SMC Heads-Up: Tamiflu debate, upcoming IPCC report and our new media guide for scientists
Issue 274 12-18 April 2014
Tamiflu review spurs debate
A new analysis of withheld studies has questioned the usefulness of antiviral drug Tamiflu in the event of an influenza pandemic.
The review, undertaken by the independent Cochrane Collaboration in conjunction with the British Medical Journal, examined data from pharmaceutical company trials involving over 24,000 patients.
The authors of the report concluded that, while neuramidase inhibitors - a class of drug which includes Tamiflu - may shorten influenza symptoms by around half a day, there is no good evidence to support claims that it reduces admissions to hospital or complications of influenza.
The results raise questions about the value of government stockpiles of the drug held for use in the event of an influenza pandemic. The authors of the report were blunt in their conclusions: "Our findings do not support the stockpiling of neuramidase inhibitors," they write.
The Science Media Centre contacted New Zealand experts for comment on the review.
Dr Vanessa Jordan, New Zealand Cochrane Fellow, University of Auckland, comments:
"The available data in 2009 suggested that antivirals, such as Tamiflu and Relenza, had potential benefits in reducing complications from influenza and as a result the length of hospital stays and ICU admissions. Based on this the New Zealand government (along with governments worldwide) purchased and stockpiled 750,000 doses, the majority of which have subsequently been dumped as they have passed their expiration date.
"However, this information was incomplete and full trial evidence on the drug's effectiveness was suppressed by the manufacturers. Through perseverance the Cochrane authoring group have succeeded in obtaining information on 45 unpublished trials. This new synthesized evidence confirms what was previously suspected - that there is currently no support for claims that Tamiflu or Relenza reduces admissions to hospital or complications of influenza."
Dr John Cameron, Clinical Director, ProCare Health Ltd, comments:
"This report from the Cochrane Collaboration illustrates that the planned role of the Neuraminidase Inhibitors in a pandemic event may not provide a level of reduction in morbidity and mortality that had been expected and places significant questions over the benefit from either patient or government funded or held stocks of these medicines."
New Zealand situation examined
Here in New Zealand, Medsafe general manager Dr Stewart Jessamine told the Otago Daily Times study was insufficient for New Zealand to alter its position.
"As with all drugs and the assessment of their costs and benefits, it's important that regulators consider the widest possible range of research and information. This study should be placed in that context."
"New Zealand will continue to monitor literature on this subject and the considerations of other regulators," he said.
The review comes close on the heels of media reports speculating that in New Zealand up to $30m worth of the drug had been disposed of due to expiration.
Final IPCC climate report due
The third and final instalment of the trilogy that is the IPCC'sfifth assessment report is due this weekend.
The Working Group III (WGIII) contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s Fifth Assessment Report,Mitigation of Climate Change, is to be released in Berlin this Sunday New Zealand time.
The report deals with the mitigation of climate change. It sets out the technological, economic and institutional requirements and associated risks of climate change policies at the global, national and sub-national level, investigates mitigation measures for all major sectors, and assesses investment and finance issues.
The authors of the report, including many New Zealanders, and representatives from IPCC member governments are currently gathered in Berlin to approve the Summary for Policymakers, checking the text line by line. They will also accept the full report, which besides the Summary of Policymakers consists of a Technical Summary, 16 chapters and three annexes.
The report and Summary for Policy Makers follows the earlier work of WGI, The Physical Science Basis released in September 2013 and WGII, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, released just two weeks ago.
As usual, the SMC will be rounding up reaction from New Zealand scientists, which be distributed to journalists on our lists on Sunday. Contact the SMC for more details.
Quoted: Science Media Centre
"This latest publication from the Cochrane library represents another chapter in a story which reads like a sensationalist script for a Hollywood movie."
Dr Vanessa Jordan, New Zealand Cochrane Fellow, University of Auckland, comments on the latest review of Tamiflu trials.
Policy news and developments
Online health records: Patients in the lower North Island will benefit from a new online system enabling doctors in emergency departments and after hours practices to view a summary of their recent GP records.
Handy media desk guide for scientists
The Science Media Centre is proud to present Desk Guide for Scientists: Working with Media, a 28 page booklet packed with tips and tools for scientists keen to work with the media to communicate their science.
Helping journalists do a better job of covering science is at the core of what we do. But we have found that the key to quality media reporting on science is the ability of scientists to communicate effectively.
From preparing your messages and working with your comms team to engaging in social media and blogging, the Desk Guide lays out what our experience shows work. The Desk Guide features input from New Zealand's leading science communicators, journalists and communications experts.
Read a digital copy of the Desk Guide here or order some free copies to share with your colleagues.
New Sciblog asks the rare questions!
Sciblogs kicks off a new blog this week - IAQ or Infrequently Asked Questions.
The blog will feature short Q&A-style interviews with some of New Zealand's top researchers, including those who have been funded over the years by the Marsden Fund, New Zealand's premier fund for supporting basic research across science and the humanities.
The first IAQ blog features writer Lynley Hargreaves interviewing Dr Gavin Hunt, a University of Auckland researcher researching the tool-wielding abilities of New Caledonian crows. Check out IAQ periodically for more interesting Q&A interviews with NZ researchers.
Science Media SAVVY is coming to Wellington 22-23 MAY
New From the SMC
Water choices: Sir David Skegg, President of the Royal Society of New Zealand, outlines the tough water-related choices ahead in the New Zealand Herald.
Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
How to charge your smartphone in 30 seconds - Michelle Dickinson demystifies the 'magic nanodots' behind the cool new technology.
A linguistic taniwha? How real is it? Prof Michael Corballis reviews the book How to Find a Taniwha.
Re-arranging science fiunding's deckchairs - Peter Kerr muses on the shifting sands of public sector support for science.
The value of our environment - An environmentally damaging US dish-washing liquid is trading on NZ's image and Wayne Linklater is 100% unimpressed.
Some of the research papers making headlines this week.
Genes guide bird conservation: Decisions about conservation should include prioritising how best to preserve as much of the tree of life as possible, say an international team of researchers behind an approach to identify which bird species to save. Combining genetic data with species distribution the authors ranked the most the most evolutionarily distinct of the world's 9,993 bird species. New Zealand is home to number of species in the to 10%, such as the kakapo, which, according to the authors means we "carry a special responsibility for conserving global avian evolutionary information".
GPs, pharmacists and health supplements: A small survey has found that New Zealand GPs and pharmacists often take dietary and health supplements themselves and most will routinely recommend one or more to their patients. The products taken and the recommendations that are made are, on the whole, evidence-based, according to the author Professor Shaun Holt.
Antimicrobial gets up your nose: Triclosan, an antimicrobial agent found in common household soaps, shampoos and toothpastes may be finding its way inside human noses where it promotes the colonization of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and could predispose some people to infection. "In light of the significant use of triclosan in consumer products and its widespread environmental contamination... a reevaluation of triclosan in consumer products is urgently needed," the authors wrote.
Everybody's like Cristal, Maybach... Lorde's name-dropping of alcohol brands like Cristal champagne and Grey Goose vodka --albeit ironic-- highlights an under-examined arena of influence for the alcohol industry. US researchers found that teenagers and young adults who could recall alcohol brands mentioned in chart-topping pop songs (from 2005-07; in which Grey Goose and Cristal were among the top mentioned) were more likely to be binge drinkers - even after adjusting for factors including age, socioeconomic status, and alcohol use by friends or parents.
A Marsuipial not be messed with: The reconstruction of an extinct meat-eating Australian marsupial's skull, Nimbacinus dicksoni, suggests that it may have hunted animals even larger than itself. Researchers drew the conclusion after comparing the skull with those large living marsupial carnivores (Tasmanian devil, spotted-tailed quoll and northern quoll), and to the recently extinct Tasmanian tiger, N. dicksoni's close relative.
More control over waves than wind: Tidal turbines, unlike wind turbines, have a degree of energy storage which allows some control over when power is produced, a New Zealand study has shown. The authors found the inertia of tidal flows can be used to boost a tidal farm's power output, or to better meet the timing of the demand for power.
Upcoming sci-tech events
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.
• NZ Farm Forestry Conference - 11-15 April, Marlborough.
• Wind: A Safe Future - NZ Wind Energy Conference and Exhibition - 14-16 April, Wellington.
• Climate Policy - Can Small Countries Make a Difference? Motu Public Policy seminar with Prof Frank Convery (Ireland) - 14 April, Wellington.
• The 'other' psychopaths: Criminal psychopathy and psychological treatment - Inaugural Professorial Lecture from Devon Polaschek - 5 April, Wellington.