Pfizer Hikes U.S. Prices For Over 100 Drugs On January 1

Compliments of Reuters 

Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), which plans a $160-billion merger with Ireland-based Allergan Plc (AGN.N) to slash its U.S. tax bill, on Jan. 1 raised U.S. prices for more than 100 of its drugs, some by as much as 20 percent, according to statistics compiled by global information services company Wolters Kluwer.

Pfizer confirmed a 9.4 percent increase for heavily advertised pain drug Lyrica, which generated $2.3 billion in 2014 U.S. sales; a 12.9 percent increase for erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, which had 2014 U.S. sales of $1.1 billion; and a 5 percent increase for Ibrance, a novel breast cancer drug launched last year at a list price of $9,850 per month, or $118,200 per year.

Company spokesman Steven Danehy could not immediately confirm the remaining price increases, which were compiled by a unit of Wolters Kluwer Health and published in a research note by UBS Securities.

U.S. lawmakers, and presidential candidates, have in recent months stepped up criticism of U.S. drug prices trends, driven in part by eye-popping price hikes from companies with recently acquired generic drugs.

“Medicines are among the most effective and efficient use of private and public health care dollars,” Pfizer said in an emailed statement.

“It is important to note that the list price does not reflect the considerable discounts offered to the government, managed care organizations, and commercial health plans and certain programs that restrict any increases above the inflation rate.”

UBS said Pfizer increased prices by 20 percent for anticonvulsant Dilantin, hormone therapy Menest, angina drug Nitrostat, Tykosyn for irregular heartbeat, and antibiotic Tygacil.

The analyst report said U.S. prices were raised on a total of 105 Pfizer drugs. No price reductions were reported.

Pfizer is by no means the only drugmaker to raise prices. Research firm Truveris found that U.S. prescription drug prices rose 10.9 percent in 2014, including a 15 percent increase for brand-name products.

The planned Pfizer/Allergan deal, which would create the world’s largest drugmaker and shift Pfizer’s headquarters to Ireland, would also be the biggest-ever instance of a U.S. company re-incorporating overseas to lower its taxes. U.S. President Barack Obama has called such inversion deals unpatriotic and has tried to crack down on the practice.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton pledged to propose measures to prevent such deals. The merger was also slammed by her rival Senator Bernie Sanders as well as by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Pfizer, which will report its 2015 earnings February 2, posted biopharmaceutical revenue of $45.7 billion in 2014, including U.S. sales of $17.2 billion.

Also in 2014 the company, currently headquartered in New York, spent $8.4 billion on research and development, $14.1 billion on sales, informational and administrative costs, including advertising, and nearly $12 billion to buy back its shares and pay dividends to shareholders.

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Isis Claims It Carried Out Baghdad Mall Attack That Leaves 18 Dead

 Compliments of The Guardian

Gunmen stormed into a Baghdad mall on Monday after setting off a car bomb and launching a suicide attack at its entrance, killing at least 18 people and wounding 50 in the city’s mainly Shia east, Iraqi officials said. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

The officials initially described the attack as a hostage situation, estimating that 50 people were trapped inside the complex. But Iraqi forces soon surrounded the building and landed troops on the roof. They clashed with the attackers inside, killing two of them, arresting another four and declaring the standoff over.

At least four police were among those killed in the assault, which lasted around an hour and a half, according to the police and medical officials.

Following the attack, authorities shut down the city’s highly fortified Green Zone, home to a number of foreign embassies and most of the country’s political elite. A number of major roads, shopping malls and bridges around the Iraqi capital were also closed for fear of follow-up attacks.

Also on Monday evening, a car bomb in south-east Baghdad in a crowded market area killed five and wounded 12, according to hospital and police officials.

Islamic State often targets the country’s Shia majority with bombs in crowded marketplaces that are designed to kill large numbers of civilians.

Isis controls much of northern and western Iraq, but suffered a major defeat last month when Iraqi forces drove the extremists out of the western city of Ramadi, capital of the sprawling Anbar province.

The extremists’ rampage across Iraq in the summer of 2014 was halted several miles away from Baghdad, but the group has claimed a number of attacks in the heavily guarded capital since then.

 

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Mexico Begins Extradition Process to Send Captured Drug Lord ‘El Chapo’ to U.S.

Compliments of USA Today

The Mexican government said Saturday it had started the process to extradite captured cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera to the United States, where he would face organized crime, drug and money laundering charges – and presumably find it harder to escape from prison for a third time.

“With the capture of Guzmán Loera it should start the respective extradition proceedings, which, according to the Extradition Law, has several steps,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

The office gave no timetable for the process, though Guzmán, upon being notified, had three days to contest the extradition and 20 days to present evidence in his defense. Guzmán also had the right to seek injunctions against his extradition, but the attorney general’s office says he had unsuccessfully sought similar actions while on the lam for the past six months.

U.S. officials twice requested Guzmán’s extradition in July and August of 2015 after he had slipped out of a maximum-security prison through an almost mile-long tunnel. Federal judges accepted the requests and issued arrest warrants for the purpose of extradition.

The extradition issue has been a thorny one for Mexico, which preferred to imprison Guzmán near Mexico City instead of sending him to the United States – in spite of fears he might escape.

Extradition requests made after his February 2014 arrest, but prior to his escape, were denied. The then-attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam infamously said Guzmán would go to the United States after serving his sentence in Mexico, “(In) about 300, 400 years.”

Extraditions of cartel bosses have been carried out since Guzmán’s most recent escape. Texas-born enforcer Edgar Valdéz Villarreal, better known as “La Barbie,” plead guilty to drug charges in an Atlanta court last week.

Some in Mexico expressed opposition to the extradition of high-profile criminals, however.

“I don’t see it as correct that to pay for the sins of Mexican authorities, their responsibilities should be discharged in another country,” said Francisco Martínez Neri, leader of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party in the lower house of Congress.

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Pretend to be Christians: ISIS Urges UK jihadis to Cut Beards, Shun Mosques & Wear Crosses

Compliments of Express 

The booklet, called Safety and Security Guidelines for Lone Wolf Mujahideen, offers a chilling insight into the levels of preparation expected of those wishing to cause carnage in Europe.

The 58-page terror manual, which has burning western-style buildings on the front cover, gushes about the importance of surprise when launching an attack to cause maximum impact.

It urges home-grown terrorists to carry out attacks as they are less likely to be noticed.

It also explains how nightclubs, full of loud music and drunk people, are the perfect place to discuss terror plans without being recorded or snooped on.

The main thrust of the instruction booklet is the necessity to blend in with the western way of life and to avoid ‘looking like a Muslim’ so as to stay below the radar of the security services.

It has even been translated into English for those in the West who don’t speak Arabic.

The introduction says: “No doubt that today, at the era of the lone wolves, brothers in the Westneed to know some important things about safety in order to ensure success in their operations.

“We thought a lot of non-Arabic speaking brothers would find it interesting and may apply it in their blessed operations.”

Readers are urged to wear a Christian cross, splash on the aftershave, cut off beards and even shun prayer meetings and mosques to avoid detection.

There is even advice about what jewellery to wear and on which hand to wear a watch.

Potential terrorists are told: “If you can avoid having a beard, wearing qamis, using miswak and having a booklet of dhikr with you, it’s better.

“It is permissible for you to wear a necklace showing a Christian cross.

“As you know, Christians – or even atheist Westerners with Christian background – wear crosses on their necklaces.

“But don’t wear a cross necklace if you have a Muslim name on your passport, as that may look strange.

“If you want to use perfume, don’t use the oily, non-alcoholic perfume that Muslims use, instead use generic alcoholic perfume as everyone does, and if you are a man, use perfume for men.

“If you are wearing a watch, don’t wear it on your right hand, as this is a sign that you are religious.

“If you have an engagement ring or something like that, it’s better to wear one in gold or better yet, don’t wear any ring at all.

“A silver ring could tell you are religious, as Islam forbids wearing gold rings for men. “

It also offers advice on grooming habits.

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Legendary Artist David Bowie Dies at 69

Compliments of Yahoo News

David Bowie has died after a battle with cancer, his representative confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.

“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief,” read a statement posted on the artist’s official social media accounts.

The influential singer-songwriter and producer dabbled in glam rock, art rock, soul, hard rock, dance pop, punk and electronica during his eclectic 40-plus-year career.

Bowie’s artistic breakthrough came with 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, an album that fostered the notion of rock star as space alien. Fusing British mod with Japanese kabuki styles and rock with theater, Bowie created the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust.

Three years later, Bowie achieved his first major American crossover success with the No. 1 single “Fame” off the top 10 album Young Americans, then followed with the 1976 avant-garde art rock LP Station to Station, which made it to No. 3 on the charts and featured top 10 hit “Golden Years.”

Other memorable songs included 1983’s “Let’s Dance” — his only other No. 1 U.S. hit — “Space Oddity,” “Heroes,” “Changes,” “Under Pressure,” “China Girl,” “Modern Love,” “Rebel, Rebel,” “All the Young Dudes,” “Panic in Detroit,” “Fashion,” “Life on Mars,” “Suffragette City” and a 1977 Christmas medley with Bing Crosby.

With his different-colored eyes (the result of a schoolyard fight) and needlelike frame, Bowie was a natural to segue from music into curious movie roles, and he starred as an alien seeking help for his dying planet in Nicolas Roeg’s surreal The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Critics later applauded his three-month Broadway stint as the misshapen lead in 1980’s The Elephant Man.

Bowie also starred in Marlene Dietrich’s last film, Just a Gigolo (1978), portrayed a World War II prisoner of war in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), and played Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). And in another groundbreaking move, Bowie, who always embraced technology, became the first rock star to morph into an Internet Service Provider with the launch in September 1998 of BowieNet.

Born David Jones in London on Jan. 8, 1947, Bowie changed his name in 1966 after The Monkees’ Davy Jones achieved stardom. He played saxophone and started a mime company, and after stints in several bands he signed with Mercury Records, which in 1969 released his album Man of Words, Man of Music, which featured “Space Oddity,” a poignant song about an astronaut, Major Tom, spiraling out of control.

In an attempt to stir interest in Ziggy Stardust, Bowie revealed in a January 1972 magazine interview that he was gay — though that might have been a publicity stunt — dyed his hair orange and began wearing women’s garb. The album became a sensation.

Wrote rock critic Robert Christgau: “This is audacious stuff right down to the stubborn wispiness of its sound, and Bowie’s actorly intonations add humor and shades of meaning to the words, which are often witty and rarely precious, offering an unusually candid and detailed vantage on the rock star’s world.”

Bowie changed gears in 1975. Becoming obsessed with the dance/funk sounds of Philadelphia, his self-proclaimed “plastic soul”-infused Young Americans peaked at No. 9 with the single “Fame,” which he co-wrote with John Lennon and guitarist Carlos Alomar.

After the soulful but colder Station to Station, Bowie again confounded expectations after settling in Germany by recording the atmospheric 1977 album Low, the first of his “Berlin Trilogy” collaborations with keyboardist Brian Eno.

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Hong Kong: Thousands Rally Over Missing Booksellers

Compliments of BBC 

All are suspected of being held in China, and the protesters fear the growing influence of Beijing.

Under the “one country, two systems” principle Hong Kong is supposed to enjoy high degrees of autonomy from China since it took over from Britain.

Hong Kong authorities said they were conducting a “thorough” investigation.

A government spokesman said they were awaiting a response from the mainland, but stressed the rule of law was the “cornerstone” of Hong Kong society.

Chanting “say no to political kidnapping”, the protesters marched to the offices of Beijing’s representative in Hong Kong.

A protester in Hong Kong demonstrates against the disappearance of five people working for a bookshopImage copyrightReuters
Image captionThis man wore a mask depicting Lee Bo, the latest to disappear
A man ties a yellow ribbon onto a barricade outside the residence of Beijing's representative in Hong KongImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThey marched to the residence of Beijing’s representative in Hong Kong

“For Hong Kong, this is the first time there has been such a clear violation of Hong Kong’s law, a clear violation of ‘one country, two systems’ principle, that has taken place in such an open manner,” Albert Chan, a politician with the pro-democracy People Power Party, told the BBC.

“This is why so many people have come out.”

Another pro-democracy politician, Lee Cheuk-yan, said the disappearances were a “milestone for suppression”.

The latest to vanish has been Lee Bo, who disappeared late last year and was last seen in Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy politicians and activists believe he was kidnapped and taken to the mainland.

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Newly Constructed Nipigon River Bridge Splits in Cold

Compliments of TB News Watch

The newly-constructed Nipigon River Bridge has split in the cold, cutting the only transportation link between Eastern and Western Canada.

The Ontario Provincial Police closed Highway 11-17 indefinitely at the bridge at 3:05 p.m. Sunday when bolts holding the girder to the bearing on an expansion joint broke on the bridge’s north side.

The split caused the eastern half of the bridge to rise about two feet.

Engineers were on site Sunday evening, braving a windchill cold of -28 C to analyze the extent of the damage.

Three years of construction ended on Nov. 29, 2015 when the two westbound lanes of the new cable-stayed bridge opened to traffic.

The eastbound lanes of the old bridge have been closed for demolition as construction is set to begin on the bridge’s mirror half.

Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca released a statement at 10 p.m. expressing thanks for the patience of residents of nearby municipalities and First Nations, as well as travelers.

“I have spoken with Minister (of Northern Development and Mines) Michael Gravelle and (Nipigon) Mayor Richard Harvey and assured them that the MTO will do everything they can do to restore the bridge quickly, while also making sure that the safety of the travelling public remains of paramount importance,” he said.

The first question Gravelle is asking is, what progress has been made on that demolition and whether reverting traffic to the existing bridge is a possibility. While Gravelle conceded the story is developing as quickly as he can get information, he said the province recognizes the matter as urgent.

“Clearly, this is an emergency situation,” he said.

“There’s no question about it. I could not be more concerned and I’m trying to find out as much as I can, as quickly as I can.”

Gravelle intends to inspect the bridge personally on Monday morning.

Engineers began escorting pedestrians across the bridge around 6:30 p.m. Highway 17 traffic was turned back to Terrace Bay and commercial vehicles are being encouraged to travel west through the United States at the border crossing in Sault Ste. Marie.

Arrangements are being made to ensure ambulance and fire vehicles can cross the sunken expansion joint on metal sheeting, should emergencies arise. In the meantime, Superior-North Emergency Medical Services hascoordinated a regional approach to land ambulance coverage with regional hospitals.

Nipigon Mayor Richard Harvey said no one foresaw anything like this happening. The $106-million construction slated for completion in 2017 was designed to avoid this exact situation.

“My first thought was, Canada is cut in half,” he said upon seeing the state of the bridge.

“My second thought was, how can we get traffic moving as quickly as possible again?”

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Israeli Researchers Offer HIV Carriers Hope

Compliments of Y Net 

Will a new medication be found soon for HIV-positive individuals? Two Israeli scientists believe they have reached a breakthrough in destroying the virus and have announced their plan to start clinical trials on human beings within three months.

When a person is infected with HIV, the virus enters his blood cells and remains latent. Doctors don’t know when the virus’ awakening process will begin or when it will duplicate itself to other cells.

In the past decades, HIV carriers have been handling the virus through a drug cocktail which delays virus’ processes in a bid to prevent it from spreading. As a result, AIDS has transformed from a fatal epidemic into a chronic disease.

 

Prof. Abraham Loyter and Prof. Assaf Friedler of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem began studying the issue, and following some successful research the Zyon Pharmaceutical company signed an exclusive agreement with the university to develop the medication.

 

Prof. Loyter (L) and research manager Dr. Rafi Meir (Photo: Shaul Golan)
Prof. Loyter (L) and research manager Dr. Rafi Meir (Photo: Shaul Golan)

 

The two scientists believe that the cells infected with the virus can be killed without harming the entire body, thereby curing the HIV carrier. How does it work? Instead of one copy of the virus’ DNA which enters the carrier’s cell, many copies will be inserted, leading to an activation of the cell’s self-destruction mechanisms. The researchers have developed peptides (short chains of amino acid monomers) which cause this process.

 

These peptides, combined with the existing medications, were tested on cultures of human cells infected with the HIV virus. The results were promising: Within two weeks of treatment, there was no sign of the virus DNA or infected cells, and the virus was undetectable even two weeks after the end of the treatment. The researchers’ conclusion was that not only can the virus infection be stopped, but that the infected cells can be destroyed too.

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Largest Manmade 4.6 Magnitude Earthquake by Fracking; New World Record in Northern B.C.

Compliments of Sidney Morning Herald 

A new world record has been set for the largest earthquake ever triggered by fracking, after a magnitude 4.6 earthquake struck near Progress Energy work site in northern British Columbia in August 2015. The news was recently confirmed after a 3-month investigation on the matter.

The company put a hold on their hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations in after the ‘manmade’ disaster. A thorough investigation that was lately conducted by the province’s energy commission confirmed the suspicion.

After the earthquake, seismologists with Natural Resources Canada and GeoscienceBC partnered with the Oil and Gas Commission analyzed all potentially relevant data together, noting that the earthquake’s epicenter was just three kilometers from Progress Energy’s fracking site.

Hydraulic fracturing is the process used to extract natural gas from the Montney [unconventional rock, which has pathways that are much narrower than pathways in conventional rock containing natural gas] formation in northeast B.C.

According to the company’s website, micro-seismic activity that may occur happens deep underground and is rarely felt on the surface, which does not pose a risk to public safety or the environment.

But according to the CBC news, local residents felt the quake, which was described by Canada seismologist Alison Bird as “significant.”

Local sources said the shake, which was felt from Pink Mountain to Fort St. John.

Berniece Lilly, who felt it from her home on the Halfway River First Nation and is concerned the quake is connected with fracking operations, said “My house got shook. My couch I was on was actually shaking with me. It dawned on me it could be earthquake, but it could be fracking in the area. I don’t think they should continue fracking.”

Also, a man living in a worker camp at Mile 131 of the Alaska Highway said he felt the quake and several aftershocks around 1 p.m.

Officials first thought the quake measured magnitude 4.4, but Bird said the latest data analysis proves it was a 4.6 magnitude earthquake — a very large quake for this region.

This phenomenon is called “induced seismicity.” According to studies, fracking is linked with earthquakes in the U.K., Oklahoma, and in B.C.

B.C. Oil and Gas Commission spokesman Alan Clay said the quake was “likely induced by hydraulic fracturing,” but he later emailed CBC News saying the commission has yet to determine a cause and is still collecting detailed seismological data.

Honn Kao, a research scientist with Geological Survey of Canada, who is involved in a major research project testing seismicity in northeastern B.C., said that if this is proven to be linked to hydraulic fracturing, this would be a world record in terms of size.

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North Korea Holding U.S. Citizen for Allegedly Spying

Compliments of CNN 

A Canadian pastor serving a life sentence in North Korea for subversion said he spends eight hours a day digging holes at a labor camp, while a naturalized American citizen said he is being held by the state for spying, CNN reported from Pyongyang.

If confirmed, Kim Dong Chul, who CNN said was 60 and formerly of Fairfax, Virginia, would be the second Western citizen known to be held currently in North Korea. He was being held for spying for South Korea and asked the South or the U.S. government to rescue him, CNN said.

Hyeon Soo Lim, a South Korean-born Canadian who was the head pastor at one of Canada’s largest churches, has been held by the North since last February. Lim, who was 60 at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to hard labor for life in December for attempting to overthrow the North’s regime.

“I wasn’t originally a laborer, so the labor was hard at first,” Lim told CNN in Korean through an interpreter. “But now I’ve gotten used to it.”

The charges against Lim lacked specifics, but he said it may be related to his open criticism of the North’s three generations of leaders.

“I admit I’ve violated this government’s authority, system and order,” Lim said in the interview aired on Monday. Asked if his biggest crime was speaking badly of the North’s leaders, he said: “Yes, I think so.”

Lim was brought into a Pyongyang hotel for the interview, his hair cropped short and wearing a gray padded prison uniform bearing the number “036” on his chest. He said works eight hours a day, six days a week digging holes in an orchard at a labor camp where he has seen no other prisoners, CNN said.

Lim, who had lived in Canada since 1986, gets three meals a day and regular medical attention, CNN said. His church has said Lim had a “very serious health problem, very high blood pressure.”

Lim had visited the North more than 100 times since 1997 and helped set up an orphanage and nursing home, according to the church.

In a separate interview, Kim told CNN he spied on behalf of “South Korean conservative elements” and was arrested in October.

“I was tasked with taking photos of military secrets and scandalous scenes,” Kim said.

The U.S. embassy in Seoul said it was aware of the report but did not have further comment.

A U.S. State Department official declined to comment on the reports, saying that speaking publicly about specific cases of detained Americans can complicate efforts to get them released.

If confirmed, Kim would be the first American to be detained since the North released three U.S. citizens in 2014.

He said he had moved to the Chinese city of Yanji near the border with North Korea and worked in the North Korean city of Rason in a trading business, when a number of South Koreans approached him

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