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• Political interests and lobbying vie with economic pressures
• After a decade of growth, austerity looms in the NHS
• The financial crisis is redefining the Gates Foundation’s priorities

Margaret McCartney

Slings, pram-bikes, vibrating rocking cradles …

It’s hard to keep up with trends in child-rearing paraphernalia. When I bought a car seat for my first child, for example, there was hardly any choice. Most products were variations on a curved seat that put the infant in a sitting or flopping position. Now the new “must have” accessory is a car bed, a more rigid kind of affair which straps the child in so that he or she is flat.

Fashion for babies is a curious thing, often faddish and needlessly expensive. However, in the case of car beds, there seems to be evidence to suggest that the reclining baby is healthier than its propped-up counterpart. But is this enough for us to make the switch?

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

By Jonathan Wheatley in São Paulo

A smoking ban comes into force in the Brazilian state of São Paulo from Friday August 7, adding to what has become one of the world’s toughest anti-smoking campaigns.

Brazil was among the first countries in the world to print disturbing images on cigarette packs in an effort to persuade smokers not to light up. The Brazil anti-smoking images, in use since 2001, have coincided with a steady fall in the number of smokers in the country, from 34 per cent of the adult  population in 1989 to 15 per cent last year, although the part played by the images is hard to gauge.

The ban in São Paulo state is being introduced by governor José Serra, who as health minister was responsible for the nationwide on-pack campaign.

With the UK government warning employers to prepare for up to an eighth of their employees to be absent from work because of swine flu in the coming weeks, some businesses could be stretched to the limit.

There again, things could get worse still if current discussions lead to recommendations to keep schools closed after the summer holidays until a swine flu vaccine is prepared and given to children. That would mean more staff staying at home to look after them - just when business is picking up after the break.

So how is your business coping with the swine flu outbreak? Is it a serious threat to the recovery of the UK economy? What is the impact of the on the workplace, and your ability to operate? Share your views by clicking here or on the link below.

Patients with late-stage cancers should gain more rapid access to innovative treatments through the National Health Service under plans unveiled by the government on Tuesday.In a blueprint concluding months of consultations with industry, the Office for Life Sciences earmarked an initial £25m ($41m) next year for a pilot programme to fund experimental drugs for patients with rare illnesses ahead of the usual approval from the government’s medicines advisory body before their use in the NHS.

The policy is one of several unveiled in the document, “Building Britain’s Future”, designed to provide a boost to the UK’s declining global role in drug development and recognise the importance of the sector to the economy.

Continue reading “Move to speed cancer treatment in the UK”

There are two kinds of senior executive in the pharmaceuticals sector: those who are against mega-mergers, and those who have recently completed or are actively considering doing one.

After a decade of big deals up to the mid-1990s in which many of the world’s biggest medicine manufacturers were created – such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), AstraZeneca and Sanofi-Aventis – there was a period of four quiet years, before the onset of a new wave of consolidation this year.

At least in part, this has been set off by the downturn as valuations have fallen and any structural issues such as pricing have been accentuated.

Pfizer, a serial acquirer, sealed the $68bn takeover of Wyeth in January, while Merck – which traditionally has preferred to concentrate on organic growth – said in March that it would buy Schering-Plough for $41bn.

Even Roche, which had long championed an arm’s length model of ownership and management for its leading subsidiaries in Japan and the US, has changed tack. It concluded a peace treaty in the same month with biotech company Genentech in San Francisco, and bought out its minority shareholders for $47bn after a protracted hostile bid.

Continue reading “Pharma split on nature of mergers as kill or cure”

By Nikki Tait in Brussels

Efforts by some of Europe’s biggest retail chains to overturn ownership restrictions on pharmacies in some of the European Union’s biggest markets were frustrated by a ruling from Europe’s top court on Tuesday.

The European Court of Justice found that EU law does allow member states to put curbs on who may own and operate pharmacies – a decision which is in line with an earlier opinion from one of the court’s senior legal advisers.

Continue reading ‘EU pharmacy ruling is blow to groups’

Nicholas Timmins

The private sector has established a small but significant bridgehead in general practice in England, but any “corporate takeover” of family doctor surgeries remains a long way off.Primary care trusts have been commissioning some 260 “GP-led health centres”, or “polyclinics”, open 8am to 8pm, seven days a week – one in each primary care trust and a further 110 or so in areas short of doctors.

Continue reading ‘Private companies beef up UK GP presence’

By Jonathan Birchall in New York

Wal-Mart, the largest US retailer, has taken another small step that illustrates the grand scope of its ambitions in its US pharmacy business.

The retailer shook up the pharmacy business three years ago, when it announced an new low-cost programme for generic – ie non-branded – prescription drugs. Its $4 generic offering was subsequently mimiced both by rivals stores, and, after being initially dismissive, by CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, the big three US drug store chains. Wal-Mart argues that its move has reduced Americans’ overall spending on generics by $2bn.

Governments in Europe and Asia stepped up their response to the outbreak of deadly swine flu in the Americas as Spain confirmed it had diagnosed a case and investors sold off travel stocks.

The World Health Organisation brought forward an emergency meeting to Monday to decide whether to raise its alert level in response to the outbreak which has killed 103 people in Mexico and spread to North America.

Health and science blog (Archived)

This blog, part of the FT's health series, is a forum for readers interested in the science, policy, management, technology, business and delivery of healthcare.

This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

About our regular bloggers

Margaret McCartney is a Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist. She started writing for the Life and Arts section in 2005 and moved to the magazine in 2008. She also has her own blog:

Clive Cookson has been a science journalist for the whole of his working life. He joined the FT in 1987. Clive, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education.

Andrew Jack is pharmaceuticals correspondent, covering the industry and public health issues. He has been a journalist with the FT for 19 years, based in London, Paris and Moscow