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Tech wrap: GSK malaria vaccine tests; Samsung S8 screen cracks; Trump calls astronaut; FDA OKs biosimilar;

Bulldog

Apr, 25 2017, 6:41 AM

In today's Bulldog wrapup of science and technology news:

The details:

Three African countries have been chosen to test the world's first malaria vaccine, the World Health Organization announced Monday. Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will begin piloting the injectable vaccine next year with hundreds of thousands of young children, who have been at highest risk of death.

The malaria vaccine has been developed by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, and the $49 million for the first phase of the pilot is being funded by the global vaccine alliance GAVI, UNITAID and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The vaccine, which has partial effectiveness, has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives if used with existing measures, the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said in a statement. The challenge is whether impoverished countries can deliver the required four doses of the vaccine for each child.

Malaria remains one of the world's most stubborn health challenges, infecting more than 200 million people every year and killing about half a million, most of them children in Africa. Bed netting and insecticides are the chief protection.

Sub-Saharan Africa is hardest hit by the disease, with about 90 percent of the world's cases in 2015. Malaria spreads when a mosquito bites someone already infected, sucks up blood and parasites, and then bites another person.

A global effort to counter malaria has led to a 62 percent cut in deaths between 2000 and 2015, WHO said. But the U.N. agency has said in the past that such estimates are based mostly on modeling and that data is so bad for 31 countries in Africa — including those believed to have the worst outbreaks — that it couldn't tell if cases have been rising or falling in the last 15 years.

The vaccine will be tested on children five to 17 months old to see whether its protective effects shown so far in clinical trials can hold up under real-life conditions. At least 120,000 children in each of the three countries will receive the vaccine, which has taken decades of work and hundreds of millions of dollars to develop.

Samsung's latest phones feature big wraparound screens and lots of glass. They also appear to break more easily, according to tests run by SquareTrade, a company that sells gadget-repair plans.

The nearly all-glass design of Samsung's Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus makes them beautiful, SquareTrade said, but also "extremely susceptible to cracking when dropped from any angle."

Samsung had no comment.

The new phones have received positive reviews from The Associated Press and other outlets. Samsung says advanced orders for the S8 were 30 percent higher than that for the Galaxy S7 phones. The company didn't release specific figures. The S8 starts at $750, which is about $100 higher than the S7.

SquareTrade said Monday that cracks appeared on screens of both the S8 and S8 Plus after just one face-down drop onto a sidewalk from six feet. The phones had similar problems when dropped on the backs and sides.

Unsurprisingly, both models did well in water-drop tests. The phones had some audio distortion, but that is typical and temporary. The S8 has water-resistance features.

SquareTrade didn't test the phones' battery, the source of problems that led to a recall of Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 phone.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson broke the U.S. record Monday for most time in space and talked up Mars during a congratulatory call from President Donald Trump.

The International Space Station's commander surpassed the record of 534 days, two hours and 48 minutes for most accumulated time in space by an American.

"This is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight," Trump said. His daughter and close adviser, Ivanka Trump, also offered congratulations to Whitson from the Oval Office.

Whitson said it's "a huge honor" to break such a record. "It's an exciting time" as NASA prepares for human expeditions to Mars in the 2030s, included in new legislation signed by Trump last month. She called the space station "a key bridge" between living on Earth and traveling into deep space, and she singled out the station's recycling system that transforms astronauts' urine into drinking water.

"It's really not as bad as it sounds," she assured the president.

"Well, that's good, I'm glad to hear that," he replied. "Better you than me."

Federal regulators on Friday approved another alternative version of Remicade, an expensive injected drug widely used for rheumatoid arthritis and other immune system disorders.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Renflexis, developed by Samsung Bioepis Co. of South Korea. Its U.S. partner, Merck & Co. of Kenilworth, New Jersey, will market Renflexis.

Merck said Renflexis should be available in six months. The delay is required under U.S. regulations for a relatively new category called biosimilars. That's the industry term for generic but not quite identical versions of biotech drugs.

Without insurance, Remicade generally costs more than $30,000 annually for adults; dosage varies by weight. The first biosimilar for Remicade, Inflectra from New York-based Pfizer Inc., went on sale in November at a 15 percent discount. The companies refused to disclose the list price of Renflexis.

Many U.S. insurers are requiring patients to switch to lower-priced biosimilars, and the new competition will help insurers negotiate bigger discounts from manufacturers.

Remicade is health care giant Johnson & Johnson's top seller, with 2016 sales totaling $7 billion. It's approved to treat eight different immune disorders, including two in children. Renflexis is approved for seven of those: Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and plaque psoriasis, plus Crohn's in children.





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