Contradictions of a Superpower

Robert Wright: “The more broadly you view the new national security strategy, the clearer its contradictions become…. (T)he Bush administration, with its limited regard for both international law and world opinion, is making America not just sheriff, but judge, jury and executioner. This strategy could lead to a number of outcomes, but national security isn’t among the more likely.” NY Times

Stock market shock explained

Physicists model trading frenzy: “Two physicists have an explanation for the convulsion of the stock market just ten days ago that left traders reeling and economists scratching their heads. The market was behaving like a muffled guitar string, they suggest, thanks to short-termism and technological limitations.” Nature

Through the Pharmaceutical Looking Glass

Mystery Effect in Biotech Drug Puts Its Maker on Defensive. NY Times In this dramatic and convoluted example, we see the law of the unintended consequences at work; the body appears smarter than our attempts to best it, and it is a brand name shopper to boot.

Erythropoeitin (EPO) is given to medically ill, severely anemic patients (e.g. patients in renal failure) to stimulate their failing capacity to make adequate red cells, but in some cases, with a particular brand of genetically engineered EPO, the body recognizes it as a foreign protein and raises an immune response against the drug that does not stop there, but actually destroys the marrow’s remaining innate red-cell producing capacities. (Once that happens, patients need to rely on transfusions to survive, or undergo renal transplantation.)

Interestingly, the version of EPO Johnson & Johnson sells in the US market, which is made for it by a competitor, Amgen, which developed the drug and from whom it licenses the product, does not cause this complication, but the version it manufactures itself in a Puerto Rican plant for non-US markets appears to be the culprit (and the problems seemed to start after the Puerto Rican plant changed its manufacturing process at the request of European authorities who wanted a constituent removed from its formula to protect against another potential health risk, “mad cow disease”.) Amgen also markets EPO under a competing brand name and is trying to exploit Johnson & Johnson’s vulnerability on this issue; J & J has resisted calls to pull the offending product off the market but denies this is a financially motivated decision. It is trying to shift attention to complications from treatment with competitors’ EPO and hang on to its lucrative European market share.