February 20, 2004

Vaccines and Superheroes

From the Financial Times
Liability law appears to be a critical factor behind the vaccine shortage:

As legal liabilities have chased many vaccine-makers out of the market, there are fewer manufacturers. This means less overall ability to produce additional doses, and less investment on new, faster ways to make vaccines.
In the US about 185m people risk serious flu-related illness each year.

At one time the US had 20 flu vaccine manufacturers. Today there are just four: Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Wyeth.

After the second world war the science of cell cultures led a boom in vaccine production. But gradually profit margins thinned on vaccines, as the government became a big buyer of them. Increasing legal liability drove many makers out of the vaccine business.

Today smaller biotech companies have entered the game. But they lack the capacity and the distribution to solve near-term shortages, experts say.

Congress passed a law in 1986 to limit liability on vaccines for children. There are no such liability limits for adults, however.

Pharmaceuticals companies are inhibited by the particular structure of the US vaccine market, experts say. The US government is a large buyer of vaccines, leaving relatively poor profit margins on vaccine

Reminds me of an old SuperFriends episode where researchers at the Metropolis Science Institute had invented a Shrinking Machine. The one scientist who wanted to use the technology for profit became the evil, greedy villain. The other two scientists wanted to use it to solve "world hunger and the energy crisis."

Why can't we do both?

Why are profits less acceptable as the perceived humanitarian value of the product or service rises?

Al-Qaeda's got your 1040

This is painful
Last year a medical transcriber in Pakistan threatened to post patients' medical records online unless the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center settled a financial dispute. Lubna Baloch, the transcriber, claimed she hadn't been paid the 3 cents a line reportedly promised by a Texas man, who, in turn, had subcontracted the work from a Florida woman. The Florida woman herself had subcontracted the work from Transcription Stat, a firm in Sausalito, California, that was paid 18 cents a line by the medical center for the work. The owner of Transcription Stat said she couldn't respond to questions due to a pending lawsuit in the case
Wonder if they have access to our Permanent Records from grade school too?

February 15, 2004

Trips to Avoid

I've always preferred a direct-model in lieu of the "middleman" because the middleman was sort of always getting in the "middle" of things.

So I read this story with mixed emotions

LIKE entrepreneurs trying to make a fortune, Andrew Hollingworth believed China was his key to success. The 31-year-old started to sell chemicals made by a Chinese company and soon built up a £3m business.
At his home near Manchester, Hollingworth enjoyed the trappings of success — an imposing house, a gleaming Jaguar and a horse for his wife. The walls of his rambling farmhouse are still decorated with expensive oriental art, but for Hollingworth the honeymoon with China is over.


It came to an abrupt end in November when a business trip turned into an ordeal that pushed him to the brink of a nervous breakdown. After a row broke out with his Chinese supplier over disputed bills, Hollingworth said he was held against his will in a remote factory and intimidated and assaulted before his eventual release.

The former Tory party candidate was subsequently prevented from leaving the country by the Chinese authorities and won his freedom only last month after the intervention of the Foreign Office. Now he is warning the growing number of British businesses flocking to China to beware of its perils
Note to self ... don't go to remote China if I owe them a lot of hard currency

Good Bad Software

Once in a very long while, you celebrate software glitches

Col. Vladimir Vetrov provided what French intelligence called the Farewell dossier. It contained documents from the K.G.B. Technology Directorate showing how the Soviets were systematically stealing — or secretly buying through third parties — the radar, machine tools and semiconductors to keep the Russians nearly competitive with U.S. military-industrial strength through the 70's. In effect, the U.S. was in an arms race with itself.

Reagan passed this on to William J. Casey, his director of central intelligence, now remembered only for the Iran-contra fiasco. Casey called in Weiss, then working with Thomas C. Reed on the staff of the National Security Council. After studying the list of hundreds of Soviet agents and purchasers (including one cosmonaut) assigned to this penetration in the U.S. and Japan, Weiss counseled against deportation.

Instead, according to Reed — a former Air Force secretary whose fascinating cold war book, "At the Abyss," will be published by Random House next month — Weiss said: "Why not help the Soviets with their shopping? Now that we know what they want, we can help them get it." The catch: computer chips would be designed to pass Soviet quality tests and then to fail in operation.

In our complex disinformation scheme, deliberately flawed designs for stealth technology and space defense sent Russian scientists down paths that wasted time and money.

The technology topping the Soviets' wish list was for computer control systems to automate the operation of the new trans-Siberian gas pipeline. When we turned down their overt purchase order, the K.G.B. sent a covert agent into a Canadian company to steal the software; tipped off by Farewell, we added what geeks call a "Trojan Horse" to the pirated product.

"The pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines and valves was programmed to go haywire," writes Reed, "to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to the pipeline joints and welds. The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space."