Get subscribed to our newsletter
Get interesting updates to your email inbox.
A mind-altering medication related to the club drug Special K won U.S. approval Tuesday for patients with hard-to-treat depression, the first in a series of long-overlooked substances being reconsidered for severe forms of mental illness.
The nasal spray from Johnson & Johnson is a chemical cousin of ketamine, which has been used for decades as a powerful anesthetic to prepare patients for surgery. In the 1990s, the medication was adopted as a party drug by the underground rave culture due to its ability to produce psychedelic, out-of-body experiences. More recently, some doctors have given ketamine to people with depression without formal FDA approval.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Spravato as a fast-acting treatment for patients who have failed to find relief with at least two antidepressants. Up to 7.4 million American adults suffer from so-called treatment-resistant depression, which heightens the risk of suicide, hospitalization and other serious harm, according to the FDA.
The drug will cost between $590 and $885 depending on the dosage and before various insurance discounts and rebates.
There have been no major pharmaceutical innovations for depression since the launch of Prozac and related antidepressants in the late 1980s. Those drugs target the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, and can take weeks or months to kick in.
Ketamine and J&J’s version work differently than those drugs, targeting a chemical called glutamate that is thought to restore brain connections that help relieve depression.
When the drug works, its effect is almost immediate. That speed “is a huge thing because depressed patients are very disabled and suffer enormously,” said Dr. John Mann, a psychiatrist and researcher at Columbia University. If the drug doesn’t work, physicians can quickly switch to other options, he noted.
The FDA approved Spravato, known chemically as esketamine, based on study results that showed patients taking the drug experienced a bigger improvement in their depression levels than patients taking a sham treatment, when measured with a psychiatric questionnaire.
The drug is designed to be lower-dose and easier to use than ketamine, which is normally given as an intravenous infusion.
Robin Prothro, 60, began taking antidepressants more than 20 years ago. But she says none of the five medications she tried relieved the depression that has stymied her personal and professional life.
Please Follow NewsGram on Facebook To Get All Latest Updates!
Since enrolling in a Spravato trial two years ago, Prothro says her depression has lifted and she’s returned to hobbies she abandoned years ago, like gardening.
She takes the drug every two weeks at her psychiatrist’s office while reclining in a comfortable chair.
“You can feel it coming on, it’s a strong drug,” she said, describing colors and shapes that drift before her eyes. “I just let the drug work. I close my eyes and my mind is amazingly quiet.”
The ketamine-like drug is the first of several psychoactive substances making their way through the U.S. regulatory process as physicians search further afield for new therapies. Researchers are conducting late-stage trials of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, and MDMA, a euphoria-inducing club drug, as potential treatments for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Substantially different agents are only rarely appearing from pharmaceutical companies or other laboratories,” said Dr. Paul Summergrad, a psychiatrist at Tufts University. “That’s prompting people to investigate other compounds.”
Unlike ketamine, psilocybin and MDMA have no legal medical use. Classified in the same category as heroin and LSD, they are tightly restricted by the federal government. But the FDA’s approval of esketamine could smooth their path.
Burden of depression
Depression is among the leading causes of disability in the U.S. and is being closely monitored by health authorities amid rising suicides nationwide. In 2017, the U.S. suicide rate rose to 14 deaths per 100,000 people, the highest rate in at least 50 years, according to federal records.
Government officials haven’t suggested an explanation for the trend, though academic researchers point to the nation’s widening income gap, financial struggles and divisive politics.
J&J’s drug will be subject to a number of restrictions due to its abuse potential, side effects and lingering safety questions.
The drug will only be given by accredited specialists who must monitor patients for at least two hours after administration, due to its trippy, disorienting effects. Additionally, all patients will be tracked in a registry to monitor long-term safety and effectiveness.
The immediate impact of ketamine is thought to last just four to seven days and there’s no consensus yet on how long patients can benefit from ongoing treatment.
Still, there are few other options for patients who fail to respond to antidepressants. The most effective treatment in such cases, electroshock therapy, requires patients to be fully sedated and can cause persistent memory loss.
Wall Street has high expectations for J&J’s medication, with analysts predicting more than $600 million in annual sales by 2022. But J&J will face competition in the marketplace.
A decades-old drug, ketamine is already used off-label to treat depression by some doctors. At least 150 clinics around the U.S. provide treatment with various forms of the drug, which is available as a low-cost generic. Patients often pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for intravenous infusions of the drug over several weeks or months. Such therapies are generally not covered by insurance because they haven’t been approved as safe and effective by FDA regulators.
Some doctors plan to offer both ketamine and the new J&J drug.
Dr. Steve Levine says having FDA-approved standards for dosing and administering the new drug should raise standards in the field and drive out some of the bad actors who are not qualified to treat depression.
“This is going to bring in some standards, regulation and it’s going to make it safer and more accessible to patients,” said Levine, who serves as vice president of the American Society of Ketamine Physicians, a group representing doctors, nurses and others using ketamine for treating depression or other non-approved uses. (VOA)
Japan has successfully launched a new navigation satellite into orbit that will replace its decade-old navigation satellite.
The satellite, QZS-1R, was launched onboard an H-2A rocket that lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center at 10.19 p.m. on Monday night, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said in a statement.
The company builds and operates H-2A rockets the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
QZS-1R is a replacement for Quasi-Zenith Satellite System 1 satellite first launched in 2010. “It was a really beautiful launch," the company said in a tweet after a successful lift-off.
"H-IIA F44 flight proceeded nominally. Approximately 28 minutes 6 seconds after launch, as planned, the payload separated from the launch vehicle," the statement said.
The official QZSS website lists four satellites in the constellation: QZS-1, QZS-2, QZS-3 and QZS-4, Space.com reported.
The QZSS constellation will eventually consist of a total of seven satellites that fly in an orbit passing through a near-zenith (or directly overhead) above Japan, and QZS-R1 is meant to share nearly the same transmission signals as recent GPS satellites, according to JAXA.
It is specially optimised for mountainous and urban regions in Japan, JAXA said.
Mitsubishi's H-2A 202 rocket launch system has been operational since 2003 and has sent satellites to locations such as Venus (Akatsuki) and Mars (Emirates Mars Mission).
The latest H2-A rocket launch is the first since November 29, 2020, when Japan launched an advanced relay satellite with laser communications tech into orbit, the report said. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: Science, Space Satellite, Communications, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, satellite QZS-1R
Everyone loves firecrackers, even the most environment-friendly advocates cannot hide their joy when they see these delightful lights colour the skies. India celebrates Diwali in the true spirit of her culture and heritage by spraying the navy-blue skies with sparkling hues of gold, silver, red, and green. Firecrackers are not just a tradition in this country, they are a legacy.
The original connotation one makes with fireworks in China. The elaborate Chinese celebrations with dragons and zapping firecrackers have left their mark in human memory, but the use of fireworks is not limited to heralding the Chinese New Year. All over the world, fireworks have come to symbolise the ultimate celebration. During Diwali in India, this spirit is re-ignited every year.
Indians have known the use of gunpowder for many centuries now. Sanskrit texts name a substance called 'agnichura' which is described as a 'powder that creates fire'. This is believed to be saltpetre.
A single firecracker ablaze Photo by Unsplash
Sometime during the rule of the Vijayanagar Empire, and the Adil Shah Dynasty in South India, the use of the Chinese pyrotechnic formulae became extensively common in entertaining the royals. Weddings, Festivals, and other special celebrations in the palace were marked with a spectacular display of fireworks.
Between the 1920s and 1940s, the dynamics of fireworks changed in India. Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar, from Tamil Nadu's Sivakasi who migrated to Kolkata, set up a fireworks factory there. It began as a match factory, but after receiving the required permission, it was converted into a fireworks unit. Within a few years, another factory was set up in Sivakasi. Before long, multiple units were set up there, and today, it is India's fireworks hub. Most of the crackers that are used during Diwali come from Sivakasi.
Recently, environmental concerns have caused the ban of fireworks as it causes air pollution. The sale of crackers has reduced drastically after this new law. During the lockdown, the factory labourers underwent great losses, especially in Sivakasi. But keeping the spirit of Diwali in mind. crackers cannot be entirely done away with, and continue to light up the skies at least for a few hours every year.
Keywords: Diwali festival, Fireworks, Sivakasi, the Vijayanagar Empire, culture and heritage in India.
PARIS — In a decision with potential ramifications across European museums, France is displaying 26 looted colonial-era artifacts for one last time before returning them home to Benin.
The wooden anthropomorphic statues, royal thrones and sacred altars were pilfered by the French army in the 19th century from Western Africa.
President Emmanuel Macron suggested that France now needed to right the wrongs of the past, making a landmark speech in 2017 in which he said he can no longer accept "that a large part of many African countries' cultural heritage lies in France." It laid down a roadmap for the controversial return of the royal treasures taken during the era of empire and colony. The French will have a final glimpse of the objects in the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac from 26-31 October.
French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot tried to assuage jitters among European museums, emphasizing that this initiative "will not create a legal precedent."
A royal seat of the 'Royal treasures of Abomey kingdom' (Œuvres des tresors royaux d'Abomey) on display at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris, Sept. 10, 2021. Photo Credit: VOA
A French law was passed last year to allow the restitution of the statues to the Republic of Benin, as well as a storied sword to the Army Museum in Senegal.
But she said that the French government's law was intentionally specific in applying solely to the 27 artifacts. "[It] does not establish any general right to restitution" and "in no way calls into question" the right of French museums to hold on to their heritage.
Yet critics of such moves — including London's British Museum that is in a decades-long tug-of-war with the Greek government over a restitution of the Elgin Marbles — argue that it will open the floodgates to emptying Western museums of their collections. Many are made up of objects acquired, or stolen, during colonial times. French museums alone hold at least 90,000 artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa.
A woman looks at the Parthenon Marbles, a collection of stone objects, inscriptions and sculptures. Photo Credit: VOA
The story of the "Abomey Treasures" is as dramatic as their sculpted forms. In November 1892, Colonel Alfred Dodds led a pilfering French expeditionary force into the Kingdom of Danhomè located in the south of present-day Benin. The colonizing troops broke into the Abomey Palace, home of King Behanzin, seizing as they did many royal objects including the 26 artifacts that Dodds donated to the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris in the 1890s. Since 2003, the objects have been housed at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac.
One hundred and twenty-nine years later, their far-flung journey abroad will finally end.
Benin's Culture Minister Jean-Michel Abimbola called the return of the works, a "historic milestone," and the beginning of further cooperation between the two countries, during a news conference last week. The country is founding a museum in Abomey to house the treasures that will be partly funded by the French government. The French Development Agency will give some 35 million euros toward the "Museum of the Saga of the Amazonians and the Dan home Kings" under a pledge signed this year.
The official transfer of the 26 pieces is expected to be signed in Paris on Nov. 9 in the presence of Macron and the art is expected to be in Benin a few days later, Abimbola said.
While locals say the decision is overdue, what's important is that the art will be returned.
"It was a vacuum created among Benin's historical treasures, which is gradually being reconstituted," said Fortune Sossa, President of the African Cultural Journalists Network. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Benin art, Emmanuel Macron, European museums, Abomey Treasures, anthropomorphic statues