News Article | May 1, 2017
It’s a fairly common tactic in Peru to issue a significant or potentially controversial decision or resolution when you hope no one is paying attention. 24, 26 or 31 December, for example. The Environment Ministry (MINAM) recently adopted that ploy by releasing, just before the Easter week holiday, proposals to dramatically roll back certain air quality standards across the country. The draft National Environmental Quality Standards for Air propose maintaining the maximum legal limits for nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, lead and benzene, but doubling the limit for some particulate matter. Most startling, they propose increasing the limit of sulfur dioxide by more than 12 times. MINAM effectively claims that Peru is the global leader in sulfur dioxide limits because it is the “only country in the world” which meets World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. That limit is 20 micrograms per cubic metre over a 24 hour averaging period, compared with 210 in Australia, 250 in Chile and Colombia, 288 in Mexico, 300 in Canada and 365 in Brazil, according to the ministry. Elsewhere in the world - although these are not acknowledged by MINAM - the limit is 150 in China, 125 in the EU, 131 in South Korea and 80 in India. The current proposal is to raise Peru’s limit to 250. One justification is that “no clearly defined link exists” between sulfur dioxide and negative impacts on human health, MINAM claims, according to its interpretation of research by the WHO, the US’s Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada, among others. Further justifications are that no other country in the world has a limit as stringent as 20 and adopting it was a mistake out of touch with “national reality.” It isn’t being complied with, the ministry argues, and therefore undermines the public’s faith in government and the law. “[The 20 limit] was adopted in a very short timeframe without a solid technical and economic argument and without considering sustainable development policy that involves taking acceptable risks to public health while at the same time introducing effective strategies to reduce environmental contamination,” MINAM states. The ministry’s proposals have met with serious concern and criticism from Peru’s Congressional Commission on the Environment, Ecology and Andean, Amazonian and Afroperuvian Peoples, NGOs, and many others. Lima-based APRODEH and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) say that MINAM is ignoring scientific evidence of the “serious health harms” caused by both sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. These include lung problems and premature death - with children, the elderly and people with asthma being particularly vulnerable. “There is overwhelming scientific evidence to conclude that sulfur dioxide pollution poses a serious health risk, particularly when the contamination reaches high levels over short periods of time, something the proposal does not take into account,” says AIDA’s co-director Anna Cederstav in a joint statement with APRODEH. Both organisations argue that MINAM’s proposals violate the American Convention on Human Rights and other international treaties binding on Peru. In addition, the public consultation was “flawed”, they state, with too little time for discussion and the scientific basis for the proposals not made public. That opinion is shared by the Congressional Commission on the Environment, which has written to Environment minister Elsa Galarza requesting a further 30 days for the public consultation process. The Commission is presided by Maria Elena Foronda, who has taken the lead in drawing public attention to the issue. “In the Commission’s view any law that would reduce environmental quality standards requires a responsible and timely technical evaluation, as much by members of congress as civil society,” Foronda says. “It’s appropriate to point out that MINAM is trying to establish parameters that are weaker than those recommended by the WHO.” Other NGOs like Red Muqui and the Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA) have also issued critical statements. SPDA argues that the government is legally prohibited from weakening environmental standards, that MINAM failed to provide sufficient justification for its proposals, and that the WHO, contrary to the ministry’s interpretations of its research, has proved that sulfur dioxide negatively impacts human health. According to Red Muqui, a collective of 29 organisations across Peru, the proposals are “regressive” and ignore WHO recommendations. MINAM failed to coordinate with the Health Ministry, they argue, and the timeframe for public discussion was too short. “Life and health shouldn’t be dependent on economic interests,” Red Muqui states. “[The proposals] fail to consider that particulate matter is very fine and can easily penetrate respiratory tracts and blood, increasing the risk of morbidity and premature death following short- and long-term exposure.” Former high-ranking MINAM personnel are critical too. Ex-Environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal was quoted in El Comercio newspaper saying the proposals would reduce air quality. Mariano Castro, former vice-minister, told the Guardian the proposals are “wrong”, “very risky” for Peruvians’ health, and ignore the “scientific evidence in epidemiological and toxicological studies that show the serious dangers that sulfur dioxide poses for peoples’ health.” So why propose raising the legal limits? According to AIDA, APRODEH and anyone else following the issue, the answer is an infamous poly-metal smelter in a town in Peru’s central Andes, La Oroya, which 10 years ago was named as one of the top 10 most polluted places on earth by the US-based Blacksmith Institute. Formally called the Metallurgical Complex of La Oroya, the smelter has been the property of Doe Run Peru since 1997, and ultimately under the control of the US’s Renco Group. It closed in 2009 and partially re-opened in 2012. Now it is administered by liquidators - and Peru’s sulfur dioxide limits are reported to be scaring off potential investors. This is despite the fact that La Oroya has been exempted from the national 20 limit. In recent years it was raised to 80 and then to 365 for a 14 year period until it is scheduled to revert to 80 again, according to APRODEH’s Christian Huaylinos. He told the Guardian that MINAM’s proposals are “completely connected” to the proposed Doe Run Peru sale. “[In the long-term the limit] continues being 80, which is a very demanding standard that I imagine has discouraged possible bidders for Doe Run Peru, given that it would require serious investment in new technology,” Huaylinos says. “So that’s where the issue of relaxing the standards comes in. Now they would no longer have to adjust from 365 to 80, but 365 to 250.” Tenders have been held for Doe Run Peru as recently as March this year, but no offers were reportedly received. “Now, given the lack of offers, MINAM has put forward a law to relax the limits, the aim of which is to facilitate the next tender round,” Huaylinos told the Guardian. “[This would seriously affect] the rights to health and clean environment of the people living in La Oroya.” The connection between MINAM’s proposals and Doe Run Peru also seems obvious to AIDA’s Victor Quintanilla, who told the Guardian that government representatives have said publicly that modifying environmental standards is part of promoting the smelter’s sale and re-opening. Such representatives include president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, congressman Moisés Guía Pianto, Environment minister Galarza, and Energy and Mines minister Gonzalo Tamayo. On Friday Gestion newspaper stated that potential bidders for Doe Run Peru have been lobbying for changes to the sulfur dioxide limits - something that the Congressional Commission on the Environment has noted too. Pablo Peschiera, from DIRIGE, the liquidators, reportedly said that the next tenders will be held in July and MINAM’s proposals would save investors huge sums. “Under the previous [current] standards an investment of US$788 million [in the smelter] had been foreseen, and even then there was no guarantee of meeting the 80 standard,” Peschiera was quoted as saying in Gestion. “There was a low probability of complying even after making that investment. Now [if MINAM’s proposals are approved], with the limit being 250, the amount needed to invest will be lower.” Liliana Carhuaz, an Oroya resident and member of the Movimiento por la Salud de La Oroya (MOSAO), told the Guardian she rejects MINAM’s proposals and believes the sulfur dioxide limit should be 20. She said that local people didn’t agree with the suggested changes either, and she cited respiratory problems and lead poisoning as ongoing health impacts. “After so many years of contamination in La Oroya [the ministry’s proposal] to increase the permitted levels is not just,” she says. Last year, just before the end of the previous government, MINAM published a dossier on Doe Run Peru which included six reasons why air quality standards shouldn’t be weakened, although it acknowledged that the contamination in La Oroya was so severe that it would be impossible for the smelter to ever meet any standards, no matter how “flexible.” The dossier cited Health Ministry statistics from 2007 saying that during some hours the sulfur dioxide levels reached 28,300 and average daily emissions were over 2,000 - which MINAM alleged was one of the reasons why Doe Run Peru hadn’t yet been sold. “It’s clear that with daily emissions and yearly averages such as these, La Oroya, if its copper circuit is working, wouldn’t even comply with the most flexible environmental standards in the world,” stated the dossier, dated July 2016. In comments sent by AIDA and APRODEH to MINAM as part of the public consultation, they noted that the proposed 250 limit would permit severe short-term spikes in contamination. “With the new proposed daily average (250 micrograms per cubic metre), it would be possible to have every day a period of two hours of contamination at a level of 1,500 and another five hours of contamination at 500 without exceeding it,” the two organisations stated. “However, it is known that these levels of contamination are severely dangerous to human health.” Mariano Castro believes that this is a key weakness of MINAM’s proposals: there are no limits for short periods of time - just one hour or three hours - which would prohibit severe peaks in contamination. In Colombia, he says, the limit for 24 hours is 250, as proposed for Peru, but crucially there is also a limit for three hours set at 750. “Without this  limit on short-term peaks, you could get up to levels around 2,000 for several hours over a 24 hour period and never exceed the daily limit,” Castro told the Guardian. “The dangers to human health and the environment would be irreversible. Under no condition should an increase in the 24 hour limit be permitted if an appropriate limit for just one hour is not established, as in other countries.” Fernando Serrano, a scientist at Saint Louis University in the US who has conducted research in La Oroya and testified before US Congress about it, agrees with Castro. “The proposed new air standards for sulfur dioxide don’t include a hourly standard and therefore don’t hold the smelter responsible for the hourly peaks that are far greater than anything that is acceptable,” he says. “The most effective way to protect people’s health and environmental quality is to reduce smelter emissions through technical measures and to enact and enforce air quality standards and other regulations that prevent health and environmental risks.” Serrano describes the La Oroya smelter as for years “serving a toxic cocktail of metals” including lead, cadmium, arsenic and air pollutants like sulfur dioxide. “This mix of contaminants has gravely affected the health of the people of La Oroya and surrounding areas,” he told the Guardian. “The only time people enjoyed a cleaner and safer environment - low sulfur dioxide levels, decreasing blood lead levels - is when the smelter closed, which shows that it is the primary source of contamination.” The appalling health impacts of the smelter on La Oroya’s inhabitants have been reported for many years, with the government concluding almost two decades ago that more than 99% of children living nearby suffered from lead poisoning. A series of legal actions have been taken against the Health Ministry in Peru, against the Peruvian state at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and against Doe Run in the US. Peru’s Congressional Commission on the Environment is scheduled to discuss MINAM’s proposals tomorrow, 2 May, and has requested Environment minister Galarza to attend. MINAM did not respond to questions.
News Article | May 4, 2017
NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - May 4, 2017) - iBio, Inc. ( : IBIO), a leader in developing plant-based biopharmaceuticals, announced today that it provided a corporate update at its Annual Shareholders Meeting held in Bryan, TX. Robert B. Kay, iBio's Chairman and CEO, stated, "Our achievements over the past year have transformed iBio's business. In this period, we completed the acquisition, recommissioning and expansion of our Texas plant and equipment for development and cGMP biopharmaceutical manufacturing. This enables advancement of our lead proprietary therapeutic candidate for fibrotic diseases toward human clinical trials. It also enables us to operate the facility as a contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO), constituting a separate line of revenues for the Company. The CDMO is capable of using our proprietary technology to move projects from feasibility confirmation, through development, clinical trial support, and full-scale manufacture, for our collaborators and biotech clients." Barry Holtz, PhD, President of iBio CMO LLC, reviewed the Company's recommissioning and expansion of its pilot and large-scale manufacturing facility. Dr. Holtz reported, "We are now capable of operating under cGMP compliance and moving biopharmaceutical product candidates toward full-scale engineering batches to support clinical development activities. We completed construction of a new product/process development laboratory that tripled our capacity to provide proteins to current and potential clients who engage iBio CMO in early stage feasibility studies." iBio's pilot scale plant production capacity has been doubled. All large-scale automated systems have been commissioned or recommissioned, and new staff members have been added to fill out the CDMO team. Multiple new proteins are under development for several clients. Terry Ryan, PhD, iBio's Chief Scientific Officer, outlined the progress made during the year on IBIO-CFB03, the Company's lead proprietary therapeutic candidate for fibrotic diseases. Dr. Ryan remarked, "We are working steadily towards filing an IND for IBIO-CFB03, and are encouraged by our progress. During this year, we obtained Orphan Drug Designation from the FDA. We also achieved key development milestones with regard to the Company's lead candidate CFB03, including: Robert Erwin, iBio's President, discussed recent business strategy developments and provided the following update on client commitments for use of the Company's technology and CDMO services: Bio-Manguinhos, the unit of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) in Brazil responsible for the development and production of vaccines, reagents and biopharmaceuticals suitable to meet the demands of public health and linked to the Health Ministry of Brazil, is extending and broadening its commitment to work with iBio. iBio and Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz have agreed in principle to enter into a collaborative relationship for the mutual development of certain products and facilities utilizing iBio and Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz intellectual property and services, and are working together to develop formal agreements to govern their relationship. The first such agreement is planned to be a Master Services Agreement to provide a general infrastructure for the overall relationship between iBio and Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz. The separate product and facilities projects will be described in detailed addenda to be attached to and governed by the Master Services Agreement. The first project is expected to address development of a new Yellow Fever Vaccine based upon iBio's recombinant, plant-based technologies. A prior agreement governing early-stage, pre-clinical work expired in March 2017. Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz and iBio intend to collaborate on further development of the antigen, production of vaccine material for clinical trials, supervision of execution of Phase I clinical trials in the United States and further activities based upon the results of such trials. The need for a new Yellow Fever vaccine is accentuated by the current outbreak of Yellow Fever that has killed at least 240 people in Brazil in recent months, according to the Brazilian Health Ministry. The disease has already spread to Brazil's most populous states: Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo, and U.S. infectious disease specialists have expressed concern that the virus might "jump the Panama Canal" and also reach Puerto Rico and the continental United States. Meanwhile, the CDC warned of a shortage of the current Yellow Fever vaccine in the United States because of recent manufacturing problems. Other joint project plans include the development of a bio-better monoclonal antibody product aimed principally for the Brazilian market, and the design and implementation of a Brazil-based manufacturing facility owned by Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz, in both cases utilizing iBio intellectual property in addition to Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz intellectual property. The planned activities can become legally binding on iBio and Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz only after detailed definitive agreements have been executed by the parties. AzarGen Biotechnologies (Pty) Ltd, has expanded its collaboration with iBio under a newly agreed Memorandum of Understanding. Based in South Africa, AzarGen is a biotechnology company focused on developing human therapeutic proteins using advanced genetic engineering and synthetic biology techniques in plants. iBio and AzarGen will continue development of AzarGen's surfactant protein therapeutic and initiate development of a "bio-better" version of a therapeutic monoclonal antibody therapeutic product for the South African market. Mr. Erwin noted, "Projects are underway for several additional clients based on iBio's ability to rapidly achieve early production of multiple product variants and save time on the execution of preclinical product down-selection processes. These clients and their product candidates are currently confidential, but include several antibody candidates and growth factor proteins. We expect current work on some or all of these product candidates to lead to expanded opportunities for both commercial license agreements and significantly higher service-based revenue." iBio, a leader in developing plant-based biopharmaceuticals, provides a range of product and process development, analytical, and manufacturing services at the large-scale development and manufacturing facility of its subsidiary iBio CMO LLC in Bryan, Texas. The facility houses laboratory and pilot-scale operations, as well as large-scale automated hydroponic systems capable of growing over four million plants as "in process inventory" and delivering over 300 kilograms of therapeutic protein pharmaceutical active ingredient per year. Facility capacity can be doubled by adding additional plant growth equipment in a space already reserved for that purpose. iBio applies its technology for the benefit of its clients and the advancement of its own product interests. The Company's pipeline is comprised of proprietary candidates for the treatment of a range of fibrotic diseases including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, systemic sclerosis, and scleroderma. IBIO-CFB03, based on the Company's proprietary gene expression technology, is the Company's lead therapeutic candidate being advanced for IND development. Further information is available at: www.ibioinc.com STATEMENTS INCLUDED IN THIS NEWS RELEASE RELATED TO IBIO, INC. MAY CONSTITUTE FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS WITHIN THE MEANING OF THE PRIVATE SECURITIES LITIGATION REFORM ACT OF 1995. SUCH STATEMENTS INVOLVE A NUMBER OF RISKS AND UNCERTAINTIES SUCH AS COMPETITIVE FACTORS, TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT, MARKET DEMAND, AND THE COMPANY'S ABILITY TO OBTAIN NEW CONTRACTS AND ACCURATELY ESTIMATE NET REVENUES DUE TO VARIABILITY IN SIZE, SCOPE AND DURATION OF PROJECTS. FURTHER INFORMATION ON POTENTIAL RISK FACTORS THAT COULD AFFECT THE COMPANY'S FINANCIAL RESULTS CAN BE FOUND IN THE COMPANY'S REPORTS FILED WITH THE SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION.
News Article | May 8, 2017
"Our goal is to develop breakthrough technologies that improve people's lives, and we thank the HAS and the French Health Ministry for recognizing the great benefit FreeStyle Libre has and for ensuring that people in France have wide access to this innovation," said Jared Watkin, senior vice president, Diabetes Care, Abbott. "We share a common goal—to make the best technology available to people with diabetes so that they have access to the information that they need to live healthier lives." The FreeStyle Libre system eliminates the challenges of routine finger sticking1 for people with diabetes. With the data from the device, they can have a better understanding of their glucose levels through the Ambulatory Glucose Profile (AGP), a chart generated by the software that provides a visual snapshot of glucose levels, trends and patterns over time. It also provides doctors with deeper insights to make more informed treatment decisions. "People with diabetes find finger sticking painful and cumbersome so they often don't test as frequently as they should," said Hélène Hanaire, M.D., University Hospital Center of Toulouse, Toulouse, France. "Having easier access to technology like FreeStyle Libre is going to increase freedom for individual patients on a larger scale, and ultimately change how they—and we—manage diabetes going forward." Abbott's FreeStyle Libre system was introduced across Europe in 2014, and is now available in more than 30 countries and used by more than 300,0004 people with diabetes around the world. Two published clinical trials5 and real-world evidence from more than 50,000 users6 show that people who use FreeStyle Libre system test their glucose levels an average of at least 15 times per day. The studies show that people who scan more frequently spend less time in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) while having improved average glucose levels, demonstrating improved glucose control overall. About the FreeStyle Libre System Abbott's FreeStyle Libre system is designed to change how people with diabetes measure their glucose levels and ultimately help them achieve better health outcomes. The system reads glucose levels through a sensor that can be worn on the back of the upper arm for up to 14 days, eliminating the need for routine finger sticks1. In addition, no finger stick calibration is needed—a key differentiator from current continuous glucose monitoring systems. In the U.S., the FreeStyle Libre system is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration7. About Abbott At Abbott, we're committed to helping people live their best possible life through the power of health. For more than 125 years, we've brought new products and technologies to the world -- in nutrition, diagnostics, medical devices and branded generic pharmaceuticals -- that create more possibilities for more people at all stages of life. Today, 94,000 of us are working to help people live not just longer, but better, in the more than 150 countries we serve. Connect with us at www.abbott.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Abbott and on Twitter @FreeStyleDiabet, @AbbottNews and @AbbottGlobal. 1 A fingerstick test using a glucometer is required during times of rapidly changing glucose levels when interstitial fluid glucose levels may not accurately reflect blood glucose levels; or if hypoglycemia or impending hypoglycemia is reported by the system; or when symptoms do not match the system readings 2 Data on file, Abbott Diabetes Care, Inc. 3 A caregiver at least 18 years old is responsible for supervising, managing, and assisting the child or young person ages 4-17 years old in using the FreeStyle Libre system and interpreting its readings 4 Data on file, Abbott Diabetes Care, Inc. 5 Bolinder J, Antuna R, Geelhoed-Duijvestijn P, Kroger J, Weitgasser R. Novel glucose-sensing technology and hypoglycaemia in type 1 diabetes: a multicentre, non-masked, randomised controlled trial [published online September 12, 2016]. Lancet. 2016 6 Data on file. Dunn T, Xu Y, Hayter G; Evidence of a Strong Association Between Frequency of Flash Glucose Monitoring and Glucose Control Measures During Real-World Usage 7 Pending FDA approval. Not available for sale in the United States To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/abbott-announces-national-reimbursement-for-freestyle-libre-in-france-providing-access-to-revolutionary-technology-for-people-with-diabetes-300452755.html
News Article | March 8, 2016
An American company that bills itself as a pioneer in tracking emerging epidemics made a series of costly mistakes during the 2014 Ebola outbreak that swept across West Africa - with employees feuding with fellow responders, contributing to misdiagnosed Ebola cases and repeatedly misreading the trajectory of the virus, an Associated Press investigation has found. San Francisco-based Metabiota Inc. was tapped by the Sierra Leonean government and the World Health Organization to help monitor the spread of the virus and support the response after Ebola was discovered circulating in neighboring Guinea in March 2014. But emails obtained by AP and interviews with aid workers on the ground show that some of the company's actions made an already chaotic situation worse. WHO outbreak expert Dr. Eric Bertherat wrote to colleagues in a July 17, 2014, email about misdiagnoses and "total confusion" at the Sierra Leone government lab Metabiota shared with Tulane University in the city of Kenema. He said there was "no tracking of the samples" and "absolutely no control on what is being done." "This is a situation that WHO can no longer endorse," he wrote. Metabiota chief executive officer and founder Nathan Wolfe said there was no evidence his company was responsible for the lab blunders, that the reported squabbles were overblown and that any predictions made by his employees didn't reflect the company's position. He said Metabiota doesn't specialize in outbreak response and that his employees stepped in to help and performed admirably amid the carnage of the world's biggest-ever Ebola outbreak. "Metabiota's team worked tirelessly, skillfully and at substantial potential danger to themselves to assist when most of the world was still ignoring the problem," he said in an email. "We are proud of our team efforts which went above and beyond the call of duty." Wolfe said some of the problems flagged were misunderstandings - and that others were planted by commercial rivals. The complaints about Metabiota mirror the wider mismanagement that hamstrung the world's response to Ebola, a disease that has killed upward of 11,000 people. Previous AP reporting has shown that WHO resisted sounding the alarm over Ebola for two months on political, religious and economic grounds and failed to put together a decisive response even after the alert was issued. The turmoil that followed left health workers in Kenema bereft of protective equipment or even body bags and using expired chlorine, a crucial disinfectant. WHO said Metabiota was well-placed to help when Ebola broke out in West Africa because of its expertise with Lassa, a related disease. The agency declined to give any detail about how it dealt with the complaints from senior staff about the firm or the status of their current relationship. In Sierra Leone, Sylvia Blyden, who served as special executive assistant to the country's president in the early days of the outbreak, said Metabiota's response was a disaster. "They messed up the entire region," she said. She called Metabiota's attempt to claim credit for its Ebola work "an insult for the memories of thousands of Africans who have died." Wolfe, a swashbuckling scientist sometimes described as the Indiana Jones of virology, has focused his company's work on disease hotspots like West Africa in a bid to sniff out the next big threat. In his book, "The Viral Storm," Wolfe writes that his work is aimed at hunting down "the first moments at the birth of a new pandemic" to prevent its global spread. With a doctorate in immunology and infectious diseases from Harvard, Wolfe, 45, has found some serious backers. Metabiota and its nonprofit sister company Global Viral have received millions in funding from USAID, Google and the Skoll Foundation, among others. The Department of Defense alone has granted more than $18 million worth of contracts to the firm, federal records show. In the early months of the outbreak, with WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thin on the ground, Metabiota said it stepped in to help at the request of the Sierra Leonean government. An account posted to its website says Metabiota provided "critical support" in the earliest days of the outbreak, organizing training, jointly running Sierra Leone's Ebola laboratory, assisting with outbreak logistics and producing daily reports for the government. Messages saved to ProMed, a mailing list for outbreak watchers, are upbeat, describing Metabiota's tests and how it was teaching Sierra Leoneans how to set up Ebola isolation wards. On May 12, senior Metabiota scientist Dr. Jean-Paul Gonzalez said preparedness work had "ultimately protected, or at least uniquely prepared, Sierra Leone." But there were already reports of suspected infections in the country and, within weeks, the virus tore through Sierra Leone, overwhelming the hospital in Kenema where Metabiota shared the 700-square-foot (65-square-meter) lab with Tulane. To some at Tulane, which had a long-established research project at the lab, Metabiota's missteps were predictable. The two groups worked side-by-side in an uneasy relationship that observers said sometimes tipped into open conflict. Tulane microbiology professor Bob Garry questioned whether Gonzalez was the right person to teach Sierra Leoneans how to protect themselves from Ebola. In 1994, the French researcher was at the center of a safety scare at Yale University after he accidentally infected himself with the rare Sabia virus and didn't notify officials there for more than a week. The university put more than 100 people under surveillance and ordered Gonzalez to take a remedial safety course. Garry said that should have raised a red flag. "Do you really want the person who infected himself with hemorrhagic fever going around explaining to people how to be safe?" he asked. Gonzalez referred questions to a Metabiota press representative, who said in an email that the incident happened more than 20 years ago and that Gonzalez has extensive lab safety experience. But Garry also faced questions; the WHO emails obtained by AP complaining about the Kenema lab are as critical of Tulane as they are of Metabiota. Garry acknowledged mistakes but said they were understandable given the chaotic circumstances. "We didn't have the personnel and the infrastructure that was needed to handle the onslaught of cases that were coming," he said. "We were doing the best we had with what we had there." "THEY WERE AT WAR" As the death toll mounted in July, scientists from WHO, the United States and Canada were voicing concerns about what Metabiota and its Tulane colleagues were doing at the Kenema lab, according to the emails obtained by AP and interviews with those on the ground at the time. When Gary Kobinger, head of special pathogens at the Public Health Agency of Canada, double-checked some of the facility's work in mid-July, he found worrying discrepancies in four of eight tests and identified up to five people wrongly diagnosed with Ebola, among them a worker with the medical charity Doctors Without Borders. Kobinger told AP in a telephone interview that the misdiagnoses he caught suggested many more had gone unnoticed. "If you detect two, three, four, five, how many are out there?" he said. The mistakes were doubly dangerous in a country where many mistrusted international workers, who were suspected of spreading Ebola deliberately, said Bertherat, the WHO outbreak expert. Attempts to reassure a jittery public could be "totally ruined if the population does not trust anymore in the diagnostic of the medical teams," he wrote in an email. Bertherat proposed two fixes for the problematic lab: WHO could either train Metabiota and Tulane staffers, or close down the facility and transfer all testing to another lab. He told his boss on July 18, 2014, that shutting down the shared lab was the "more prudent" option. Five days later, Geneva-based WHO staffer Pat Drury emailed the agency's chief, Dr. Margaret Chan, with criticism of both Tulane and Metabiota, referring to their shared facility as two labs. "Both labs do not meet international standards for Biosecurity," he said, adding that "several patients have been wrongly tested positive." Metabiota founder Wolfe said "we did wonderful lab work as far as I'm concerned." Errors in the shared facility stopped once "other groups" were pulled from the testing and, in any case, he noted that Metabiota tested over 1,800 samples. Even if any mistakes were made, he said the error rates were well within ranges seen elsewhere. Wolfe did not name the "other groups," but documents and interviews show Metabiota and Tulane blamed each other. "On the surface, they were collaborating," Kobinger said. But in reality, "they were at war." U.S. health official Austin Demby, who was sent to evaluate the lab's work at the request of the CDC and Sierra Leone, said initial diagnostic tests carried out by Metabiota and Tulane clashed as often as 30 percent of the time. Errors raised the risk that the virus could be spread further by sending infected patients home or confining otherwise healthy people to infectious Ebola wards. In a July 21 email to CDC and State Department officials, Demby put the blame at Tulane's door, saying Metabiota's tests were always closer to the mark and that Tulane's "add no real value to the diagnosis." But Tulane's Garry said Metabiota's staff stirred confusion by not following protocol. Wolfe said that was "simply false." The lab's set-up also was worrisome. Used needles littered the place, according to a worker who spoke on condition of anonymity because the worker was not authorized to speak to the media. Demby said in his email that the lab lacked an ultraviolet light for decontamination and didn't have enough space to process blood samples safely. "The cross contamination potential is huge and quite frankly unacceptable," he wrote. Tulane pulled the plug on its tests soon thereafter and the lab's results improved. Kobinger credited Metabiota researcher Nadia Wauquier - "the hero of that whole gang" - with tightening procedures, but eventually the company was relieved of its testing duties and the CDC took over. Both Tulane and Metabiota say they stepped aside voluntarily. Outside the lab, the training touted by Metabiota unnerved some fellow responders. Anja Wolz, an emergency coordinator with Doctors Without Borders, told AP in an interview that she saw Metabiota workers enter the homes of suspected Ebola patients without protective gear and without decontaminating themselves before leaving high-risk areas. "They didn't even have chlorine with them to wash their hands," she said, adding that Metabiota project coordinator James Bangura told her they didn't need the critical disinfectant. "I didn't go inside the Metabiota lab," she said. "I refused to go because I had already seen enough." Aid workers also complained that Metabiota employees including Bangura and a Ugandan consultant hijacked the outbreak response in Kenema, which was supposed to be directed by WHO. Metabiota staffers "are systematically obstructing any attempt to improve the existing surveillance system and there are a lot of improvement(s) needed," WHO Ebola coordinator Philippe Barboza said in an August 8, 2014, email. The next day, he argued that WHO should pull its outbreak staff from Kenema so they wouldn't be tarred with Metabiota's failures, writing he was "very concerned of the potential reputational risk for WHO." British disease expert Chris Lane echoed Barboza's concerns. In a message to Barboza, he lamented that "much good work was achieved prior to the arrival of the Metabiota field staff." Barboza and Lane declined comment on the arguments. Metabiota officials acknowledged the dispute but downplayed it. "It is inaccurate to suggest a major conflict between WHO and Metabiota," Wolfe said, noting that Bangura was awarded a Sierra Leonean presidential silver medal for his Ebola efforts. Nevertheless, the disagreement was serious enough that Metabiota said it fired the consultant and pulled Bangura from Kenema. The consequences went beyond office politics. In one email, Barboza said 1 million euros in funding proposed by the International Rescue Committee was being held up because the donors wanted "a clear WHO leadership." Some responders said one of the most disturbing mistakes Metabiota employees made was misreading the epidemic. Wolz, of Doctors Without Borders, said she recalled a meeting in the early summer as cases began multiplying "when I said that the outbreak was completely out of control." She said Metabiota responded, 'No, we know where we are, everything is OK.'" Kobinger, the Canadian scientist, said Bangura would interpret temporary dips in the number of cases to mean that the outbreak was dissipating. He said he couldn't fathom that reasoning given the number of Ebola-positive samples pouring into his own lab in nearby Kailahun. Though Bangura said he did not personally make any estimates, Kobinger said Bangura told him in July that the outbreak would be over in "two or three weeks." Any suggestion Metabiota wrongly forecast the Ebola epidemic is rejected by Wolfe, who once wrote that his career is focused on creating systems "that can accurately detect pandemics early, determine their likely importance, and, with any luck, crush those that have the potential to devastate us." Wolfe told AP that his company couldn't be held responsible for the predictions of employees seconded to Sierra Leone's Health Ministry. "We didn't make forecasts. We loaned individuals to the ministry," Wolfe said. "So the notion that somehow it's a Metabiota forecast is simply completely inaccurate." Fellow responders may not have grasped the distinction. On Aug. 11 - just three days after WHO had declared the crisis a global emergency - Metabiota employees presented a slideshow to an Ebola task force. Next to a bar chart showing a slowdown in cases were the words: "The outbreak is stabilizing." "This is the kind of report we get from Metabiota epidemiologists," she emailed colleagues from the presentation. "They are sending wrong messages. The outbreak is clearly not stabilizing." It was only in the second half of August that Kenema numbers began falling and, even then, the virus was merely moving to more populated areas. Nearly two years after the virus was first discovered circulating near its border, Sierra Leone still is not officially Ebola-free. "THEY MESSED UP ON EBOLA" Despite doubts about Metabiota's performance, Wolfe's firm has largely been congratulated on its work in West Africa. In December 2014, it won a European Union grant to help validate new tests and treatments for the disease, something a company official said was in recognition of "the critical contributions our team has made in supporting the current outbreak." In 2015, the company raised some $30 million in investment from four U.S. investment firms intended to "support Metabiota's efforts to further develop and deliver epidemic risk management worldwide," according to a press release. Even WHO has publicly credited Metabiota for its work during the outbreak. Months after Senga, one of its employees, complained privately about Metabiota's optimistic predictions in Kenema, she wrote a sunnier account on WHO's website. "The fact that they were already there helped a lot," she wrote in a post called "Ebola Diaries." Tulane and Metabiota employees already being established in Kenema "made our case investigations and contact tracing work a lot easier," she wrote. Guillaume Lachenal, a medical historian at Paris Diderot University who has followed Metabiota's work in Africa, said it was indecent of the company to claim Ebola as a success story. "They messed up on Ebola. That can happen," he said. "To make a success story out of their Ebola response, that's quite something." Satter and Cheng also reported from London. Krista Larson contributed to this report from Kenema, Sierra Leone. Lisa Leff contributed from San Francisco.
News Article | November 19, 2016
Ask about the fish in restaurants in the centre of Puerto Maldonado, the biggest town in Peru’s south-east Amazon, and you’ll hear all kinds of things. Some people will shake their heads and say there isn’t any fish on the menu “because of the contamination” or “out of protocol”. Others might say there is fish available, before sometimes hastily clarifying that it comes from farms along the Inter-Oceanica Highway running to Brazil, or from the Pacific coast, or even, according to one chef, all the way from Vietnam. Why such problems with the fish in this part of the Amazon? Answer: alluvial gold and the mercury required to extract it. The gold-rush in the 8.5m hectare Madre de Dios region began in the 1980s and, by 2012, miners had destroyed more than 50,000 hectares of forest, effectively dumping 100s of tons of mercury into the rivers while doing so. In May this year Peru’s outgoing government announced a pathetic 60-day “declaration of emergency”. An image of a unpublished map obtained by the Guardian, based on “preliminary results” from studies of local inhabitants by the Duke Global Health Institute in the US, provides some idea of how widely-spread and severe the mercury contamination is across Madre de Dios. Arguably the map’s most alarming revelation is that the most contaminated area of all is upstream from the mining: the stretch of the River Madre de Dios between towns called Boca Colorado and Boca Manu, a significant part of which is in the buffer zone of the Manu national park, which Unesco calls the most biodiverse place on earth. “It is noteworthy that some areas with high averages of mercury are upriver from the mining zones,” states the map, which was shown to Health Ministry officials earlier this year. The map suggests the second worse-hit area is inside the Manu park itself, immediately upriver from Boca Manu, along the River Manu’s left bank. The right bank is affected too. William Pan, the study’s lead researcher, told the Guardian “we didn’t sample people in Manu national park”, but explains the map on the basis that his teams have sampled several communities “along that bend of the river (Rio Manu/Rio Madre de Dios)” and “the map smoothing method creates a 10km buffer around the study sites and the exposure is extrapolated”. How come people upstream are the most contaminated? Or maybe the mercury there has little or nothing to do with gold? As acknowledged by a 2011 report by the Environment Ministry, titled Gold-mining and Mercury Contamination in Madre de Dios: a Time-Bomb, mercury stored naturally in Amazon soil and vegetation is released when the forest is cut down or burnt and then leaches into the water. Pan describes the mercury levels recorded by Duke as “very high” and says Madre de Dios is experiencing a “chronic mercury epidemic.” The contamination upstream was, he says, “the most surprising finding of our human Hg [mercury] assessment.” “The communities near the confluence of Rio Manu and Rio Madre de Dios have the highest exposures in the region,” Pan told the Guardian. “When we tested fish, water and sediment, none of the values were high. So we were surprised when people were detected with high levels. We have several hypotheses that we are evaluating.” According to Pan, those hypotheses are the people in that region migrate downriver to work in the mining, and that they are more dependent than the rest of Madre de Dios on local agriculture, fish and meat because there are no roads. Another is that “due to reliance on fish consumption, they are likely eat larger fish, which will have more Hg just naturally”. Pan says the map was “supposed to be confidential with the Ministry of Health” because it is “unpublished data and we have not fully analysed all the samples,” calling it “very crude” and far from final. He told the Guardian it is based on three distinct studies conducted between May 2014 and June 2016, and the final results will include samples from almost 72 sites. He says the Health Ministry has “real monetary constraints right now due to expenditures of the prior ministry”. Previous research by Pan and colleagues argued that mercury contamination is generating “significant health risks” for communities in Madre de Dios “hundreds of kilometres” downstream from the mining, particularly among children and indigenous people. “Children living within the central portion of the [Madre de Dios] watershed cannot safely consume carnivorous fish without exceeding recommended international [mercury] body burdens,” stated an article by Pan et al in Environmental Science in January 2015. “Deforestation and mercury release are an immediate threat to both local and distant downstream communities, many of which do not benefit economically from [the mining].” The law announcing Peru’s declaration of emergency in May stated that many people in Madre de Dios have “higher than the maximum recommended limits” of mercury, which causes “serious, chronic and complex health problems, particularly in children and pregnant women.” “[M]ercury contamination of the air, water, sediment and fish is the result of inadequate practices by illegal and informal gold-miners during the extraction and working of alluvial gold,” the law stated. “In addition, there are people located beyond the mining extraction zones that are at high risk of being contaminated with mercury because of the high levels of it detected in the environment and in certain fish species, especially Mota Punteada, which is part of the daily diet of Madre de Dios’s population.” The social and environmental tragedy unfolding in Madre de Dios has been known about for many years: the Ministry of Environment dubbed it a “time-bomb” five years ago, but the bomb was ticking long before that. Will Peru’s new government, led by president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, now take sincere, sustainable, non-violent steps to address the problem - not just in the Boca Manu region, obviously, but across Madre de Dios and Peru’s Amazon as a whole? What steps can the government take to initiate a massive public health campaign and inform those who are contaminated, or are at risk, and provide access to treatment – and if it doesn’t have the funds do so, who can provide them? What forms of alternative employment can be created, so those who find themselves forced to mine and handle mercury have other options? What steps can those buying, selling, hoarding, working and wearing Peruvian gold take to ensure they stop contributing to the devastation of huge swathes of the Amazon and the contamination of 1,000s of people living there? The World Health Organization calls mercury “one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern”, and states that human activity, including gold-mining and coal-fired power stations, is the “main cause of mercury releases.” Peru is one of the world’s biggest gold producers, with the main importers being Canada, India, Switzerland, the UK and the US. A report published in April by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime argued that 28% of all gold in Peru is illegal, with illegal gold-mining across Latin America increasingly controlled by drugs traffickers and “organized crime” groups. In January Peru ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a legally-binding global treaty which commits parties to regulate artisanal and small-scale mining, among other things, and states that “parties may cooperate with each other” to stop altogether the use of mercury or mercury compounds in such mining. Switzerland and the US have ratified the Convention too, but Canada, India and the UK haven’t. Peru’s Health Ministry did not respond to questions.
News Article | January 14, 2016
Researchers have found the strongest evidence so far of a possible link between a mosquito-borne virus and a surge of birth defects in Brazil, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. The health agency said evidence of the dengue-like Zika virus was found in the placentas from two women who miscarried and the brains of two newborns who died. Those who were born had small heads, a rare condition known as microcephaly. "The evidence is becoming very, very strong of the link between the two," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of mosquito-borne diseases at the CDC. Finding the virus present in brain tissue is "very significant," he said. Petersen warned that the link is not yet definite and said that a team of CDC investigators is traveling to Brazil in a few weeks to conduct more studies and learn what risks face pregnant women. "It's possible that there may be some other co-factors involved." Zika is spread by the same Aedes mosquito that can carry dengue and chikungunya. There are no known cases of people contracting the virus in the U.S. mainland, though it has been seen in retrning travelers. Puerto Rico reported its first case of Zika two weeks ago, and 13 countries in Latin America have also seen infections. The virus is related to dengue but until recently was thought to have only mild symptoms. It was first detected in humans in Uganda decades ago, but there had never been reports of links between the virus and brain malformations until recent months. However, Brazil is experiencing the largest known outbreak of Zika, so it's possible that a rare birth defect simply didn't appear in previous smaller outbreaks, Petersen said. "This is quite unique for this type of virus," Petersen said. Mosquito-borne viruses generally don't lead to neurological problems. "I don't think anybody has any idea how Zika is crossing the placenta into these fetuses, or why Zika is doing it and other closely related viruses like dengue don't," said Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. Dr. Ernesto Marques, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Pittsburgh who is also studying Zika and the birth defects outbreak in Brazil, said he is finding so far that a very small percentage of pregnant women who reported Zika symptoms gave birth to babies with microcephaly. He said a problem facing epidemiologists is the lack of labs that are able to test for Zika. Marques said estimates that the country had between 440,000 and 1.3 million cases of the virus in 2015 are not reliable. "It needs to be better diagnosed. We don't know many, and we need a better response," he said. Brazilian health authorities have said there's no question Zika is behind the birth defects. The Health Ministry said late Tuesday that 3,530 babies have been born with microcephaly in the country since October. The number was less than 150 in 2014. Now the government finds itself with a growing number of children with mental retardation concentrated in one of the poorest regions of the country in the northeast. On Wednesday, Alberto Beltrame, national secretary of health care, said the government would invest $163 million to provide care and physical and speech therapy to those babies through the first three years. Beltrame said the government wants to train more than 7,500 physical therapists, doctors and psychologists in techniques to help develop motor and language skills in infants and toddlers with microcephaly.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Burnt beyond recognition from an accident at home with gasoline, clinging for life in a hospital at age 9, John O’Leary’s mother asked him if he wanted to live or die. O’Leary remembers thinking only how much trouble he was going to get in with his dad. “The only other thing I was thinking was. ‘Do I have the strength to take the next step in my journey?" says O’Leary, now married, a best-selling author and inspirational speaker. O’Leary is also the keynote speaker for the 2017 Refresh Your Soul Conference, presented annually by the Parish Health Ministry of Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS), an event expanding in exponential fashion next year with a two-day symposium in partnership with Xavier University. To be held at The Cintas Center March 13 and 14, the 2017 Refresh Your Soul Conference, the primary fundraising vehicle for Parish Health Ministry, promises to be as insightful, thought-provoking, informative and fun as ever. A longtime service of ERS, Parish Health Ministry serves as the ecumenical outreach between ERS (http://www.episcopalretirement.com) and 70+ churches across Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Mr. O’Leary will be sharing his inspirational life story and buoyant messages to a crowd of caregivers and health care professionals seeking to understand more about life-changing conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. He will be joined by renowned industry speakers Loretta Anne Woodward Snow and Teepa Snow; Ms. Snow spoke last year. “Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Overcoming the Struggles and Living Inspired” is the theme; day two is the annual Xavier Dementia Care Summit. Tickets are on sale for a $59 early-bird price good until Feb. 22, 2017, after which the fee is $69. Contact Hours are available for continuing education and professional accreditation purposes (RN/LPN, Social Worker, Nursing Home Administrator, etc.) Ms. Veney is an author and well-known speaker who has motivated, taught and trained audiences throughout the U.S. and Europe. She is the founder and principal consultant of Superior Training Solutions, LLC. She has delivered numerous presentations on dementia and elder care planning for the Alzheimer’s Association, support groups, and memory care communities. She chronicles her nine-year journey with her Mom’s dementia as their parent/child roles have reversed in her book, "Being My Mom's Mom - A Journey through Dementia from a Daughter's Perspective." Their journey has been faithful, funny, heartbreaking and hopeful. Teepa Snow is one of America’s leading educators on dementia. Working as a Registered Occupational Therapist for more than 30 years, her experience has led her to develop Positive Approach™ to Care techniques used by families and professionals working or living with dementia throughout the world. She has an independent practice as well as clinical appointments with Duke University and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. She is an enlightening, witty, entertaining, and energetic speaker. Registration, exhibitors and continental breakfast starts at 8 a.m. Luncheon presentations will be offered by Mr. O’Leary and Ms. Veney, entitled “ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life” and “Lifting the Spirit of Caregivers,” respectively. For tickets, registration and additional information, please visit: http://www.episcopalretirement.com/parish-health-ministry/refresh-your-soul-conference. To help meet the long-term goal of Parish Health Ministry becoming self-supporting, this event is the primary fundraiser for the ministry. One hundred percent of the proceeds from this conference will benefit ERS Parish Health Ministry. Parish Health Ministry, a program of Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS), assists congregations of all denominations throughout Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and Southeastern Ohio develop or enhance their own faith community nurse/health ministry. The ministry was founded in 1998 and currently serves 70 congregations across southern Ohio. Since 1951, ERS has dedicated itself to improving the lives of older adults through innovative, quality living environments and in-home and community-based services delivered by experienced and compassionate professionals.
News Article | February 28, 2017
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel carried out a series of airstrikes on militant sites across the Gaza Strip on Monday, wounding at least four people, officials said, following a rocket attack on southern Israel that caused no casualties. Explosions could be heard and smoke rose into the air in the southern town of Rafah, on the Gaza-Egypt border. "The Israeli entity bears full responsibility for the continuation of this dangerous escalation against Gaza. Continuing the targeting of the resistance sites and other properties and structures to deliberately blow up the situation is unacceptable," said Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for the ruling Hamas militant group. The Israeli military said it had targeted five Hamas positions throughout Gaza in response to the earlier rocket strike. The Israeli military "holds Hamas accountable for any attacks from the Gaza Strip that jeopardize the safety of Israelis and breach Israel's sovereignty," said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman. Hamas security forces blocked journalists from approaching one of the targets in Rafah, suggesting a sensitive installation had been hit. The local Health Ministry said four people were slightly or moderately wounded. Local media said training bases used by the ruling Hamas militant group, as well as the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group, were also struck in central and northern Gaza. Earlier Monday, a rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel, landing in an empty field. There were no reports of injuries. Since a 50-day war between Israel and Gaza militants in the summer of 2014, a cease-fire has largely held. But militants in Gaza occasionally fire rockets at Israel's south. Israel typically responds to any rocket fire from Gaza. Although most rocket fire since the war has come from smaller rivals of Hamas, Israel holds the Islamic militant group, which has controlled Gaza for a decade, responsible for all attacks emanating from the territory. There was no immediate claim of responsibility in Gaza for the rocket. A Jihadist group that supports the Islamic State group has taken responsibility for similar attacks in the past.
News Article | December 8, 2016
A new report funded by the italian Health Ministry highlights the potential benefits of whole exome sequencing in understanding the genetic origins of pleural mesothelioma and other cancers and using it to help plan treatment. Surviving Mesothelioma has just posted a new article on the case study. Click here to read it now. Whole exome sequencing (WES) is the process of sequencing all of an individual’s protein-coding genes. The exome makes up about one percent of a person’s total genome. “Overall, whole exome sequencing did not disclose any somatic genetic variant shared across the 3 tumors, suggesting their clonal independency,” writes lead author Irene Vanni, MS, of the National Institute for Cancer Research in Genova. The case study, published in the journal Medicine, suggests that whole exome sequencing may help doctors create targeted gene therapies to treat pleural mesothelioma. “Gene therapy is one of the most promising new approaches to treating intractable cancers like malignant mesothelioma and genomic sequencing, including whole exome sequencing, is the technology that makes it possible,” says Alex Strauss, Managing Editor of Surviving Mesothelioma. To learn more about whole exome sequencing and its potential role in mesothelioma therapy, see Exome Sequencing Helps Reveal Origins of Mesothelioma Tumor, now available on the Surviving Mesothelioma website. Vanni, I, et al, “Whole exome sequencing of independent lung adenocarcinoma, lung squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant peritoneal mesothelioma: A case report”, November 2016, Medicine, e5447, http://journals.lww.com/md-journal/Fulltext/2016/11290/Whole_exome_sequencing_of_independent_lung.16.aspx For nearly ten years, Surviving Mesothelioma has brought readers the most important and ground-breaking news on the causes, diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma. All Surviving Mesothelioma news is gathered and reported directly from the peer-reviewed medical literature. Written for patients and their loved ones, Surviving Mesothelioma news helps families make more informed decisions.
News Article | December 22, 2016
BERLIN (AP) — German officials presented mounting evidence Thursday that Anis Amri was behind the wheel of a truck that smashed into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12, as authorities across Europe pressed ahead with their feverish manhunt for the 24-year-old Tunisian, who has evaded capture since the attack. Police raided properties in Berlin and the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia where Amri is believed to have spent time. They also swooped on a bus in the southwestern city of Heilbronn after receiving a tip that turned up nothing. No arrests were made, said Frauke Koehler, a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors. Even so, investigators were increasingly confident that Amri carried out the rampage after finding his fingerprints in the cab of the truck that had been hijacked shortly before Monday's attack. "We can tell you today that there are additional indications that this suspect is with high probability really the perpetrator," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said after visiting the Federal Criminal Police Office along with Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Fingerprints were found in the cab, and there are other, additional indications that suggest this," he told reporters. "It is all the more important that the search is successful as soon as possible." German authorities have been on the defensive after it emerged that Amri had been considered a potential threat for months, subjected to surveillance and put in pre-deportation detention in August only to be released again due to paperwork problems. The fact that the attack is alleged to have been carried out by a man who came to Germany seeking asylum last year also prompted fresh criticism of Merkel's decision to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants into the country without thorough security checks. While police have noted that most migrants are law-abiding, a number of high-profile crimes, including the New Year's Eve assaults in Cologne and several violent attacks over the summer have stoked anti-migrant feeling in Germany. Two attacks in July, along with the truck attack in Berlin, were claimed by the Islamic State group. "We have made great efforts in recent years to better prepare for terrorist threats," Merkel told reporters. "This makes me confident that we will withstand the test that we now face." While members of Merkel's party have called for tighter asylum laws and a crackdown on potential extremists in the wake of the attack, the chancellor appealed once more for calm. "I want to say how very proud I've been in recent days that the great majority of people have reacted soberly," she said. At the site of the bloodbath, Berliners made a show of defiance. Vendors reopened their stalls at the Christmas market next to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church even as police placed concrete blocks by the roadside to provide extra security. In tribute to the victims, organizers decided to do without festive music and bright lights. Berliners and visitors placed candles and flowers at a makeshift shrine for the victims . Berlin's state Health Ministry raised the number of injured in the attack to 56, saying some victims went to hospitals on their own. The agency said 12 people were being treated for severe injuries, with some still in critical condition. Another 14 people with less-serious injuries remained hospitalized and 30 others had been discharged. German authorities have offered a reward of 100,000 euros ($105,000) for information leading to Amri's arrest, but they warned he could be "violent and armed." In Tunisia, Amri's brothers spoke to The Associated Press, urging him to surrender to authorities. "Whether he did it or not, I ask him to report to the police. We are suffering because of him," said Abdelkader Amri. Another brother, Walid, said Amri may have been radicalized in prison in Italy, where he went after leaving Tunisia in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Italy's Justice Ministry confirmed reports that Amri was repeatedly transferred among Sicilian prisons for bad conduct, with prison records saying he bullied inmates and tried to spark insurrections. He served 3½ years for setting a fire at a refugee center and making threats, among other things — but Italy apparently detected no signs that he was becoming radicalized.