US approves first cancer drug to use patient’s own cells – with $475,000 price tag

US approves first cancer drug to use patient’s own cells – with $475,000 price tag
Novartis medication marketed as Kymriah treats most common type of childhood cancer, but some fear it could spur wave of highly expensive drugs
By Jessica Glenza in New York
Aug 30 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/30/cancer-drug-kymriah-leukemia-novartis

US regulators approved the first cancer drug that uses a patient’s own cells to fight cancer. But the drug is priced at $475,000. 

Oncologists described the drug, made by Novartis and marketed as Kymriah, as revolutionary, but critics worried the first-of-its-kind cancer treatment could usher in a new class of ultra-expensive medications.

Kymriah will be a one-time, intravenous treatment patients receive after scientists at Novartis engineer a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) to fight cancer. The drug will treat acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer in the US.

Currently, standard treatments push about 85% of children into remissions of five years or longer, according to the American Cancer Society. Kymriah would treat patients who don’t respond to standard treatment, probably only a few hundred children and young adults per year.

“This is a brand new way of treating cancer,” said Dr Stephan Grupp of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the Novartis study. Grupp treated the first patient using the new immunotherapy procedure: a girl who was near death but is now cancer-free five years and counting. Grupp described the drug as “enormously exciting”.

Though the price may be shocking to many, analysts will probably view the $475,000 price tag as conservative. A British study suggested the “upper bound” for a drug like Kymriah could be $649,000.

Critics countered that the Novartis treatment, no matter how revolutionary, only proved drug pricing in America was “completely broken”. 

“While Novartis’ decision to set a price at $475,000 per treatment may be seen by some as restraint, we believe it is excessive,” said David Mitchell, the president of Patients for Affordable Drugs. Mitchell said Novartis should not “get credit” for bringing an expensive drug to market “and claiming they could have charged people a lot more”.

Mitchell’s group met with Novartis the day before the drug’s approval – and price – was announced. 

“Instead of a discussion about how to arrive at a fair price for its new CAR-T drug, Novartis spent most of the meeting explaining why it needs to charge an astronomical price,” Mitchell said. 

In a conference call Wednesday, Bruno Strigini, Novartis’s head of oncology, said the $475,000 price was an attempt to balance patient access to the drug with ensuring a return on the company’s investment, Stat News reported. 

The company’s CEO, Joseph Jimenez, said in a statement: “Five years ago, we began collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania and invested in further developing and bringing what we believed would be a paradigm-changing immunocellular therapy to cancer patients in dire need. With the approval of Kymriah, we are once again delivering on our commitment to change the course of cancer care.”

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WikiLeaks ‘hacked’ as OurMine group answers ‘hack us’ challenge

WikiLeaks ‘hacked’ as OurMine group answers ‘hack us’ challenge
Julian Assange’s data-leaking site defaced via DNS attack, showing humiliating messages for organisation that prides itself on being tech savvy
By Alex Hern
Aug 31 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/31/wikileaks-hacked-ourmine-group-julian-assange-dns-attack

WikiLeaks suffered an embarrassing cyber-attack when Saudi Arabian-based hacking group OurMine took over its web address.

The attack saw visitors to WikiLeaks.org redirected to a page created by OurMine which claimed that the attack was a response to a challenge from the organisation to hack them.

But while it may have been humiliating for WikiLeaks, which prides itself on technical competency, the actual “hack” appears to have been a low-tech affair: the digital equivalent of spray-painting graffiti on the front of a bank then claiming to have breached its security.

The group appears to have carried out an attack known as “DNS poisoning” for a short while on Thursday morning. Rather than attacking WikiLeaks’ servers directly, they have convinced one or more DNS servers, which are responsible for turning the human-readable “wikileaks.org” web address into a machine-readable string of numbers that tells a computer where to connect, to alter their records. For a brief period, those DNS servers told browsers that wikileaks.org was actually located on a server controlled by OurMine.

It is unlikely WikiLeaks own servers were breached. The DNS protocol is a notoriously weak link of the internet due to the ease with which it can be compromised by both malicious individuals and state actors.

The WikiLeaks hack also takes a different approach in its substance. In the message it posted to the organisation’s web address, OurMine jokingly begins to claim to be “testing your …” before breaking off and reminding WikiLeaks about the time “you challenged us to hack you”. It’s the third time the hackers have gone after WikiLeaks, after twice launching a DDoS attack – a form of cyber-attack where a site is overloaded with connections in an attempt to bring it to its knees – against the organisation, in December 2015 and July 2016.

That spat caused Anonymous, the online collective, to post personal information of individuals they claimed to be members of OurMine. The hackers argued the so called “doxing” was incorrect.

It’s the latest in a string of high-profile yet ultimately low-impact attacks from OurMine, which first rose to fame after hacking the social media accounts of a string of tech titans in the summer of 2016. Mark Zuckerberg, Dick Costolo, Jack Dorseyand Sundar Pichai were amongst those who had embarrassing messages posted to their feeds.

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From hope to hate: how the early internet fed the far right

From hope to hate: how the early internet fed the far right
The beginning of the internet was full of hope: limitless information would make us wiser, kinder, less bigoted. So when did hate get a foothold? 
By Jamie Bartlett
Aug 31 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/31/far-right-alt-right-white-supremacists-rise-online

Back in 1990, the American lawyer and author Mike Godwin proposed a law of early internet behaviour: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving the Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

In short, the more you talk online, the more likely you’ll be nasty. “Godwin’s Law” was in fact only half the story: it turns out talking online didn’t only make people think their opponents were Nazis. Some of them actually had become Nazis. 

The apparent success of the “alt-right” and broader radical right movements in Europe and the US has plenty of analysts baffled. An incredulity that these nationalists are using the internet – supposedly the very essence of openness, progress and tolerance – to promote an agenda which agitates for the precise opposite. But the radical right has frequently been the most avid and enthusiastic adopters of shiny new technology, and have long found the internet a uniquely useful place. 

It all started with the Italian Futurists, who were proto-fascists at the turn of the 20th century. They dreamed of tearing up tradition and history so to better rush headlong into a future of technology, violence and masculinity. The technologies of their day were weapons, cars and radios, but the same dynamic holds true with digital technology today. As long ago as 1990 – before you were online – the white supremacist movement Stormfront spotted that networked computing would be a boon for their movement. They were perhaps the first political movement in the US to set up a bulletin board system (BBS) (they were a cross between a forum and a website, and were the main way people got online in the 80s). By 1995 Stormfront had turned their BBS into a proper website. In a now familiar flourish Don Black, the former KKK leader who ran the site, said it was to “provide an alternative news media” and create a virtual community for the fragmented white nationalist movement. 

“Is hate young and new on the web?” asked one slightly stunned article back in 1998. 

That question has been asked almost every year since. But the answer was and remains no. Stormfront is the rule rather than the exception. For most of the 2000s, the far-right British National Party had the most active and best designed website in UK politics. (Back in 2013 they were the first party to gamify their website – offering prizes for mentioning keywords in posts in order to drive up engagement). 

In the years leading up to his murderous attacks in 2011, Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik wrote a 1,516-page manifesto titled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. In it he makes clear his belief that social media – especially Facebook – would help the white “resistance movements” fight back against multiculturalism, because it offered new opportunities to push propaganda and connect with like-minded individuals around the world. He even made a plea to all patriots to “create a nice website, a blog and establish a nice-looking Facebook page … to market the organization”.

This is precisely what all “patriots” – whether mild or radical – have done. If you look in almost any western democracy, typically the most active political movement online is the radical right: posting manically, creating new groups, and messaging with the newest encrypted apps. I’m not suggesting a moral equivalence between all these groups. The British National Party doesn’t advocate Breivik-style murder. The point is this: radical groups, especially those on the radical right who dislike openness and worry about diversity are extremely comfortable on the platforms that are meant to promote exactly that.

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How ‘Doxxing’ Became a Mainstream Tool in the Culture Wars

How ‘Doxxing’ Became a Mainstream Tool in the Culture Wars
By NELLIE BOWLES
Aug 30 2017
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/technology/doxxing-protests.html

SAN FRANCISCO — Riding a motorized pony and strumming a cigar box ukulele, Dana Cory led a singalong to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.”

“You’re a Nazi and you’re fired, it’s your fault,” she sang. “You were spotted in a mob, now you lost your freaking job. You’re a Nazi and you’re fired, it’s your fault.”

“All together now!” Ms. Cory, 48, shouted to a cheering crowd in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood on Saturday. They were protesting a rally planned by far-right organizers about a mile away.

“Dox a Nazi all day, every day,” she said.

Online vigilantism has been around since the early days of the internet. So has “doxxing” — originally a slang term among hackers for obtaining and posting private documents about an individual, usually a rival or enemy. To hackers, who prized their anonymity, it was considered a cruel attack.

But doxxing has emerged from subculture websites like 4Chan and Reddit to become something of a mainstream phenomenon since a white supremacist march on Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month.

“Originally it was little black-hat hacker crews who were at war with each other — they would take docs, like documents, from a competing group and then claim they had ‘dox’ on them,” said Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University who wrote a book about the hacker vigilante group Anonymous. “There was this idea that you were veiled and then uncovered.”

Now the online hunt to reveal extremists has raised concerns about unintended consequences, or even collateral damage. A few individuals have been misidentifiedin recent weeks, including a professor from Arkansas who was wrongly accused of participating in the neo-Nazi march. And some worry that the stigma of being outed as a political extremist can only reinforce that behavior in people who could still be talked out of it.

Doxxing was on the minds of a number of protesters on the streets of San Francisco on Saturday. In the Castro and Mission neighborhoods and Alamo Square, the home of the famous row of houses known as the Painted Ladies, thousands participated in counter-demonstrations to the right-wing rally. There was the energy of a street party — children and dogs joined in, protesters shared baked goods, and the bars nearby were full.

Marla Wilson, 35, of San Francisco, said she was appalled when she saw white supremacists marching so brazenly in Charlottesville. Doxxing, she believed, was an effective way to make people think twice about being so bold with their racism.

“Some of what is happening now will make these white supremacists realize why their grandparents wore hoods,” Ms. Wilson said. “At least then there was shame.”

The ethics — and even the definition — of doxxing is murky. It is the dissemination of often publicly available information. And, some at the protest asked, are you really doxxing a person if he or she is marching on a public street, face revealed and apparently proud? It is not as though they are hiding their identities.

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Scholar says Google criticism cost him job: ‘People are waking up to its power’

Scholar says Google criticism cost him job: ‘People are waking up to its power’
Barry Lynn has spent years studying the growing power of tech giants such as Google, and asking if they are monopolies. He believes the answer is yes
By Dominic Rushe
Aug 31 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/31/google-new-america-foundation-criticism-job-barry-lynn

Every second of every day Google processes over 40,000 search queries – that’s about 3.5bn questions a day or 1.2tn a year. But there’s one question that Google apparently doesn’t want answered: is Google a monopoly?

Barry Lynn, until this week a senior fellow at Washington thinktank the New America Foundation, has spent years studying the growing power of tech giants like Google and Facebook. He believes the answer is yes. And that opinion, he argues, has cost him his job.

This week Lynn and his team were ousted from New America after the New York Times published emails that suggested Google was unhappy with his research. The tech giant, along with executive chairman Eric Schmidt, have donated $21m to New America since 1999. Schmidt chaired the organisation for years and its main conference room is called the “Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab”.

“I’ve been there for 15 years,” Lynn told the Guardian. “And for 14 everything was great. In the last year or so it has got more difficult. And from every piece of evidence that we are seeing that has to do with pressure from Google.

“Everyday I see people waking up to the power of Google, Facebook and Amazon. We have to do something as a people, we have to do something through our government and address the power of these companies. The number of congressmen and others making statements on Capitol Hill about this is growing very rapidly. The number of businesses who are saying that something must be done about the power of these companies and the way they use their power.”

Google enjoyed a long honeymoon where it was seen as a force for good. But as fears over tech oligopolies grow, industry giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook have found themselves the subject of greater scrutiny from governments and skeptics in academia.

Lynn, who ran New America’s Open Markets Initiative, said his problems began last June when the European Union fined Google a record €2.42bn ($2.7bn) for breaching antitrust rules and abusing its market dominance.

Lynn posted a brief note applauding the decision and calling on US regulators “to build upon this important precedent”. The post effectively ended his 15-year career at New America, he claims.

In a statement New America’s chief executive Anne-Marie Slaughter called the claims “absolutely false” and blamed Lynn’s “repeated refusal to adhere to New America’s standards of openness and institutional collegiality” for the decision.

Google said it would “not be a fair characterization at all” to blame Google for the decision. “I can confirm that our funding levels for 2017 have not changed as a result of NAF’s June post, nor did Eric Schmidt ever threaten to cut off funding because of it,” a spokeswoman said via email.

But for Lynn and others, this was more than just an office spat with a thinktank backer or office politics gone wrong . It represents a threat to independent research at a time when companies like Google are consolidating their enormous power.

“Things started going wrong last summer,” Lynn told the Guardian. Open Markets began working with senator Elizabeth Warren to help her prepare a speech on America’s monopolies and what to do about them.

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Liberals can’t hope to beat Trump until they truly understand him

[Note:  This item comes from friend Jerry Michalski.  DLH]

Liberals can’t hope to beat Trump until they truly understand him
Rightwing populists are operating according to different rules. If everything is a circus, who cares about bread?
By John Harris
Aug 30 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/30/liberals-donald-trump-rightwing-populists

This week brought a fascinating spectacle indeed: Donald Trump telling the unvarnished truth. The occasion was a joint press conference with the stoic-looking president of Finland, three days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall and Trump simultaneously announced his pardon of Joe Arpaio – the notorious former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who was facing a possible jail sentence for defying a court order to stop racially profiling Latino people. Up popped the White House correspondent for Fox News with a couple of simple questions: why had Trump done it, and what was his response to those people who insisted he was wrong?

There was no reference here to the announcement’s odorous timing, but that was the point Trump chose to address. “In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally,” he said. In other words, with Houston succumbing to historic suffering and damage and people glued to their TVs, he saw the perfect opportunity to drop yet another symbolic stunt: a shameful act by any normal political standards – but one that he, being Trump, saw fit to boast about.

We all know the daily drill by now: wake up, check phone, boggle at whatever new outrage Trump has perpetrated. We know too that whereas his presidency once threatened to follow a halfway substantial agenda – America First economics, a withdrawal from commitments abroad, the fabled wall – in any practical terms it has now swerved into a swamp of confusion and incoherence.

From banning trans people from the US armed forces to America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate change accords, his policy announcements have plenty of real-world consequences. But they seem chiefly chosen for the extent to which they play up the US’s howling cultural divisions – while the hourly blasts on Twitter compound the sense of an administration running on rhetoric and symbolism rather than any prospect of concrete achievement.

Viewed from one perspective, all this might suggest desperation and failure. But look at it in a slightly different way, and Trump’s approach might just as well point towards political success. Forty years of what some people call neoliberalism have long since scaled down most people’s expectations of what government can achieve; for most people, politics has tended to resemble a distant game, replete with both irrelevance and tedium, which leaves 99% of lives untouched. In that context, even if he achieves next to nothing, the spectacle of a president endlessly provoking the liberal establishment, speaking to the prejudices of his electoral base, and putting on the mother of all political shows, has an undeniable appeal – to the point that a second Trump term might be a more realistic prospect than many would like to think.

In a recent issue of the New Yorker, a fascinating article on Trump supporters in Grand Junction, Colorado – “a rural place with problems that have traditionally been associated with urban areas”, where Trump took nearly 65% of the vote – made all this explicit. Before the election, voters there had tended to see Trump’s stunts and provocations as proof of the combative qualities he would bring to an imagined reinvention of America and its economy. Now, his daily antics were seemingly close to being the whole point.

“The calculus seemed to have shifted: Trump’s negative qualities, which once had been described as a means to an end, now had value of their own,” writes Peter Hessler, a rare example of a writer who pushes beyond liberal loathing of the president into the reasons why so many people support him. “The point wasn’t necessarily to get things done; it was to retaliate against the media and other enemies. The assumption has always been that, while emotional appeal might have mattered during the campaign, the practical impact of a Trump presidency would prove more important. Liberals claimed that Trump would fail because his policies would hurt the people who had voted for him. But the lack of legislative accomplishment seems only to make supporters take more satisfaction in Trump’s behaviour.”

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Why are the crucial questions about Hurricane Harvey not being asked?

Why are the crucial questions about Hurricane Harvey not being asked?
This is a manmade climate-related disaster. To ignore this ensures our greatest challenge goes unanswered and helps push the world towards catastrophe
By George Monbiot
Aug 29 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/29/hurricane-harvey-manmade-climate-disaster-world-catastrophe

It is not only Donald Trump’s government that censors the discussion of climate change; it is the entire body of polite opinion. This is why, though the links are clear and obvious, most reports on Hurricane Harvey have made no mention of the human contribution to it.

In 2016 the US elected a president who believes that human-driven global warming is a hoax. It was the hottest year on record, in which the US was hammered by a series of climate-related disasters. Yet the total combined coverage for the entire year on the evening and Sunday news programmes on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News amounted to 50 minutes. Our greatest predicament, the issue that will define our lives, has been blotted from the public’s mind.

This is not an accident. But nor (with the exception of Fox News) is it likely to be a matter of policy. It reflects a deeply ingrained and scarcely conscious self-censorship. Reporters and editors ignore the subject because they have an instinct for avoiding trouble. To talk about climate breakdown (which in my view is a better term than the curiously bland labels we attach to this crisis) is to question not only Trump, not only current environmental policy, not only current economic policy – but the entire political and economic system.

It is to expose a programme that relies on robbing the future to fuel the present, that demands perpetual growth on a finite planet. It is to challenge the very basis of capitalism; to inform us that our lives are dominated by a system that cannot be sustained – a system that is destined, if it is not replaced, to destroy everything.

To claim there is no link between climate breakdown and the severity of Hurricane Harvey is like claiming there is no link between the warm summer we have experienced and the end of the last ice age. Every aspect of our weather is affected by the fact that global temperatures rose by about 4C between the ice age and the 19th century. And every aspect of our weather is affected by the 1C of global warming caused by human activities. While no weather event can be blamed solely on human-driven warming, none is unaffected by it.

We know that the severity and impact of hurricanes on coastal cities is exacerbated by at least two factors: higher sea levels, caused primarily by the thermal expansion of seawater; and greater storm intensity, caused by higher sea temperatures and the ability of warm air to hold more water than cold air.

Before it reached the Gulf of Mexico, Harvey had been demoted from a tropical storm to a tropical wave. But as it reached the Gulf, where temperatures this month have been far above average, it was upgraded first to a tropical depression, then to a category one hurricane. It might have been expected to weaken as it approached the coast, as hurricanes churn the sea, bringing cooler waters to the surface. But the water it brought up from 100 metres and more was also unusually warm. By the time it reached land, Harvey had intensified to a category four hurricane.

We were warned about this. In June, for instance, Robert Kopp, a professor of Earth sciences, predicted: “In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit. Its exposure to sea-level rise – made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes – poses a major risk to its communities.”

To raise this issue, I’ve been told on social media, is to politicise Hurricane Harvey. It is an insult to the victims and a distraction from their urgent need. The proper time to discuss it is when people have rebuilt their homes, and scientists have been able to conduct an analysis of just how great the contribution from climate breakdown might have been. In other words, talk about it only when it’s out of the news. When researchers determined, nine years on, that human activity had made a significant contribution to Hurricane Katrina, the information scarcely registered.

I believe it is the silence that’s political. To report the storm as if it were an entirely natural phenomenon, like last week’s eclipse of the sun, is to take a position. By failing to make the obvious link and talk about climate breakdown, media organisations ensure our greatest challenge goes unanswered. They help push the world towards catastrophe.

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