$300M cannabis research facility to be built in New Mexico

Rural New Mexico will soon be the home to one of the nation’s largest cannabis manufacturing and research facilities, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Bright Green Corp. announced Monday – a $300 million investment in a state-of-the-art agricultural ecosystem on company-owned property in Grants, embracing the latest technology and automation, delivering consistency and purity to the production of high-quality cannabis for the advancement of medical research.

The project is expected to create more than 170 construction jobs and an initial 200 research and agricultural jobs…

“Governor Lujan Grisham, New Mexico’s federal delegation and the local and Tribal communities in Cibola County have worked with us from the beginning to create the right environment for innovation and research and we are excited to finally share news of this investment with the rest of New Mexico,” said Bright Green Chairman Terry Rafih…

“While much is written about the cannabis market, we believe the true contribution of cannabis lies in its medical applications,” said Ed Robinson, chief executive of Bright Green Corporation. “Our vision is to improve the quality of life across a broad demographic group through the opportunities presented by medicinal applications of plant-based therapies, including cannabis derived products.”

Yes, we know all the jokes we’ll be cracking over the coming weeks. Lots of reasons why NM is regarded as a stoners’ paradise. But, we have a longer, stronger history of scientific and medical research and those will be the best jobs created by this investment.

Keep on rocking, Governor Michelle!

Does research on obesity go better with Coke?


Larry Husten is a medical journalist covering cardiiology

The New York Times reports that Coca-Cola gives financial support to scientists and a new foundation in order to help promote the message that the obesity epidemic is fueled not by too many calories or too much sugar but by not enough physical activity. The Times piece is well worth a read but the issue it takes up is not new.

Last year I wrote a long post which included an interview with a scientist, Carl “Chip” Lavie, a Louisiana cardiologist who is a frequent co-author of Steven Blair, another researcher who is the main focus of the Times story.

[The interview is included in this article]

First let me add one interesting detail that the Times neglected to report. In 2012 Steven Blair was chosen by Coca-Cola, a sponsor of the Olympics, to be a torchbearer for the London summer games.

Lavie writes that his views are “not for sale.” I do not want to suggest anything so stark, but I also think it is fair – and studies have demonstrated – that gifts, even very small gifts, can exert strong unconscious effects. When combined with the flattery and attention of being designated a “key opinion leader” an unconscious alignment with a company can easily occur.

Moreover, as I wrote last year [2013], in a recent paper in PLOS Medicine researchers conducted a systematic review of systematic reviews examining the association between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain and obesity. For the papers in which the authors reported no conflict of interest, 10 out of the 12 findings supported the association between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain or obesity. In stark contrast, 5 out of the 6 papers with industry support failed to find evidence for any such association. In other words, systematic reviews with industry support were 5 times more likely to find no significant association.”Our results,” wrote the authors, “confirm the hypothesis that authors of systematic reviews may draw their conclusions in ways consistent with their sponsors’ interests.”

Lavie defends Coke’s funding of research by saying that “pharma does this all the time.” This analogy represents a stretch of logic. Although pharma-funded research is often criticized, and there are many active battles over the precise role for pharma in research, it is widely agreed that pharmaceutical companies must play a vital and important role in medical research. No one would seriously argue that Coca-Cola has medicinal value. The only active question is exactly how bad an effect Coke has on public health. A much better analogy, though still imperfect, is the tobacco industry…

I think it is naive to believe with Lavie that Coke’s main interest in providing financial support to researchers in this field is “to provide a public service.” For-profit companies like Coke and Pepsi don’t spend enormous sums of money just to provide a public service. They expect a significant return on their investment, though this may be difficult to quantify. In any case, it is more than obvious why Coke would be interested in supporting scientists who maintain that sugar does not play an important role in the obesity epidemic…

Readers should be aware of a much larger context here. This is not an isolated incident. Large food and beverage companies have been insinuating their way into the healthcare discussion for many years. In the last few years I’ve noted a number of attempts, subtle and not-so-subtle, by industry to influence health policy. Earlier this year [2014] I reported that the newly elected president of the Institute of Medicine, cardiologist Victor Dzau, was a member of the Pepsico board of directors. In 2012 the president of the American College of Cardiology was chosen by the Coca-Cola Company to carry the Olympic Flame. (Steven Blair, another co-author of the JACC paper, was also chosen by Coke to be a torch-bearer.) Coke also pays a lot of money to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to put a red dress logo on the Diet Coke label, while the American Heart Association has struck deals with, among others, Cheetos and Subway.

I am sure that these represent just the tip of a very large iceberg.

There’s even more meat in the article. And less sugar. 🙂

Definitely worth a read – not one you’re likely to come across in the news-as-entertainment free press.

Supercommittee focuses lobbyists’ clients against one another


It will be a profitable Xmas season

The bipartisan congressional supercommittee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in budget savings is leaving Washington lobbying firms in a quandary, seeing their clients pitted against one another in a competition for government cash.

Major defense contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin have a dozen or more lobbying firms working for them, many of whom also represent the health-care industry, another likely target of budget cuts. While firms often deal with conflicts of interest, the supercommittee represents an unusual challenge, said Clyde Wilcox, a government professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

“This actually is going to be much more like a zero sum game,” Wilcox said. “If someone wins, someone loses…”

If all else fails, “I suspect that they’ll be rational businesspersons and make a decision based on their long-term financial interest,” Jeffrey Berry said. “They have a bottom line, just like their clients.”

You do recall, I hope, that principles, ethics, the needs of the people are irrelevant?

The 12-member panel, whose work has taken on greater urgency since Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating in August, will be the central focus of political and lobbying activity for the next few months…

It’s akin to working with congressional leadership, which we — as most firms — do all the time,” Stewart Verdery [whose clients include clients Boeing, General Dynamics, Eli Lilly & Co. and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America] said…

The politicians will have their hands out – and will find them filled.

5 years of Gates Foundation health grants

Five years ago, Bill Gates made an extraordinary offer: he invited the world’s scientists to submit ideas for tackling the biggest problems in global health, including the lack of vaccines for AIDS and malaria, the fact that most vaccines must be kept refrigerated and be delivered by needles, the fact that many tropical crops like cassavas and bananas had little nutrition, and so on.

No idea was too radical, he said, and what he called the Grand Challenges in Global Health would pursue paths that the National Institutes of Health and other grant makers could not.

About 1,600 proposals came in, and the top 43 were so promising that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made $450 million in five-year grants — more than double what he originally planned to give.

Now the five years are up, and the foundation recently brought all the scientists to Seattle to assess the results and decide who will get further funding.

In an interview, Mr. Gates sounded somewhat chastened, saying several times, “We were naïve when we began…”

He underestimated, he said, how long it takes to get a new product from the lab to clinical trials to low-cost manufacturing to acceptance in third-world countries…

That little won’t buy a breakthrough, but it lets scientists “moonlight” by adding new goals to their existing grants, which saves the foundation a lot of winnowing. “And,” he added, “a scientist in a developing country can do a lot with $100,000.”

Over all, he said: “On drawing attention to ways that lives might be saved through scientific advances, I’d give us an A.

“But I thought some would be saving lives by now, and it’ll be more like in 10 years from now.”

RTFA. A case study – series of studies – in developing philanthropy. Above all else, give the Gates’ credit for their commitment and dedication. It ain’t even easy to try to give money away to help people.

President Obama announces rural broadband grants

President Barack Obama has announced nearly $800 million in loans and grants for the build-out of broadband networks to reach homes, schools and hospitals.

The grants and loans, which will be matched by another $200 million in private investment, is part of Obama’s roughly $800 billion federal stimulus package, which includes $7.2 billion for broadband expansion projects. Obama said the 66 new infrastructure projects will directly create 5,000 jobs and help spur economic development in some of the nation’s hardest-hit communities…

The departments of Agriculture and Commerce are administering a total of $7.2 billion in grants and loans for projects in 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Increasing broadband access to rural and low-income families and small businesses is a major part of the National Broadband Plan issued by the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year…

The projects Obama announced will include laying communications lines to homes, hospitals and schools and expanding computer facilities in libraries, community colleges and other public areas…

“Broadband can remove geographic barriers between patients and their doctors,’ Obama said. “It can connect our kids to the digital skills and 21st century education required for the jobs of the future.”

I’ve had some reasonably humorous discussions with county officials in my neck of the prairie. They’re pretty much headed in the right direction at trying to fill in the broadband gaps in a county that is 2,000 square miles – with about 100,000 people outside the limits of the one for-real city in the county.

That city being Santa Fe. You know. The city where the Council is worried about the 30 people who have complained that wifi and cellphones – in their neighborhoods – is eating their brains. A truly chickenshit New Age political question.

Anyway, the two biggest problems the county has are [1] filling out all the bloody federal paperwork and [2] trying to keep our own solutions separate from whatever the city wants to do. Or not do.