Tag Archives: Cholesterol drug

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 15th June 2015

Former Anglo workers tried to destroy records, court hears

  

Three accused of conspiring to hide account with Seán FitzPatrick link from Revenue.

Former Anglo Irish Bank official Aoife Maguire (60) of Rothe Abbey, South Circular Road, Kilmainham, Dublin, has pleaded not guilty to deceiving the Revenue between 2003 and 2004.

An account held in Anglo Irish Bank was not furnished to the Revenue Commissioners because it was connected with the bank’s former chairman Seán FitzPatrick, the jury in the trial of three former Anglo officials has been told.

In his opening statement, Dominic McGinn SC, for the prosecution, said an account held by John Peter O’Toole was omitted from a list of non-resident accounts to be given to Revenue in March 2003.

Mr McGinn said that it was deliberately omitted because it was connected with Mr FitzPatrick, who was Mr O’Toole’s brother-in-law.

He told the jury of six men and six women that in 2004, there were also attempts to delete information from the bank’s database about six other accounts, the motivation for which was a connection between the accounts and Mr FitzPatrick.

Aoife Maguire (60) of Rothe Abbey, South Circular Road, Kilmainham, Dublin, Bernard Daly (65) of Collins Avenue West, Whitehall, Dublin and Tiarnan O’Mahoney (54) of Glen Pines, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow are facing charges for alleged offences that occurred in 2003 and 2004.

They have pleaded not guilty.

All three are accused of conspiring to destroy, mutilate or falsify documents relating to accounts of Mr O’Toole held at Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr Daly and Mr O’Mahoney are accused of furnishing a list of bank accounts in connection with tax that did not include Mr O’Toole’s.

Ms Maguire and Mr O’Mahoney are accused of conspiring to destroy the records of six accounts and defraud revenue.

The accounts were listed in court as Lock Ltd/Suzie Ltd, Carnahalla Ltd/Suzie Ltd, Lock Ltd, Carnhalla Ltd, Triumvirate Properties Ltd and Seán FitzPatrick Trust/Crohan O’Shea Trust.

Mr McGinn told the jury there would be significant parts of the trial that wouldn’t be exciting.

He said that the courts were usually full of offences such as those seen on television in Crimecall or in Love/Hate, but this trial would be long and would involve tax and fraud.

“There are no punch ups or car chases,” he said.

He told the jury that in the early 1990s and late 2000s, Revenue began looking at non-resident bank accounts.

He said that Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT) did not apply to the accounts of people who did not live in the State, but that some non-resident accounts were bogus and tax should have been paid on them.

Revenue was said to have contacted all banks to ask them about non-resident accounts and Anglo told them they had no such accounts.

However, when a tax amnesty followed, some people came forward who had such accounts in Anglo. Revenue then decided to investigate the bank.

High Court order

Revenue got a High Court order in March 2003 requiring Anglo to provide a list of non-resident accounts.

It also said it would come into the bank and audit it. It sought three lists of non-resident accounts of more than €100,000 in 1990, 1995 and 1999.

To comply with that, a team was sent up in the bank led by Mr Daly. Mr O’Mahoney had a supervisory role in the team, and the prosecution alleged that Ms Maguire was appointed to the team by Mr O’Mahoney to report directly to him and influence team members.

In November 2003, lists were provided and Mr O’Toole’s name was left out of the list for March 1995.

Mr McGinn said that the omission was a deliberate act because the account was connected to Mr FitzPatrick. He said that Mr O’Toole was Mr Fitzpatrick’s brother-in-law and that Mr FitzPatrick had some involvement with transactions on the account.

He said Mr Daly and Mr O’Mahoney both had separate conversations with separate team members who refused to omit Mr O’Toole’s name from the list, and that those members were removed from the team.

In 2004, there were attempts to delete the information from the bank’s database, counsel said.

Mr McGinn said that staff in Anglo’s IT department were instructed to delete references to Mr O’Toole’s accounts and to six other accounts.

Mr McGinn alleged that the IT department was uncomfortable regarding the deletions and so instead archived the information.

He said that the attempt to delete those accounts was motivated by a connection between the accounts and Mr FitzPatrick.

“To a greater or lesser extent, Seán FitzPatrick has involvement in this case.”

Counsel told the jury the six accounts were set up to trade offshore or manage property and were held in the Isle of Man or Jersey, but they were Anglo accounts, and that there was a concerted effort made to conceal them for the purpose of not paying tax.

Mr McGinn said that all three accused were involved in the attempt to delete Mr O’Toole’s accounts from the bank system and Mr O’Toole’s name was removed from the tax list by Mr Daly and Mr O’Mahoney.

Mr O’Mahoney and Ms Maguire were involved in an agreement to delete the other six accounts and hide references to them in the bank system, Mr McGinn said.

He told the jury there would be no direct evidence, or “smoking gun”, in the case. He also said the prosecution did not have to prove that Revenue was actually defrauded.

Poets and fans gathered for WB Yeats celebrations in Sligo

  

‘Absolutely Fabulous’ actor Joanna Lumley (above right) declares Sligo has stolen her heart.

Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) who received the Nobel prize for literature in 1923.

During one of the headline events of his birthday celebration in Sligo, WB Yeats’ granddaughter Caitriona briefly shared a stage with Mary Plunkett grandniece of 1916 leader, Joseph Mary.

Caitriona Yeats, a harpist, was presented with a book of her grandfather’s poems hand-printed by Plunkett, whose work is inspired by the poet’s sisters Susan and Elizabeth Yeats, of Cuala Press fame.

Earlier in the day, Ireland’s ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall had noted that Yeats “engaged on a daily basis with the public life of Ireland”.

The encounter between descendants of the revolutionary and the poet underlined that role in the life of the country.

Yeats and Plunkett were applauded by six poet laureates , all female, from Ireland,England, Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland, who were joined by President Michael D Higgins at Saturday night’s National Poets’ event. The laureates read from Yeats’ and their own work.

President Higgins, despite being enthusiastically kissed on his arrival by the National Poet of Scotland Liz Lochead, who was charmed with the idea of a poet as President, chose to read Auden’s In Memory Of WB Yeats, but none of his own work.

Politicians and celebrity guests spent the weekend in Sligo soaking up the atmosphere.

Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys was at Lissadell House, while Minister for Communications Alex White was there for the cutting of a giant birthday cake on O’Connell Street.

It was a weekend when everyone reached for connections with the man, who President Higgins described as our national poet.

London laureate Aisling Fahey , wasn’t sure if it was her grandfather or great grandfather who “used to drive Yeats in a horse and cart to Thoor Ballylee” when he went west.

One of the unlikely stars of the weekend was Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley who declared that Sligo had stolen her heart.

“I love it, I completely love it,” said actor Joanna.

Her popularity meant that the award winning Lake Isle of Innisfree garden was in danger of being trampled into the ground when she cut the ribbon there.

Lumley, who started the day with a visit to Yeats’ grave in Drumcliffe, had been invited by Senator Susan O’Keeffe, chair of Yeats 2015, to open the garden at the Model arts centre because of her campaign for a London Garden Bridge.

“It is enchanting – Yeats’ dream, every dream he ever had,” she said.

If the actor was taken aback by “all the loveliness I have met” in Sligo, out the road in Lissadell House, SenatorDavid Norris was giving her a run for her money in the popularity stakes where he too spent the day posing with fans for selfies.

As Sligo Drama Circle organised a marathon reading of all 378 Yeats poems, celebrities spent the weekend reciting personal favourites.

The apparently age-defying 69-year-old Lumley who urged people to “take off your hats and dance in the street” recited When You Are Old.

In Lissadell, Senator Norris gave a majestic rendering of Sailing to Byzantium while Anne Doyle read The Cat and the Moon tearfully recounting that her pet cat Pooka had passed on last week.

RTE’s Bryan Dobson chose Easter 1916 as his party piece, while his colleague Mary Wilson treated the audience to her favourite Crazy Jane talks with the Bishop.

But in Hargadon’s pub Caitriona Yeats probably won the heart of many of those force fed Yeats as school children when she candidly admitted: “We didn’t read much of my grandfather’s work growing up”.

She read Come Gather Round Me, Parnellites because her mother Grainne used to sing it and she liked the sentiment of “Come fill up all those glasses and pass the bottle round”.

Ireland to stop making 1 & 2 cent coins

  

National Payments Plan recommends nationwide roll out for ‘rounding’ system.

Ireland has been minting coppers at three times the rate of the EU average but there is a consistent shortage of them across the country.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will recommend to Cabinet on Tuesday the withdrawal of one and two cent coins following the success of a pilot project in Wexford.

Mr. Noonan has received a report from the Central Bank’s National Payments Plan recommending the roll out nationally of the rounding project so as to reduce the need for one and two cent coins.

The recommendation comes following the overwhelming success of a nine-week project in Wexford in 2013 where transactions were rounded up or down to the nearest five cent.

According to Wexford Chamber of Commerce CEO, Madeleine Quirke the project which ran from September 17th until November 17th 2013 was a tremendous success.

“Some 250 businesses in Wexford participated in the project – everyone from supermarkets to pubs to fast food outlets to garages – anyone handling large amounts of cash.

“Some 85 per cent of consumers and 100 per cent of business owners surveyed afterwards were in favour of the project – in fact we have had no complaints or negative comments at all.”

Ms Quirke said the success of the project stemmed from the fact that business people in Wexford adhered to the strict guideline that there should be no increase in prices.

“It was stipulated clearly by the Central Bank when Wexford was chosen that there would be no increase in prices and businesses here adhered to that faithfully,” she explained.

“Prices remained the same – items were still carrying the same prices tags and it was only the total bill at the end of the transaction that was rounded up or down to the nearest five cent.”

“Consumers were very happy to support the project once it wasn’t hitting them in their pocket while it cut down on the time that business people had to spend dealing with coin.”

Unveiling the pilot project back in 2013, Ronnie O’Toole of the National Payments Plan explained that the pilot trial followed the Central Bank surveying customers about the coins.

“People said they couldn’t use them any more to buy anything or use them in machine so what people do is that they take them out of their wallet or purse and put them in a jam-jar.

“As a result, we have had to replace those coins going out of circulation – we have issued over €30 million worth of one and two cent coins since the euro was introduced in 2001.

“In fact our issuing of replacement one cent and two cent coins accounts for 85 per cent of all coin production for the Central Bank at the mint in Sandyford,” said Mr O’Toole in 2013.

However even small change comes at cost with each one cent coin cost 1.7 cent to mint and each two cent coin cost more than two cents to mint, explained Mr O’Toole.

This has resulted in the Central Bank having to spend well in excess of €30 million on the coins in the period between 2001 and 2012.

It’s understood that while the Central Bank has recommended out the national roll out of the rounding project, participation in the scheme will be on a voluntary basis.

This means that one and two cent coin will remain legal tender as is the case in a number of other Eurozone countries which have already adopting a rounding policy.

Earlier this month Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone said the Central Bank should abolish the coins.

“Ireland has been minting coppers at three times the rate of the EU average and yet there is a consistent shortage of them across the country. This is causing consistent problems for businesses when it comes to change shortages and is a hassle shared by businesses and consumers alike,” she said.

“It seems senseless that we are bending over backwards to produce these coins given the cost of production costs more than their stored value, with a one cent coin costing 1.7 cent to produce and a two cent coin costing about two cents.”

New low cholesterol drug may be available by end of year

  

Evolocumab can be used for high levels of cholesterol when statin drugs are not effective

based on the potential role of the monoclonal agent and its cost effectiveness.

LDL cholesterol causes “furring” of the arteries that supply blood to the heart and the brain, which puts those affected at greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

A novel class of cholesterol-lowering drug could be available to Irish patients by the end of the year, following the approval of the first of the new agents by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The EMA has recommended to the European Commissionthat it issue a EU-wide marketing authorisation for evolocumab as a treatment to lower high blood levels of cholesterol in cases where the standard treatment with statin drugs is not effective.

The new drug, which will be marketed under the trade name Repatha and is manufactured by Amgen, is also indicated for people who cannot take statins and for those with a rare inherited form of familial high cholesterol in which levels of LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) are higher than normal from birth.

Unlike statins, which are taken orally, the new class of monoclonal antibodies are injected either monthly or once every two weeks.

Evolocumab, and other drugs in the class, block a protein called PCSK9, the effect of which is to increase the number of LDL- receptors in the liver, thereby enhancing the body’s ability to remove the harmful form of cholesterol from the blood.

LDL cholesterol causes “furring” of the arteries that supply blood to the heart and the brain, which puts those affected at greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

Evolocumab and another agent alirocumab received preliminary approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week even though research data proving their efficacy in reducing cardiovascular disease is not yet complete. This fact led a minority of experts on the FDA panel to vote against approval.

However other experts say that trial results showing a 40 to 65 per cent reduction in LDL levels among participants is highly significant.

Dr Jim Crowley, medical director of CROì, the west of Ireland cardiology foundation, said it is reasonable to use LDL reduction as a surrogate for reducing cardiac events based on current knowledge.

Both Dr Crowley and Dr Angie Brown, medical director of the Irish Heart Foundation, emphasised a need to establish the long -term safety profile of the new class of agents.

“It is very important to see the results of long term outcome trials before these agents are used more widely,” Dr Brown said. She predicted the new agents are likely to complement statins in the prevention of heart disease rather than replace them.

While the exact cost of the drug in Europe is not yet known, US sources have predicted a cost per patient per year of around $10,000.

Once marketing authorisation has been granted, the HSE medicines management programme will take a decision on reimbursement

What does a diabetes-friendly meal look like?

  

Practicing portion control is a crucial part of a diabetes-safe diet, and this tip makes it easy.

Counting carbs is effective and plays a critical role in your diabetes control. So does portion control — and all you need to get started is an empty plate.

Take an ordinary dinner plate and draw an imaginary line down the center. Now, focus on filling half the plate with nonstarchy vegetables. Then divide the remaining half into two sections, each of which you will fill with starchy foods and a protein source like meat or fish. (But don’t pile the food sky-high on the plate!) Following this practice is a simple and effective method to lose weight and help manage type 2 diabetes.

Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables:

  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Greens
  • Cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Onion
  • Cucumber
  • Beets
  • Okra
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Turnips

In one small section (1/4 of the total plate) put starchy foods:

  • Whole-grain bread
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Dal
  • Tortillas
  • Cooked beans or peas, such as pinto beans or black-eyed peas
  • Potatoes
  • Green peas
  • Corn
  • Lima beans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Low-fat crackers, snack chips, pretzels, or fat-free popcorn

In the other small section (1/4 plate) place your protein choice:

  • Chicken or turkey without the skin
  • Fish such as tuna, salmon, cod, or catfish
  • Other seafood such as shrimp, clams, oysters, crab, or mussels
  • Lean cuts of beef and pork such as sirloin or pork loin
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat cheese

At breakfast, your plate will look different, but the idea is the same. Whether you use a plate or bowl for breakfast, keep your portions small. Use half the plate for starchy foods and fill the smaller sections with fruit (1/4) and your protein choice in the other (1/4).

Pope backs climate changes and denounces world leaders

   

Pope Francis attends a meeting with the Roman Diocesans in St. Peter’s Square on June 14, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.

Pope Francis has endorsed the science behind global warning and denounced the world’s political leaders for putting national self-interests ahead of action.

The 192-page leaked draft of a papal encyclical, published Monday by the Italian magazine L’Espresso, is an attempt to influence the debate before United Nations climate talks scheduled for the end of the year in Paris. Father Federico Lombardi, the pope’s spokesman, said the text was not the final one, which will be officially released midday local time Thursday by the Vatican.

The encyclical, entitled “Laudato si (Praised Be) on the care of our common home,” is a call to action in the form of a letter to the church’s bishops. With fossil-fuel emissions and temperatures at record levels, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics is adding his voice to calls to rein in greenhouse gases.

“International negotiations cannot progress in a significant way because of the positions of the countries which privilege their own national interests rather than the global common good,” the pope wrote. “Those who will suffer the consequences which we are trying to hide will remember this lack of conscience and responsibility.”

Francis squarely put the blame on humans, writing that many scientific studies show “the greater part of global warming in the last decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) emitted above all due to human activity.”

  Some ‘Honesty and Courage’ needed.

Reducing emissions, he wrote, demands “honesty, courage and responsibility, above all by the most powerful and most polluting countries.”

For months, the pontiff and his advisers have met dozens of scientists and economists to guide the church’s views on the topic.

The pope’s intervention already is rattling climate skeptics in the U.S. and giving environmentalists hope that the weight of his opinion could energize the agonizingly slow UN discussions.

“Francis has become the moral leader of our age, and he can do what scientists and national leaders cannot do,” Veerabhadran Ramanathan, professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at the University of California in San Diego, said in a phone interview.

“He can ask people, and not just Catholics, to change their behavior,” said Ramanathan, a senior member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that advises Francis.

Renewables and Investments.

A shift in the energy industry, which produces the majority of greenhouse gases, is already is under way. Investment in renewable energy ballooned to $310 billion last year from $60 billion a decade ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The International Energy Agency says cleaner forms of energy willdominate power generation by 2030.

To help drive his message home, Francis has requested that bishops around the globe “accompany the publication with appropriate explanations and comments,” the Vatican said in a statement last week.

Francis himself will press his views on a visit to the U.S. in September. He will meet President Barack Obama and address Congress — the first pope to do so — and the UN General Assembly.

Rumblings about the encyclical already have drawn fire from critics in the U.S. — where the Republican chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, wrote a book on climate change titled “The Greatest Hoax.” Francis should “leave science to the scientists,” Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said this month.

St. Francis

“There are a significant number of devout Catholics who are Republicans, and those people will have to think very hard about his message,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute in Washington, who took part in a seminar on climate with Francis and several cardinals in May.

The title of the encyclical recalls the opening phrase of the “Canticle of the Creatures” by St. Francis of Assisi, who was the patron saint of animals and the environment. The pope chose to become Francis on his election in March 2013.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 1st June 2015

Secret police files relating to Easter Rising released

    

Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) obsessively monitored future rebels.

A screenshot from the National Archives web site which details the extent of surveillance on the leaders of the Easter Rising.

Secret police files detailing the extent of surveillance on the leaders of the Easter Rising have been made available to the public for the first time.

The daily files were compiled by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) which went to great lengths to monitor the movements of men including future Proclamation signatories Thomas Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada and Thomas MacDonagh, Professor Eoin MacNeill and Bulmer Hobson among 230 people who they targeted.

The files have been in the National Archives for the past century and have only been available on request to specialist scholars. Now they have been digitised and released on the internet for the first time from Monday, June 1st.

They were compiled for the chief secretary’s office crime branch and the dispatches were entitled – “movement of extremists”.

The police were obsessive in monitoring the comings and goings of those they suspected of plotting sedition. “J.J Walsh left 37 Haddington Road at 11.30am and proceeded to McArthurs House Agents, 79 Talbot Street where he remained for 20 minutes. He afterwards inspected a vacant shop at 20 Blessinggton Street,” went one report which detailed all Walsh’s movements on June 1st, 1915.

The files will be released in chronological order according to what happened on each day 100 years ago.

The file for June 1st, 1915 notes that Prof MacNeill, the founder of the Irish Volunteers and the man who countermanded the order for the Rising on Easter Sunday, was seen visiting Thomas Clarke at his shop in 75 Parnell Street. Others observed entering Clarke’s shop included the future President of Ireland Sean T O’Ceallaigh (then known as John T Kelly) and Frank Fahy who was sentenced to death for his part in the Easter Rising. It was commuted to 10 years in jail.

The files observed that Ernest Blythe, the future Minister for Finance and managing director of the Abbey Theatre, returned to Killarney from Dublin that evening. It concluded: “R.I.C informed”.

Bulmer Hobson, a leading figure in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), is also listed in the files entering the Irish Volunteer office in Dawson Street between 4pm and 5pm.

Despite all the surveillance by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), the Rising, when it happened, was regarded as a massive failure of intelligence.

As a result the long-serving chief secretary to IrelandAugustine Burrell resigned in the weeks after the Rising having been blamed for not foreseeing the rebellion.

The DMP had a particular interest in Clarke, the veteran republican who had served time in jail in England and who was the main instigator of the Rising through the IRB. He crops up in nearly every report.

Major events which took place in 1915 and 1916 were also under close surveillance. The files include references to the funeral of veteran Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in August 1915 when Padraig Pearse made his famous “the fools, the fools, the fools” speech and the annual convention of the Irish Volunteers. Anti-recruitment and conscription rallies were also carefully monitored.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys said the release of the files is part of a number of digitisation projects taking place as part of Ireland 2016, the Government’s commemoration programme for the Easter Rising centenary.

Director of the National Archives John McDonough said the chronological release of material will allow visitors to the national archives website to track the movements of those involved in the Rising in the months leading up April 1916. “People will be able to read how key players were identified, followed, and put under surveillance, and read the thoughts of the detectives tracking them.”

Cholesterol drugs ‘can cut heart bypass deaths’

 

A study has found that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can significantly reduce the risk of dying during a heart bypass operation

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can reduce the risk of dying during a heart bypass operation by as much as two-thirds, a study has found.

Researchers made the discovery after analysing data on more than 16,000 British patients aged 40 and over who underwent a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG).

The procedure diverts blood around blocked or narrowed arteries to improve the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart.

Patients who took statins – who made up 85% of the total – had a 67% reduced risk of death around the time of the surgery compared to the average risk associated with the procedure.

Other medications, including beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and alpha-2 agonists, were not associated with the same effect.

Simvastatin, the most commonly prescribed statin, lowered the risk of death by 77%, the study showed.

Findings from the research were presented at the European Society of Anaesthesiology’s Euroanaesthesia meeting in Berlin, Germany.

The authors, led Dr Robert Sanders from the University of Wisconsin in the US, wrote: “Statins were associated with a significant protective effect on peri-operative mortality from CABG surgery.”

A new era in Melanoma cancer treatment?

    

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, kills more than 2,000 people a year in Britain

When it comes to reporting medical science, “breakthrough” is a very overused word, and one I usually try to avoid.

When dealing with cancer, I also prefer not to talk about cure – it’s a hostage to fortune, given that the disease can lie dormant for long periods only to emerge many years later.

Headline writers like both terms – they form a neat shorthand to advertise many stories of medical advance.

“Breakthrough” does seem justified, whereas “cure” does not, when referring to a slew of results from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) concerning a new generation of cancer treatments.

The main excitement from ASCO was prompted by a form of treatment known as immunotherapy – using drugs which unmask the ability of cancer to switch off the immune system and so hide from the body’s natural killer cells.

In a key trial, nearly six in ten patients with advanced melanoma saw their disease halted for almost a year when treated with a combination of ipilimumab and a new immunotherapy drug, nivolumab.

Until recently survival time for patients with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, was just a few months.

For the BBC’s Panorama, I followed one patient, Vicky Brown, 61, from Cardiff, who was part of the major trial led by London’s Royal Marsden Hospital and Institute of Cancer Research.

Her melanoma had spread to her breast, lungs and neck and she initially thought she had months to live.

Instead the combination therapy shrank her tumours and left her apparently disease-free for two years.

‘Game-changing’

Although there were severe but temporary side-effects on her liver, Vicky says the treatment gave her her life back.

Vicky has recently been diagnosed with another tumour in her lung, so will need follow-up treatment.

That is why it is premature to talk about curing advanced cancer, which has spread through the body.

Nonetheless, given the grim outlook that used to exist for advanced melanoma, it’s easy to see why cancer specialists have been using terms such as “game-changing” and “paradigm shift”.

Not least because immunotherapy treatments are also showing promise with several other forms of cancer.

But these new drugs come at a price.

They cost hundreds of millions of pounds to develop – many treatments that go through trials end up in costly failure.

So the drug companies want to make a return on investment – and a profit for shareholders – while the drugs are still on patent, before cheaper generic versions are available.

Ipilimumab, one of the combination immunotherapy drugs in the trial, costs around £75,000 per patient.

The other drug in the melanoma trial, nivolumab, is not yet licensed in Europe. It has also been shown to extend life expectancy in lung cancer – the biggest of all cancer killers.

It is licensed in Japan at a reported cost of nearly £100,000 a patient, although once approved in the UK there would be a confidential NHS agreed price, as with other new drugs.

Genetic switches

Several pharma companies have immunotherapy drugs undergoing trials, with promising results against melanoma, lung, liver, bowel, head and neck cancers.

There is also plenty of excitement about a new range of cancer drugs which target genetic weaknesses in tumours.

These are the result of our far greater understanding of the biology of cancer, and the genetic switches which drive the disease.

Increasingly doctors will classify cancer, not by the organ of origin, but by its genetic make-up.

Some men with prostate cancer have been shown to benefit from a drug originally intended for women with inherited genetic defects leading to breast and ovarian cancer.

The drug, olaparib, was recently licensed for ovarian cancer, but has just been rejected by the drug watchdog NICE, on grounds – at £4,000 a month – of cost.

The regulator said it had not yet shown it extended life expectancy beyond existing drugs.

Such data may take years to emerge. The trials do show that the drug is often better tolerated, with fewer side-effects, than conventional chemotherapy.

The decision has dismayed British cancer researchers, who spent 20 years developing the drug and say around 450 women a year will be denied access.

Expect many more difficult decisions on cancer drugs. There are potentially dozens of new treatments coming through in the next few years.

With a finite health budget and competing demands from dementia, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and more, the NHS will have to make some challenging decisions on what price it puts on extending the lives of cancer patients.

Fisherman’s body is found in Donegal

  

The body of a fisherman who went missing in Donegal this morning has been recovered from the water.

It is understood that the man was working on a Spanish trawler that went overboard last night and was reported missing this morning.

Malin Head Coastguard and the Killybegs Coastguard Unit carried out extensive searches for the man.

His body was recovered in Killybegs harbour shortly after lunchtime. His remains were taken to Letterkenny hospital where a post-mortem will be carried out. The nationality of the dead man is not known at this stage.

Sawfish escape extinction through ‘virgin births’, scientists discover

A routine DNA study has revealed surprising results which suggest that female sawfish in Florida are reproducing without mating with males

  

A juvenile smalltooth sawfish. The DNA study revealed that female-only reproduction accounted for 3% of one population in Florida. Photograph: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

A virgin birth is normally taken as a sign of divine intervention, but the phenomenon may be more common than we thought – at least in certain fish species.

Scientists have discovered that female sawfish appear to be routinely reproducing without any male input through an alternative form of reproduction known as parthenogenesis.

Asexual reproduction had been observed previously in various sharks, snakes and fish in captivity, when zookeepers were surprised to discover pregnant females that had not had any recent contact with males. But until now so-called “virgin births” were assumed to be incredibly rare and had never been observed in vertebrates in the wild.

Gregg Poulakis of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who led the fieldwork in the study, said: “There was a general feeling that vertebrate parthenogenesis was a curiosity that didn’t usually lead to viable offspring.”

In the latest study, DNA fingerprinting showed that about 3% of a sawfish population in Florida appeared to have been created through female-only reproduction, suggesting that parthenogenesis may play an important role in the survival of certain critically endangered species.

Although reproducing in this way depletes the genetic diversity of a population, it could help maintain numbers during critical periods, perhaps serving as a “bridging” strategy to get through a population bottleneck.

The smalltooth sawfish is a member of the ray family, distinguished by its studded saw-shaped nose-extension, which it uses to attack smaller fish. The fish, which grow to several metres in length, are found in southern Florida and have been driven close to extinction due to overfishing and habitat loss. The global population is thought to be around 1% of its level in 1900.

“We were conducting routine DNA fingerprinting of the sawfish found in this area in order to see if relatives were often reproducing with relatives due to their small population size,” said Andrew Fields, who led the study at Stony Brook University in New York. “What the DNA fingerprints told us was altogether more surprising: female sawfish are sometimes reproducing without even mating.”

During normal reproduction, the female egg cell matures and ejects half its chromosomes through a series of cell divisions, leaving a single set of chromosomes to combine with the single set that the sperm brings along. The resultant offspring end up with two sets of chromosomes in each of their cells, with half the genetic material coming from each parent.

Sawfish are close to extinction due to overfishing and habitat loss. It is thought that the ‘virgin births’ may be a survival strategy. Photograph: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)

In parthenogenesis, however, the mature egg is fertilised by a sister cell, known as a polar body, that contains an identical set of chromosomes. This means that while the resultant offspring will still have two sets chromosomes in each cell, the genes on each will be exactly the same.

In the study, published in Current Biology, the researchers captured 190 sawfish and in each case analysed 16 sites on the genome that were known to contain short sequences that are repeated multiple times in succession.

The same technique, known as Short Tandem Repeats, is used in human paternity testing: since half your genetic material comes from your father, the number of repeats on half of your chromosomes should match up with the number of repeats seen on his.

When applied to the sawfish, the paternity-style test revealed that some of the fish lacked a biological father altogether.

In these cases, the number of repeats on each chromosome was identical at each of the 16 sites, which could only be explained if they had inherited the entirety of their genetic material from their mother.

The survey identified two fish with different mothers, which both appeared to have been born through parthenogenesis, and a further five fish, which all shared the same mother.

Until now, scientists assumed that having two mirror image sets of genes would normally lead to serious health problems or be fatal, since it leaves individuals without any backup in the case of genetic flaws. Surprisingly, though, the seven parthenogens appeared to be in perfect health.

Dr Warren Booth, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Tulsa, who previously discovered an instance of parthenogenesis in snakes, said: “This is basically a very extreme form of inbreeding. Most people think of inbreeding as bad, but it could be helpful in purging deleterious mutations from a population.”

However, he added that it would also lead to populations losing genetic diversity, which is essential for a species to remain resilient to new threats.

All of the “virgin birth” fish were female, and the scientists believe that only female fish could be produced through this method since sawfish sex is determined through an XX/XY chromosome system similar to that of humans. Despite this, the population appeared to have a roughly 50:50 balance of male and female fish.

The researchers have not yet established whether the offspring were fertile themselves, but are tracking the population to investigate further. “It takes a very long time for sawfish to reach sexual maturity, so it could be up to ten years until we find out,” said Fields.

The authors are now trawling through publicly available genetic databases of other species to investigate whether parthenogenesis may be happening more widely.