US runs out of coral snake anti-venom

Either big government bureaucracy, or big pharma greed, has gone mad. Or both.

Metafilter user maxwelton writes:

If you're thinking about being bitten by a coral snake in the United States, you may want to do so before the end of the month. October 31, 2012 is the extended-extended-extended-expiration date for batch 4030026 of the only FDA-approved antivenin for coral snake bites. (Antivenin shortages are not uncommon, surprisingly enough.) FDA-approved coral snake antivenin has not been available new since 2003, as Wyeth Pharmaceuticals ceased its manufacture, citing a lack of profit. Antivenin from non-FDA-approved sources exists, but the $3-5M estimated cost of FDA approval (borne by the manufacturer) and the few doses used per year mean it's a non-starter for the manufacturer of Coralmyn, for example.

There are two lessons to be learnt here, and likely people will already know which one they're planning on emphasizing. One is that the FDA sorely needs to come up with a better way to run its approval process when it comes to niche medicines. It's one thing demanding an expensive battery of tests if the manufacturing company thinks it will be selling billions of doses a year (and in fact, recent examples have hinted that perhaps those tests ought to be even more rigorous), but if it costs millions to bring a drug to market, many valuable treatments will be lost to the cost of bureaucracy.

The other side of the coin is that the profit motive is frequently toxic when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry. This particular antivenin could be made by any manufacturer, since it is already FDA approved. Yet no manufacturers are interested in creating it, because they can't make enough profit on doing so. The market outside the US is curtailed - because Coralmyn, made by a Mexican pharma company, is a better product - and the market in the US is too small for anyone to care about.

Anyone, that is, other than the 100-or-so Americans bitten by Coral snakes every year. Without an antivenin, the treatment is far harsher - and more expensive to boot. Popular Mechanics' Glenn Derene writes:

Many hospitals will have no other option but to intubate coral snake bite victims on ventilators for weeks until the effects of the toxin wear off--potentially costing hundreds of thousands of dollars per bite. "It's probably going to end up costing us far more not to deal with this than to deal with it," [Eric] Lavonas [of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center] says, "both in human suffering, and in dollars and cents."

A coral snake in Peru. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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I believe only Yvette Cooper has the breadth of support to beat Jeremy Corbyn

All the recent polling suggests Andy Burnham is losing more votes than anyone else to Jeremy Corbyn, says Diana Johnson MP.

Tom Blenkinsop MP on the New Statesman website today says he is giving his second preference to Andy Burnham as he thinks that Andy has the best chance of beating Jeremy.

This is on the basis that if Yvette goes out first all her second preferences will swing behind Andy, whereas if Andy goes out first then his second preferences, due to the broad alliance he has created behind his campaign, will all or largely switch to the other male candidate, Jeremy.

Let's take a deep breath and try and think through what will be the effect of preferential voting in the Labour leadership.

First of all, it is very difficult to know how second preferences will switch. From my telephone canvassing there is some rather interesting voting going on, but I don't accept that Tom’s analysis is correct. I have certainly picked up growing support for Yvette in recent weeks.

In fact you can argue the reverse of Tom’s analysis is true – Andy has moved further away from the centre and, as a result, his pitch to those like Tom who are supporting Liz first is now narrower. As a result, Yvette is more likely to pick up those second preferences.

Stats from the Yvette For Labour team show Yvette picking up the majority of second preferences from all candidates – from the Progress wing supporting Liz to the softer left fans of Jeremy – and Andy's supporters too. Their figures show many undecideds opting for Yvette as their first preference, as well as others choosing to switch their first preference to Yvette from one of the other candidates. It's for this reason I still believe only Yvette has the breadth of support to beat Jeremy and then to go on to win in 2020.

It's interesting that Andy has not been willing to make it clear that second preferences should go to Yvette or Liz. Yvette has been very clear that she would encourage second preferences to be for Andy or Liz.

Having watched Andy on Sky's Murnaghan show this morning, he categorically states that Labour will not get beyond first base with the electorate at a general election if we are not economically credible and that fundamentally Jeremy's economic plans do not add up. So, I am unsure why Andy is so unwilling to be clear on second preferences.

All the recent polling suggests Andy is losing more votes than anyone else to Jeremy. He trails fourth in London – where a huge proportion of our electorate is based.

So I would urge Tom to reflect more widely on who is best placed to provide the strongest opposition to the Tories, appeal to the widest group of voters and reach out to the communities we need to win back. I believe that this has to be Yvette.

The Newsnight focus group a few days ago showed that Yvette is best placed to win back those former Labour voters we will need in 2020.

Labour will pay a massive price if we ignore this.

Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Hull North.