Archive for October 2nd, 2008

India Bans Smoking

October 2nd, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Wall Street Journal

Only 19% of those living in India consume tobacco. That’s less than the US (24%), China (32%), Russia (49%) or Greece, the smokers’ capital of the world (52%). Still, in the second-most populous nation on Earth that small percentage translates to 250 million tobacco users.

Health Minister B.K. Prasad estimates in fact that 40% of all deaths in India are caused by tobacco use. He adds that “most (Indian) people are unaware of the harmful effects of smoking.”

So the Indian government had decided to intervene. This week the Health Ministry enacts a national ban on cigarette smoking in public places such as airports, restaurants, hotels and bus stops.  Violators are docked $5, no trivial sum since the country’s annual per capita income is under $1,000.

The ban will be accompanied by pictorial warnings on tobacco products designed to cope with India’s low literacy rate.

The program has its skeptics. Indians revel in acts of mild civil disobedience such as ignoring traffic signals, spitting and even urinating in public despite longstanding ordinances against them. Many will view the ban as another opportunity to express themselves in a way they believe is harmless and within their rights.

It isn’t harmless. The government anticipates a what-me-worry response and has already announced it will increase the fine to $25 soon after the prohibition takes effect.

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Tribal Militias Rise in Pakistan

October 2nd, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Wall Street Journal

In a heartening development for the US, tribal militias along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are rising up to battle Taliban and al Qaeda forces. Pakistan’s army has started to support these militias. There is hope the new development can turn the tide in the region in the same way the Sunni Awakening helped US forces in Iraq.

Spokesmen for Pakistan’s army claim it has deployed 8,000 troops to the region and killed 1,000 militants just in the last 6 weeks, but these gains have been offset by a stream of radical Islamists pouring in from both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Militias have formed in the Khyber and Kurram districts along the Afghan border, and in the Dir region further to the northwest. Their conscripts are apparently fed up with the draconian Islamic systems that the Taliban impose upon locals. In addition, the Taliban “are killing our people and destroying our land,” said Malik Munasib Khan, a militia leader who claims to control 4,000 fighters.

Also yesterday, Pakistan appointed Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha to head up the ISI, its domestic intelligence service. Gen. Pasha was most recently director of military operations. He has criticized the US for its “brute use of force” in the region, behavior he believes has fanned radical flames there.

Undoubtedly US officials will soon want to introduce themselves to Mr. Pasha. The US believes that right now rogue elements of ISI are aiding the Taliban.

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Pfizer Ceases Cardiac R&D

October 2nd, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Forbes

As part of a sweeping reorganization of its research strategy, Pfizer plans to stop R & D in cardiac drugs.

The move must be a bitter pill to swallow. Pfizer is exiting a space it had dominated for years. Its cholesterol-lowering Lipitor for example, is the top selling drug in the world with 2007 sales of $12.7 billion, but its patent expires in 2011. The drug behemoth also did well with the blood pressure-lowering agent Norvasc , but generic forms became available in 2006.

Pfizer had hoped that torcetrapib, another cholesterol-reducing agent would extend the run, but the drug was shelved after a 2006 study revealed it caused cardiac complications and death.

The company also plans to abandon R & D in osteoporosis, obesity, liver disease and anemia. It plans to focus on more profitable areas, which for Pfizer means oncology, inflammation, diabetes, pain, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The reshuffling will not affect heart drugs that are well down the pipeline, including a clot prevention agent co-developed with Bristol-Meyers-Squibb. The 2 companies hope this medication will compete with Plavix, currently the world’s number two drug after Lipitor.

Pfizer’s annual R & D budget is $7.3 billion, which is enormous but nevertheless down 8% from last year. It has 114 human drug studies underway and 25 drugs in late stage development.

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