NYT Op-Ed Gives A Shout Out To Plastics
Mar18

NYT Op-Ed Gives A Shout Out To Plastics

Susan Freinkel, author of the upcoming book “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story”, penned an Op-Ed in the New York Times in which she gives a brave defense of the use of plastics, albeit in moderation. “In a world of nearly seven billion souls and counting, we are not going to feed, clothe and house ourselves solely from wood, ore and stone; we need plastics. And in an era when we’re concerned about our carbon footprint, we can appreciate that lightweight plastics take less energy to produce and transport than many other materials. Plastics also make possible green technology like solar panels and lighter cars and planes that burn less fuel. These “unnatural” synthetics, intelligently deployed, could turn out be nature’s best ally.” I agree with her, nearly 100%. I just think she overstates the problems with plastic slightly. "Unfortunately, as the plastics industry incessantly points out, the bans typically lead to a huge increase in the use of paper bags, which also have environmental drawbacks." “Also have environmental drawbacks” strikes me as an understatement given the amount of resources needed to make paper bags. Freinkel also writes, “A recent expedition researching plastic pollution in the South Atlantic reported that its ship had trouble setting anchor in one site off Brazil because the ocean floor was coated with plastic bags.” That comes from this: “In Recife, Brazil, our captains were trying to set the anchor at night in a fairly dodgy situation. The anchor wouldn't grab.  This is very rare for Sea Dragon.  The captains pulled the anchor up to investigate the problem.  Bags.  Plastic bags--1,000s of them sitting on the floor of the ocean in such quantity that they had become the floor of the ocean.  The anchor was full of them. And so they cleaned it off, and tried again.  And again, the same result.  Finally after a handful of attempts the hook held.” Simply pulling up an anchor and seeing a couple of plastic bags on it doesn’t tell you that there are thousands of bags coating the bottom of the ocean. And this information is coming from activists that set out on these expeditions to ocean gyres to prove how terrible plastics are. More objective information on the subject is needed. (Full disclosure: I’m pretty darn pro-plastic. And I’ll have to admit, living near the shore all my life, that there is way too much plastic littering our oceans.) Overall, Freinkel makes a great contribution to common sense. BTW, I’m headed to the CMAI and DeWitt conferences in Houston next week. I’m quite certain that no one in attendance will be using a wooden toothbrush with...

Read More
The Right Kinase
Sep09

The Right Kinase

Today I posted a news story about the debut of the structure of PLX4032, a promising melanoma drug developed by Berkeley, California startup Plexxikon. This drug's story has already been given the narrative treatment courtesy of the New York Times. And when the results of a Phase I clinical trial of PLX4032 came out, it got covered in many other news outlets as well. But we here at The Haystack are most interested in PLX4032's chemical backstory. And when I contacted kinase expert Kevan M. Shokat for his opinion on the work, he said the story has another dimension- clues about how to pick the right kinase targets to treat diseases. The kinase enzyme that Plexxikon's experimental drug targets is called B-RAF. It's part of a critical signaling pathway that also includes the kinases MEK and ERK. What's interesting about Plexxikon's stunningly successful early trial (81% of patients taking PLX4032 saw their tumors shrink) is just how well people tolerate the drug, Shokat says. The patients in that 81% success group were taking almost a gram of the stuff, twice daily. This is despite the obvious central importance of the RAF-MEK-ERK pathway, and in contrast to what happens when you block MEK, just one step down the pathway, Shokat says. Compounds that block MEK tend to have what's called a narrow therapeutic index- there's a small window between giving an effective dose and giving a toxic one, he says. So if researchers could understand why such a dramatic difference exists, it could help them make the right kinase choices for other diseases as well, he says. When I spoke with Plexxikon's senior VP of research, Gideon Bollag, he too had interesting things to say about kinases, but our discussion was less about choosing one kinase out of many and more about making the commitment to choosing one at all. "Over the last 10 years or so many of the drugs for cancer have been multitargeted kinase inhibitors, and I think our compound is changing that paradigm," he says. "More selective compounds can be more effective because you can dose higher levels safely," he...

Read More