News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 11th June 2014

Wilbur Ross cashes in his Bank of Ireland shares for a good reason?

 

The sale had nothing to do with the bank’s prospects, says the US billionaire

A couple of years back, billionaire US investor Wilbur Ross brought together a number of top executives from the various companies in which his group, WL Ross & Co, is invested.

They met in New York and it included Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher, who was feeling a touch nervous about the meeting.

To help break the ice, Boucher presented Ross with a Leinster rugby jersey. With the Bank of Ireland brand emblazoned across the chest (as team sponsor), and Ross’s name on the back, the American was charmed by the gesture and proudly modelled the jersey to those assembled.

It was a smart move by Boucher who seemed to enjoy a warm working relationship with Ross throughout his near three-year investment. Ross never tired of praising Boucher publicly at a time when others were looking to stick the knife in and he said on Monday evening that he had “total confidence” that Boucher would “lead the bank to a better performance in the years to come”.

In a sense, Ross and Boucher needed each other. The investment in July 2011 by Ross and a syndicate of other North American investors helped Boucher keep Bank of Ireland out of State control, a fate that befell AIB and Irish Life & Permanent.

It possibly saved Boucher’s job at a time when the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan was under pressure to ditch him and almost certainly allowed him to retain his €843,000 annual remuneration, which is above the Government’s salary cap.

Ross, meanwhile, needed someone to execute a turnaround strategy at Bank of Ireland and earn him a profit for his own investors. Say what you like about Boucher, but the Zambian-born executive is a grafter with an ability to focus in on goals.

He was part of an executive team that made some poor lending decisions in the boom years but he was also hungry to turn around the bank’s fortunes.

Piece by piece, it has fallen into place to the point where Bank of Ireland is now back in profit and has repaid the €4.7 billion in bailout cash that it received from the State. Meanwhile, AIB is still handcuffed to the State and a question mark continues to hang over the future of Ulster Bank.

Improved

Bank of Ireland’s improved performance over the past three years and the sooner-than-expected upturn in the Irish economy has allowed Ross to cash out with a healthy €477 million gain.

Is this latest share sale a call by Ross on Bank of Ireland, some five months before we get the results of the pan-European bank capital stress tests?

Is it a call by the wise one about the nascent Irish economic recovery?

Ireland has the 5th most innovative agri-food sector in the EU

 

Research suggests most innovative farmers tended to have higher farm incomes

Ireland has the 5th most innovative agri-food sector in the EU behind Denmark, Finland, Germany and theNetherlands, according to a new report.

The Innovation in the Irish Agrifood Sector report, published today, also found the most innovative farmers in Ireland tended to have higher farm incomes, be less dependent on subsidies, invest more, have larger farms and be younger in age.

The study also identified several barriers to innovation including the structure of farm businesses and a lack of land mobility.

It was compiled by researchers from University College Dublin on the basis of interviews with stakeholders from across the sector, and an analysis of data from Eurostat, the OECD, and the Teagasc National Farm Survey.

“It is very encouraging to see that Ireland ranks fifth in terms of innovation in the agrifood sector in the EU, according to this comprehensive report compiled by University College Dublin” Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food, Simon Coveney said at the launch of the report at a conference in UCD.

“But the real value of this report is that it has identified several key areas where barriers to innovation in the sector exist. Barriers we can work to target and gradually lift in order to further support the sector towards becoming more innovative,” he said.

Trinity College Dublin may help defeat cancer drug resistance

 

Irish researchers have discovered a molecule that could improve targeted treatments for breast cancer and a number of other cancers.

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin believe the new biomarker could be the key to overcoming resistance to drugs such as Herceptin, which targets HER2 positive cancers.

HER2 positive breast cancer tends to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer and is also less responsive to hormone treatments.

Researchers, led by Prof Lorraine O’Driscoll from TCD’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, discovered a molecule called Neuromedin U (NmU).

NmU is strongly associated with resistance to the new anti-cancer drugs for HER2 positive cancers.

The discovery suggests NmU could be used as a biological marker to indicate the likelihood of responsiveness in a particular patient. It may also be very important in the management of resistance to these drugs.

Their findings are published in the leading international peer-reviewed journal — Cancer Research, the most frequently cited cancer journal in the world.

Herceptin specifically targets HER2, kills these cancer cells and decreases the risk of recurrence.

About one-in-four breast cancer patients are HER2 positive. In such cases the protein HER2 is found in greater amounts on cancer cells compared to normal cells and is associated with a poorer prognosis for the patients.

However, in recent years a new range of targeted anti-cancer drugs have become available to treat patients with HER2 positive breast cancer and some other cancers such as HER2 positive gastric cancer.

The best known drug is Herceptin (trastuzumab), but there are other newer drugs in this family, including lapatinib, neratinib, afatinib, pertuzumab and T-DM1.

“Many patients with HER2 positive tumours gain huge benefits from these drugs.

“Unfortunately, however, some who seem suitable candidates based on a HER2 test don’t gain the maximum intended benefit from these treatments,” said Prof O’Driscoll. “They may have a natural level of resistance to the treatment which is not detectable with currently available tests.”

Prof O’Driscoll said clinicians urgently need ways of predicting which patients with HER2 tumours are likely to gain real benefit.

“Our discovery may offer a new way to predict or identify both innate and acquired resistance, overcome it and potentially block or prevent resistance,” she said.

The research team conducted other studies which found that blocking NmU also significantly slowed tumour growth in the body and they plan to conduct further studies in this area.

Red meat risks

Eating a large amount of red meat in early adulthood could be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Substituting red meat with legumes — such as peas, beans, and lentils — nuts, poultry, and fish could reduce the risk, according to new research.

Studies have found no significant association between the consumption of red meat and breast cancer, but the team of US researchers said most previous research has been based on diet during mid and later life.

So they decided to assess the dietary habits of 89,000 pre-menopausal women aged 26 to 43, in 1991.

Their study, published on bmj.com, examined frequency of red meat intake as well as other foods through a food frequency questionnaire. The authors also assessed the women’s adolescent food intake.

In the 20-year follow-up period, medical records identified 2,830 cases of breast cancer.

The researchers estimated that for each step-by-step increase in women’s consumption of red meat, there was a step-by-step increase in the risk of getting breast cancer.

Higher intake of red meat was associated with a 22% increased risk of breast cancer overall.

And each additional serving per day of red meat was associated with a 13% increase in risk of breast cancer.

Substituting one serving of red meat each day of combined legumes, nuts, poultry, and fish was associated with a 14% lower risk of breast cancer

Physical Activity boosts good gut bacteria diversity  

A new study tells us

  

Physical activity boosts good gut bacteria diversity, according to a new study by the University College Cork in Ireland.

Researchers found that athletes demonstrated greater gut bacteria diversity than normal people.

Previous studies have linked healthy and varied gut bacteria ecosystem to low obesity rates, food allergies, few incidence of mental disorders like ADHD and anxiety and type 1 diabetes, and prevent alcoholics from developing pancreatitis.

Non-diverse gut bacteria is associated with inflammation and markers of metabolic syndrome like weight gain and insulin resistance.

For the study, researchers compared blood and fecal matter of 40 professional rugby players with a control group of 46 healthy men of similar size and age.

The researchers found that rugby players were metabolically healthier than the control group and also had lower inflammation.

The microbiota was more diverse in rugby players than control groups. Researchers discovered 22 phyla, 68 families and 113 genera of bacteria in athlete samples, whereas only 11 phyla, 33 families and 65 genera in low-BMI portion of the control group. The least diversity was observed in high-BMI portion of the control group: 9 phyla, 33 families and 61 genera.

The players, especially had Akkermansiaceae bacteria in higher quantities. The species is related to lower rates of obesity and metabolic diseases.

Besides physical activity, adopting a healthy diet also helps players to have better gut bacteria diversity. They consumed fiber foods and “good fats” (mono- and polyunsaturated fat) in larger quantities than the control groups, especially those in high-BMI group.

“We don’t know for certain if it is the exercise per se or the dietary changes accompanying exercise which mediate the change in diversity of the microbiota,” said Physician-scientist Fergus Shanahan, Huffington Post reports.

Shanahan said that people need not exercise like athletes to get similar results.

“Regardless, what one can say for now is that exercise and diet can have a beneficial effect on microbial diversity, metabolic profile and inflammation,” said Shanahan. “We would not recommend the extreme levels of exercise that were undertaken by the professional athletes in the present study. It is probable that any level of exercise is preferable to none and will help.”

Arctic Animals from the Ice age may have evolved in the High Tibetan plateau

 

  

Scientists have found that evolution of present-day animals in the Arctic region may be intimately connected to ancestors that first adapted to the cold in the high altitude regions of the Tibetan Plateau.

 This is an artist’s reconstruction of the Zanda fauna from the Pliocene about 5-2.5 million years ago.

Scientists have learned a bit more about how Arctic animals evolved. They’ve found that evolution of present-day animals in the Arctic region may be intimately connected to ancestors that first adapted to the cold in the high altitude regions of the Tibetan Plateau.

For the last 2.5 million years, our planet has experienced both cold and warm millennia-long cycles. During the cold periods, though, continental-scale ice sheets blanketed large tracts of the northern hemisphere. When things warmed up, the glaciers receded; this advance and retreat of ice has a huge impact on the geographic distribution of many animals.

Now, scientists may know a bit more about the cold-adapted animals. The researchers found a three to five-million-year-old specimen of a Tibetan fox from the Himalayan Mountains called Vulpes qiuzhudingi which is likely the ancestor of the living Arctic fox. They also discovered an extinct species of a wooly rhino, a three-toed horse, Tibetan bharal, chiru, snow leopard, badger and 23 other mammals.

In the past, the researchers believed that the origins of the cold-adapted Pleistocene megafauna were in the arctic tundra or in cold steppes elsewhere. Yet these latest findings seem to indicate otherwise; it’s very possible that some of the Ice Age megafauna used ancient Tibet as a “training ground” for developing adaptations that allowed them to cope with extremely cold temperatures.

It’s not all that surprising that the researchers are only making these findings now. Looking for fossils in Tibet is a grueling process with its more than 14,000-foot elevation; it’s difficult to breathe, water freezes overnight in camps, and there are many other challenges.

“But in paleontological terms, it is a relatively unexplored environment,” said Xiaoming Wang, one of the researchers, in a news release. “Our efforts are rewriting a significant chapter of our planet’s recent geological history.”

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