- Bayer drug a "major new player" in prostate cancer
- Yemeni forces attack main opposition camp
- Abbas stakes Palestinian claim to state at U.N.
Posted: 23 Sep 2011 09:12 PM PDT
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - An experimental drug from Germany's Bayer and Norwegian biotech Algeta that prolongs the lives of patients with advanced prostate cancer is a major step forward in treatment of the disease, cancer experts said on Saturday.
A late stage trial of Alpharadin, a new type of drug that delivers minute, highly-charged doses of radiation to secondary tumours in the bone, was halted early after researchers saw patients on the new treatment living almost three months longer on average than those on standard treatment plus placebo.
"It would have been unethical not to offer the active treatment to those taking placebo," Chris Parker, who led the trial at Britain's Royal Marsden Hospital, told delegates at the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress (EMCC) in Stockholm.
Alpharadin is based on the active ingredient radium 223 and is designed to treat patients with advanced disease whose cancer has spread to their bones.
Parker said he expected the drug to become a new standard treatment for these patients. Both Jean Charles Soria, a co-chair of the EMCC congress, and Michael Baumann, president of the European Cancer Organisation, said Alpharadin was "a major new player" and likely to be "practice changing".
Kemal Malik, Bayer's head of global development, has described the success of Alpharadin -- which first showed promise in headline data released in June -- as a "transforming moment" for the company.
Sales of Alpharadin are expected to reach $662 million by 2015, according to consensus forecasts from Thomson Reuters Pharma. The drug's performance is also particularly important for Algeta, whose fortunes are tied closely its success.
Parker said the two firms now intend to use the data to submit the drug for regulatory approval.
Alpharadin is from a class of drugs called alpha-pharmaceuticals which work by sending tiny, charged, targeted doses of damaging radiation to a secondary tumour -- known as a metastasis -- in the bone.
Because it is so targeted, side effects are minimal in comparison with more conventional treatments, a factor that is likely to boost its popularity with patients and doctors.
"Compared to chemotherapy, which affects all the tissues of the body, radium-223 is highly targeted to the bone metastases, and it has a completely different safety profile," Parker explained. In the trial, he said, the drug was "extremely well tolerated".
Radium is similar to calcium in that it sticks to bone, particularly to where new bone is being formed, so it is a highly effective way of delivering radiation to a target.
"It takes only a single alpha particle to kill a cell," Parker said. "And collateral damage is minimised because the particles have such a tiny range -- a few millionths of a metre -- so we can be sure that the damage is being done where it should be, to the metastasis."
Parker's team studied the drug in patients with prostate cancer because it has a high tendency to spread to the bones. Around 90 percent of all men with prostate cancer will develop bone metastases in the advanced stages of the disease.
Prostate cancer is also the second most common cancer in men after lung cancer, killing an estimated 255,000 men each year.
Complete data from the trial showed that the median overall survival period for patients on the new drug was 14 months compared with 11.2 months for the placebo. The hazard ratio was 0.695, meaning that patients taking Alpharadin had a 30 percent lower rate of death compared to patients taking placebo.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 23 Sep 2011 09:12 PM PDT
SANAA (Reuters) - The main opposition protest camp in Yemen's capital Sanaa came under heavy mortar and sniper attacks on Saturday, hours after President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned from a three-month absence, protesters and medical staff said.
One witness said troops loyal to Saleh had carried out the assault and cleared thousands of protesters from the camp, the heart of an uprising calling for his overthrow. The report could not be verified.
"They (the government forces) used armoured vehicles and weapons, rifles. It was an intense fight ... My house was shaking like crazy ... There are no protesters there now -- it's just armed people," said the witness, who lives near the camp.
Protesters said at least one person had been killed and an unknown number injured in the assault.
"We have ... one killed in a terrible way by the mortar fire -- we only have half a body," doctor Mohammed al-Qubati said at a mosque converted into a field hospital.
Protesters in the opposition encampment on the 4-km stretch of avenue that they have dubbed "Change Square" said some tents were on fire and that there had also been sniper attacks.
Saleh said on his return to Yemen on Friday that he wanted to see a truce to end days of heavy fighting in the capital, but opponents said they feared more bloodshed and the United States demanded he relinquish power.
"I return to the nation carrying the dove of peace and the olive branch," Saleh was quoted as saying by state television.
Saleh, who went to neighbouring Saudi Arabia for medical treatment in June when he suffered severe burns in an assassination attempt, said a ceasefire would enable peace talks to take place.
QUESTIONS OVER FUTURE
His reappearance raised big questions over the future of the fractious Arabian Peninsula state, which has been paralysed by protests against his 33-year rule since January.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "We urge President Saleh to initiate a full transfer of power and arrange for presidential elections to be held before the end of then year.
"The Yemeni people have suffered enough and deserve a path towards a better future."
In Sanaa this week, a months-old standoff between loyalist troops and forces backing anti-Saleh protesters erupted into a full-blown battle that killed more than 100 people in five days.
Yemen, one of the region's poorest countries, also faces a worsening insurgency by al Qaeda militants, an uneasy truce with Shi'ite fighters in the north and separatism in the south.
Moments after state television's announcement of Saleh's return, Sanaa's streets erupted with bursts of gunfire and fireworks. Shelling occurred in the capital's Hasaba district.
Opponents saw his return as an attempt to rally for war and said they expected more bloodshed, while his supporters reacted with joy and said he could restore order.
"I'm so excited," said Akram al-Aghbari, a doorman. "He is an honourable and great man. I know he's coming to stop this terrible violence. People here without him only know how to rule with weapons, but with him back, just you watch."
Abdulghani al-Iryani, a political analyst and co-founder of the Democratic Awakening Movement, said violence lay ahead.
"This is an ominous sign. Returning at a time like this probably signals he intends to use violence to resolve this. This is dangerous," said Iryani.
"His people will feel that they are in a stronger position and they will refuse to compromise. Basically this means the political process is dead in the water."
Radio stations played celebratory music and thousands gathered at a pro-Saleh rally waving flags, beating drums and honking horns. A TV newsflash warned people not to fire into the air in celebration in case stray bullets hit bystanders.
In Sanaa's 70 square, a hub for pro-government Yemenis, the imam leading prayers said: "The president returned, the heart beat of Yemen returned, happiness returned, love returned, logic returned."
Many Yemenis thought they had seen the last of Saleh when he flew to Saudi Arabia in June for medical treatment after a bomb explosion at his palace left him with severe burns.
Saleh had been involved in negotiations mediated by Gulf states to leave office, repeatedly promising to step down only to change his position at the last minute.
The United States said on Friday it wanted Saleh to sign the accord promoted by the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Two members of Saleh's General People's Congress party denied opposition statements that his return spelled the end for the Gulf-brokered power transfer plan, which would see him hand interim power to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
"This initiative remains effective and Hadi will continue the dialogue to create a binding mechanism to implement the Gulf initiative," Yasser al-Yamani told al Jazeera television.
The Gulf initiative envisages Saleh standing down three months after signing it. He agreed three times to earlier drafts of the deal only to back out at the very last minute.
Regional power Saudi Arabia, which shares a porous 1,460 km border with Yemen, has been a key player in Yemen for decades, offering support to Saleh's government to keep al Qaeda at bay and spearheading regional talks on a power transfer.
Some analysts say Saudi Arabia might not have let Saleh return unless a deal is likely.
"I'm sure he talked of his return with (Saudi Arabia's) King Abdullah during their meeting (on Monday night)," said Ghanem Nuseibeh, an analyst and partner at Cornerstone Global consultants in London.
"The Saudis would want that if he goes, then any transition of power is in their interests and doesn't bring about an anti-Saudi government. If there wasn't anything for them they wouldn't have let him go."
Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Abdbullatif al-Zayani flew to Sanaa this week to try and resurrect the deal but left after two days with nothing to show for his efforts.
The United States, Saudi Arabia and other powers fear al-Qaeda's Yemen wing could exploit the growing lawlessness in the country. Al Qaeda militants have already seized cities in a Yemeni province just east of a key oil shipping channel in recent months.
(Additional reporting by Mohamed Sudam; Writing by Reed Stevenson; Editing by Ralph Gowling)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 23 Sep 2011 08:41 PM PDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the United Nations on Friday to recognize a state for his people, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the world body as a "theater of the absurd" and said only direct talks could deliver peace.
Abbas handed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a letter requesting full U.N. membership, which the Security Council will discuss on Monday. The United States has vowed to support its Israeli ally and use its veto if a vote is held.
"I do not believe that anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our application ... and our admission as an independent state," Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly in an impassioned speech that won a standing ovation even as Israeli and U.S. delegates looked on stone-faced.
Trying to head off a clash in the Security Council, a quartet of Middle East mediators urged a return to peace talks within four weeks, "substantial progress" within six months and an agreement to be struck within a year.
Highlighting the divisions in the Palestinian camp, Hamas, the Islamist faction which rules the Gaza Strip, rejected Abbas' move as "begging" for statehood. "States are not built upon U.N. resolutions. States liberate their land and establish their entities," said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
The Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- asked Israel and the Palestinians to submit proposals on territory and security within three months.
"The Quartet proposal represents the firm conviction of the international community that a just and lasting peace can only come through negotiations," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, urging both sides to seize the chance to talk.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Quartet's special envoy, said the major powers believed they were closing in on guidelines that both sides could accept.
But previous proposed timetables for negotiations, such as a one-year deadline set by former U.S. President George W. Bush in 2007 and one by Obama a year ago, have run into the sand.
Abbas' statehood ploy exposes waning U.S. influence in a region shaken by Arab revolts and shifting alliances that have pushed Israel, still militarily strong, deeper into isolation.
In their speeches, Abbas and Netanyahu both said they extended their hands to the other party, but each blamed their opponents for the failure of past peace efforts.
"We cannot achieve peace through U.N. resolutions," Netanyahu said, demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, something they reject because they say that would prejudice the rights of Palestinian refugees.
Netanyahu offered to meet Abbas immediately in New York, minutes after Abbas said settlement activity must cease first.
LOSS OF FAITH
The Palestinians say they will give the Security Council "some time" to consider their request, but if that fails may ask the General Assembly for upgraded status short of full membership that could let them join international bodies.
Abbas' statehood bid reflects a loss of faith after 20 years of failed peace talks sponsored by the United States and alarm at Israeli settlement expansion in occupied land Palestinians want for a state.
"This (settlement) policy will destroy the chances of achieving a two-state solution and ... threatens to undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority and even end its existence," Abbas declared.
It was the first time he has spoken so starkly of the PA's possible demise, highlighting problems faced by a body set up as a state-in-waiting but now seen by its critics as little more than a big municipality, managing the civilian affairs of the main Palestinian cities under Israeli occupation.
Dissolution of the PA would throw responsibility for ruling all of the West Bank back to Israel as the occupying power.
Israeli and U.S. politicians have threatened aid cuts that could cripple the PA, the source of 150,000 jobs.
Israeli delegates stayed in the hall during Abbas' speech, which was punctuated by applause, especially when he recalled his predecessor Yasser Arafat's 1974 admonition to the United Nations: "Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
In the West Bank, flags and portraits of Abbas and Arafat, draped buildings in a Ramallah square where Palestinians watched a live broadcast of Abbas' speech.
"We have come to take part with our people in asking for our rights," said Mohammed Hamidat, 40. "With the current closed horizons, it's the only thing we can do, even if the result is failure. It's been years since we have seen anything new: this is a first step."
Israeli settler Meir Bartler, 25, said: "We don't care what they're up to at the U.N. We have the bible, which says the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people."
A gulf of mistrust separates Israelis and Palestinians, who each feel their existence is at stake in a bitter struggle over borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem.
Political rifts among Palestinians, and the constraints of U.S. domestic politics, where support for Israel is strong, further complicate efforts to bridge the gaps.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdaineh said the Quartet proposal would be discussed in Ramallah but indicated there could be no compromise on the core issues of the 1967 borders and Jewish settlement construction.
BURDEN OF HISTORY
The divisions are rooted in a heavy burden of history, painfully contested narratives and recurring bloodshed.
The United Nations partitioned Palestine in 1947, but Arab states rejected that and declared war on the new state of Israel, which then captured more territory than it had been allotted under the U.N. plan and dispossessed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who became refugees.
Two decades after Israel seized the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war, which it launched fearing Arab states were about to attack it, the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized Israel and reduced its demands to a state on those territories.
In 1993, PLO leader Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands at the White House on a plan for Palestinian self-rule, which was never fully implemented.
Israel has expanded its settlements in the West Bank, although it dismantled them in the Gaza Strip, now ruled by Hamas Islamists who refuse to recognize the Jewish state.
Abbas accepts that negotiations are still necessary, but argues statehood will put Palestinians on a more equal footing. Israel sees the U.N. bid as an attempt to destroy its own legitimacy.
(Additional reporting by Nidal Almughrabi in Gaza, Tom Perry in Ramallah, Dan Williams in Jerusalem; John Irish, Ali Sawafta, Andrew Quinn, Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip; editing by Doina Chiacu and Todd Eastham)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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