The global market for cannabis-based products, particularly CBD oil, has exploded in recent years prompting much attention from Big Pharma and regulators alike. Despite its long history of medical use and low risk of harm, cannabis extracts are classified as novel foods in the EU causing confusion amongst regulators. As a result, in September Spanish regulators took products off shelves and in December the Austrian Minister of Health ordered businesses to stop selling CBD food and cosmetics. In the UK, consternation has been caused by reports that the Food Standards Agency is seeking to add all products derived from cannabis (excluding hempseeds) to the EU Novel Food catalogue. This has led to concerns that all cannabis derived products could be banned from sale pending applications for novel food status. We’ll be looking into this further and will update you in next week’s newsletter.
Designer chickens to lay ‘drugs’
It’s the stuff of science-fiction. Chickens being genetically modified to lay eggs containing human proteins for use in the treatment of human diseases including cancer. Researchers in Edinburgh have inserted a human gene into chicken DNA to produce two human proteins, IFNalpha2a and macrophage-CSF, production of which are currently expensive and difficult. This isn’t the first-time chickens have been genetically modified though. Japanese chickens were genetically engineered to lay eggs containing a special pharmaceutical agent. Will these proteins cause a problem for those with an egg allergy in the same way as flu vaccines produced in eggs?. It’s a question that won’t be answered any time soon as it’s unlikely the hybrid protein will be available for human use in the near future. Meddling with nature at its most basic level is likely to come with unintended consequences.
Big Brother’s watching you – from the inside!
One of the last bastions of privacy in today’s digital world is about to be breached. Proteus Digital Health have launched a digital pill, designed to tell doctors when you take your medicine in order to encourage compliance. The pill is currently being trialled to deliver chemotherapy drugs to seven patients with colorectal cancer. This isn’t the first digital pill to hit the streets. Abilify MyCite was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017 and now comes with a hefty price tag, replacing its cheaper generic version. Currently Proteus will only be paid if patients take their medication, but in our view, rather than an incentive to keep people well this modality could be used to further promote drugs and also become the thin end of the wedge in limiting people’s freedom of health choice. One can only question if the motive is patient-centred care or a potentially lucrative way to prop up failing pharma revenues?
ASEAN Trans-fat bans and sugar taxes
Thailand has become the first ASEAN country to implement a ban on trans-fats in foods as part of efforts to improve public health. As well as foods containing such fats the ban covers the manufacturing, import and distribution of trans-fats. Many of the large manufacturers and food outlets have already announced the removal of trans-fats from their products to comply with the ban. Over in Singapore beverage companies due to be hit by the impending sugar tax, have hit back at what they perceive to be unfair focus on their products. As part of a recent consultation undertaken by the Ministry of Health it was suggested consumers will simply shift to unregulated highly sweetened products such as bubble tea. Big Food companies manufacturing sugar sweetened beverages are calling for the tax to be imposed on a wider range of products to make it fairer. Such measures are likely to be met with significant consumer resistance given the region’s liking for sweet foods and drinks.
DNA tests on the NHS
Following completion of the 100,000 Genomes Project, the UK’s NHS are to offer DNA tests to patients to gain data to help scientists predict a patient’s risk of developing chronic disease and develop new treatments. Patients agreeing to share their data will not have to pay for the tests. Promising to provide diagnoses “where there wasn’t one before”, concerns have been expressed over confidentiality, how the data will be used and what support will be given to patients once they receive their test report. The range of DNA testing is extremely broad. At the one end, a predictor of potential disease risk and at the other, a method for individualising patient care through diet and lifestyle modification. Our hope is that the NHS will use this proposed shift in focus for true health promotion rather than merely to employ more drugs in treating or managing disease.