soldiers heal; that is the job of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. DARPA’s job is to “create and prevent strategic surprise.” DARPA prepares vast weapons systems of the future. So what are the classified brain programs really for?

DARPA’s limb prosthetics program might offer a number of clues. In 2005, with IEDs dominating the war news, DARPA initiated a program called Revolutionizing Prosthetics. Over the next two years the program was split in two parts. DEKA Research and Development Corporation, in New Hampshire, was given a DARPA contract to make a robotic prosthetic arm. Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory was given a DARPA contract to create a “thought-controlled” robotic arm. These were highly ambitious goals. The technologies DARPA is pursuing in its brain and prosthetics programs have dual use in DARPA’s efforts to engineer hunter-killer robots, or lethal autonomous weapons systems. Coupled with the quest for artificial intelligence, all this might explain why DARPA is so focused on looking inside people’s brains.

Outside Dr. Kenyon’s office at Los Alamos there is an armored truck with a machine gun mounted on top. It is parked in the red zone, by the front entrance. Inside the building, Dr. Kenyon and his team work on artificial intelligence, man’s quest to create a sentient machine. Dr. Kenyon is part of the synthetic cognition group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He and his team are simulating the primate visual system, using a supercomputer to power the operation to create a precise computer model of the human eye to understand the relationship between visual cognition and the brain. At present, true recognition—as in cognition, or acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses—is done only by sentient beings. “We think that by working hard to understand how biological systems solve this problem, how the primate visual system recognizes things, we can understand something fundamental about how brains solve the problems they do, like recognition. Until then, computers are blind,” Kenyon says. “They can’t see.”

Which raises at least one technical problem regarding artificial intelligence and autonomous hunter-killer drones. “I think robot assassins are a very bad idea for a number of reasons,” Kenyon asserts. “Moral and political issues aside, the technical hurdles to overcome cannot be understated,” he says. Dr. Kenyon is excited by his research. He is convinced that neuroscientists of today are like alchemists of the Middle Ages try ing to understand chemistry. That all the exciting discoveries lie ahead. “Think of how much chemists in the Dark Ages did not understand about chemistry compared to what we know now. We neuroscientists are trapped in a bubble of ignorance. We still don’t have a clue about what’s going on in the human brain. We have theories; we just don’t know for sure. We can’t build an electrical circuit, digital or analogue or other, that mimics the biological system. We can’t emulate the behavior. One day in the future, we think we can.”

In 2014 Stephen Hawking and a group of colleagues warned against the risks posed by artificially intelligent machines. “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”

In Geneva in 2013, the United Nations held its first-ever convention on lethal autonomous weapons systems, or hunter-killer drones. Over four days, the 117-member coalition debated whether or not these kinds of robotic systems should be internationally outlawed. Testifying in front of the United Nations, Noel Sharkey, a world-renowned expert on robotics and artificial intelligence, said, “Weapons systems should not be allowed to autonomously select their own human targets and engage them with lethal force.”

To coincide with the UN convention, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic released a report called “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots.” “Fully autonomous weapons threaten to violate the foundational rights to life,” the authors wrote, because robotic killing machines “undermine the underlying principles of human dignity.” Stephen Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far.” In an interview, Noel Sharkey relayed a list of potential robot errors he believes are far too serious to ignore, including “human-machine interaction failures, software coding errors, malfunctions, communication degradation, enemy cyber-attacks,” and more. “I believe there is a line that must not be crossed,” Sharkey says. “Robots should not be given the authority to kill humans.”

Can the push to create hunter-killer robots be stopped? The physicist and artificial intelligence expert Steve Omohundro believes that “an autonomous weapons arms race is already taking place,” because “military and economic pressures are driving the rapid development of autonomous systems.” Stephen Hawking, Noel Sharkey, and Steve Omohundro are three among a growing population who believe that humanity is standing on a precipice. DARPA’s goal is to create and prevent strategic surprise. But what if the ultimate endgame is humanity’s loss? What if, in trying to stave off foreign military competitors, DARPA creates an unexpected competitor that becomes its own worst enemy? A mechanical rival born of powerful science with intelligence that quickly becomes superior to our own. An opponent that cannot be stopped, like a runaway train. What if the 21st century becomes the last time in history when humans have no real competition but other humans?

In a world ruled by science and technology, it is not necessarily the fittest but rather the smartest that survive. DARPA program managers like to say that DARPA science is “science fact, not science fiction.” What happens when these two concepts fuse?

via: TIME

 October 28th, 2015  
 Science, Surveillance  
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