Marshall’s edible vaccine

Dr Barry Marshall made life simpler for millions when he identified H pylori as the reason behind stomach ulcers and cancer. Now he wants to simplify how we give vaccines, using what he has learnt about the body’s immune response to H pylori. Apparently, if you slip some genetic code of the vaccination virus into bacteria that the stomach tolerates, swallow it, then wait, the body will mount an immune response akin to vaccination by injection. It works in mice and he will trial it in humans later this year. Edible vaccines might wipe out part of our health sector, much like treating H pylori impacted on many pharma and surgical people.

Fresh re-Start

Dr George O’Neil’s Fresh Start program, which treats heroin addicts with non-TGA approved naltrexone implants (under Special Access provisions), was interrupted in July. Since August 2000, Go Medical has been supplying naltrexone to Fresh Start, but following intense media scrutiny earlier this year, delivery of the implants was halted. Government has flocked to George’s aid, with Kim Hames helping to smooth the waters with a $50k grant to sort out TGA trial paperwork (George had more than 2,000 patients’ records). Although naltrexone has yet to be TGA approved, Go Medical has been given a certificate that clarifies its right to make implants for Special Access patients and Mark Butler, Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health, has allowed George to resume his practice until the TGA mess is sorted out.

Primary fee hikes

Primary Health Care has a fair influence on GP and specialist practice in WA as relatively new owner of Western Diagnostics and 14 Symbion general practices. Primary also owns Health Communication Network (software Pracsoft, Medical Director, Blue Chip). Medical centres comprise 55% of Primary’s profit margin (pathology is 20%), with EBITDA growth of 16%. A total of 88 new large-scale medical centres were bought in FY2009. The critical integration of Symbion practices is “on track and synergies in line with expectations”. With a net debt of $1.2b despite a capital raising (53 million shares at $5/share), the company has moved to improve its bottom line by lessening bulk billing in medical centres and pathology – even though Primary has $950m hedged (at 4.8% interest). Primary claims that Medicare patient pathology rebate cuts will gouge into profitability and “resultant increased costs for patients will be implemented throughout FY2010”.

It’s in the genes

Controversy around the patenting of genes was put aside when WA biotech company BioPharmica (ASX: BPH) announced a US patent granted for tumour suppressor gene HLS5. Prof Peter Klinken’s team at the WA Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) have added to the “extensive patent portfolio” at Biopharmica, with HLS5 said to be a potential therapeutic target. BioPharmica share price leapt >450% overnight on the news even though the patent is only a prospect looking for a large pharma or biotech business developer.

Women on the rise

Women are expected to dominate the $94b healthcare industry, with double the GP headcount to 56,000 by 2038 and female GPs leaping 250% compared to 65% for males, according to the NAB’s recent report on this business sector. As women work fewer hours, flexible working conditions and increased job sharing are just two outcomes of feminisation of the healthcare workforce.

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