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New antibody therapies fight cancer, drum up investment

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Evusheld is an antibody therapy developed by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for the prevention of Covid-19 in immunocompromised patients
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Antibody therapies are offering promising treatment breakthroughs for cancer and other illnesses, generating greater investor interest more than 20 years after they were first commercialised.

Antibodies are proteins that recognise foreign substances, known as antigens, attaching themselves to them to alert the rest of the human immune system.

In 1975, scientists Georges Koehler and Cesar Milstein discovered how to produce them in a laboratory, which later earned them a Nobel Prize for medicine. Dozens of synthetic antibodies have since been developed.

New antibody treatments to be used with chemotherapy have arrived on the scene in recent years.

Most recently, a clinical trial of an antibody developed by pharmaceutical groups Daiichi Sankyo and AstraZeneca caught the attention of leading cancer specialists gathered at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual congress in Chicago this month.

The treatment, Enhertu, was already authorised for breast cancer patients who had large amounts of a protein called HER2. 

The antibody also performed well in patients with smaller quantities of the protein — increasing the number of people who could benefit.

The antibody latches onto the surface of a cancer cell whose receptors no longer work and the cell then “digests” the receptors to recycle them, activating the chemotherapy, explained cancer specialist William Jacot.

“We hadn’t seen such progress, in terms of survival, with a chemotherapy treatment for dozens of years,” said Jacot, a professor at the Montpellier Cancer Institute in southern France.

Although antibody therapy technology has a complex production process, it is less difficult to implement than new treatments using cellular therapy.

Antibodies can be used in different ways to fight cancer. They can target and destroy the proteins necessary to produce cancer cells or act to regulate the immune response.

French biotech firm Inatherys is in the first stage of clinical trials of an antibody treatment for leukaemia, its boss Pierre Launay said.

He said the company’s antibody will be designed act as a “guided missile” and target a receptor that lets iron enter cancer cells, which need the substance. 

The antibody will then release a poison within the cell to destroy it.

Some antibody treatments are being used preventively while others are treatments. For example, AstraZeneca’s Evusheld antibody treatment is used preventively to ward off Covid-19, while Xevudy by British company GSK is used as a treatment.

Treatments are also being developed for inflammatory diseases, which are also a major killer. 

– Booming market –

The promising announcements have triggered interest beyond the scientific community and a flood of investment. French biotech firm ImCheck Therapeutics recently raised almost 100 million euros ($106 million) for an antibody treatment in development.

Pharmaceutical giants are also prepared to spend big to ensure they do not miss out. French company Sanofi bought Belgian biotech firm Ablynx and its mini antibodies, nanobodies, for almost four billion euros in 2018.

Dupixent, Sanofi’s flagship immunotherapy antibody medication, earned more than five billion euros for the pharma giant last year, and Keytruda, an oncological treatment by US firm MSD, generated more than $17 billion in 2021.

According to predictions by research firm Market Data Forecast, the market could grow to reach $249 billion in three years’ time.

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Troubled Canada pipeline no longer profitable: budget watchdog

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The Trans Mountain pipeline, whose pieces are seen here at a storage lot in Abbotsford, Canada in June 2021 waiting to be assembled, is no longer profitable, the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer concluded in a report
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The controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, now under construction in western Canada after being nationalized, is no longer profitable as costs have spiralled, Parliament’s budget watchdog said Wednesday.

In a report, the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer said a review of the project’s finances found “that the government’s 2018 decision to acquire, expand, operate, and eventually divest of the Trans Mountain assets will result in a net loss for the federal government.”

Ottawa purchased the pipeline for Can$4.4 billion (US$3.4 billion) from Kinder Morgan four years ago to salvage the troubled expansion project.

But its current value, the PBO estimated, is only Can$3.9 billion, after construction costs soared to $21.4 billion and its completion was pushed one year to late 2023. 

The negative valuation is based on the pipeline’s future cash flows over 40 years, minus construction costs.

The project is to replace an aging conduit built in 1953 to deliver 890,000 barrels of oil a day from landlocked Alberta to the Pacific coast for shipping to new markets in Asia and elsewhere.

Prior to the government taking over the project, it had been stalled by legal challenges and protests by Indigenous groups and environmental activists.

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US could face more inflation ‘surprises’: Fed’s Powell

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US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the American economy is 'very strong' and well positioned to withstand higher interest rates
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The US economy is strong but faces an “uncertain” global environment and could see further inflation “surprises,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday.

In the first of two closely-watched days of testimony to Congress, Powell again stressed that the Fed understands the hardship caused by rising prices and is committed to bringing down inflation, which has reached a 40-year high.

The US central bank last week announced the most aggressive interest rate increase in nearly 30 years and promised more action to come to combat the price surge, with gas and food costs soaring and millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet.

But as fears mount that the rapid tightening of financial conditions could go too far and tip the world’s largest economy into recession, Powell insisted the US economy “is very strong and well positioned to handle tighter monetary policy.”

“Inflation has obviously surprised to the upside over the past year, and further surprises could be in store,” the Fed chief told the Senate Banking Committee in his semi-annual appearance.

Policymakers “will need to be nimble” given that the economy “often evolves in unexpected ways,” he said.

Last week’s super-sized 0.75-percentage-point increase in the benchmark lending rate was the third since March, taking the policy rate up a total of 1.5 points. And Powell at the time said more such increases were likely in July.

The Fed is facing intense criticism that it was too slow to react to the changing economy, which benefited from a flood of federal government stimulus.

Powell made no explicit mention of recession risks in his opening remarks, but was sure to be grilled about the prospect by senators.

– ‘Essential’ to curb inflation –

In addition to easing the financial strain on American families, especially those with fewer resources, the Fed chief said tamping down inflation was “essential… if we are to have a sustained period of strong labor market conditions that benefit all.”

The US economy recovered quickly from the Covid-19 pandemic, helped by robust consumer spending, and has continued to create jobs at a strong pace, averaging 408,000 in the past three months. 

Unemployment is near a 50-year low.

But the buoyant demand for homes, cars and other goods clashed with transportation and supply chain snarls in parts of the world where Covid-19 remained — and remains — a challenge.

That fueled inflation, which got dramatically worse after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February and Western nations imposed stiff sanctions on Moscow, sending food and fuel prices up at a blistering rate.

Powell said the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine “is creating additional upward pressure on inflation.” 

In addition, “Covid-19-related lockdowns in China are likely to exacerbate ongoing supply chain disruptions.”

But he noted that the issue is not unique to the United States.

“Over the past year, inflation also increased rapidly in many foreign economies,” he said.

In fact, many major central banks have joined the Fed in beginning to tighten monetary policy — with the notable exception of the Bank of Japan.

Powell pointed to signs that rising rates are having an impact, as business investment slows and “activity in the housing sector looks to be softening, in part reflecting higher mortgage rates.”

Average home loan rates jumped to 5.23 percent in May for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, from 4.98 percent in April, according to Freddie Mac, while the median price for homes topped $400,000 for the first time.

“The tightening in financial conditions that we have seen in recent months should continue to temper growth and help bring demand into better balance with supply,” Powell said.

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Xi warns about ‘expanding military alliances’ at BRICS summit: state media

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In a call last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) assured his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (L)that China would support Russia on 'sovereignty and security'
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Chinese President Xi Jinping warned against “expanding” military ties on Wednesday in a speech ahead of a virtual summit with top leaders from Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Beijing is hosting the meeting of the influential club of BRICS emerging economies, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the global population and nearly a quarter of the world’s gross domestic product.

Three of its members — China, India and South Africa — have abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Xi told the BRICS business forum that the “Ukraine crisis is… a wake-up call” and warned against “expanding military alliances and seeking one’s own security at the expense of other countries’ security”.

China and India have strong military links with Russia and buy large amounts of its oil and gas. 

In a call last week, Xi assured his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that China would support Moscow’s core interests in “sovereignty and security” — leading the United States to warn Beijing that it risked ending up “on the wrong side of history”.

South Africa, one of the few African countries wielding diplomatic influence outside the continent, has also not condemned the Russian military action.

Xi took a swipe at US and European Union sanctions on Russia in the speech on Wednesday, saying “sanctions are a boomerang and a double-edged sword”.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) nations will meet next week in Germany to discuss how to proceed with sanctions against Russia.

– ‘World divided’ –

The BRICS summit takes place as Russian troops continue to pummel eastern Ukraine after invading the country four months ago.

China and India have both ramped up crude oil imports from Russia, helping to offset losses from Western nations scaling back Russian energy purchases.

India bought six times more Russian oil from March to May compared with the same period last year, while imports by China during that period tripled, data from research firm Rystad Energy shows.  

Once bitter Cold War rivals, Beijing and Moscow have stepped up cooperation in recent years.

President Putin was in Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in February, just days before the invasion of Ukraine started.

Beijing and Moscow also flew bomber aircraft over the Sea of Japan and East China Sea while US President Joe Biden  was in Tokyo in late May — signalling strong military links between the two countries.  

“The world has been divided into east and west after the Ukraine war,” Manoj Joshi, a New Delhi-based author and geopolitical commentator, told AFP. 

He added that BRICS gives a platform for Putin to stand with leaders from emerging economies.

“It sends a message to the US and the EU that they have not succeeded in isolating him and Russia,” he said.

Analysts say that Beijing will use the summit to promote its governance and development model at a time of global instability.

China said at a BRICS foreign ministers meeting in May that it wants other emerging economies to join the grouping, though it is unclear whether new members have been invited.

“Beijing would like to shape the BRICS agenda in line with… China-centric initiatives,” said Madhu Bhalla, professor and editor of the India Quarterly journal.

“Entry of other members… who follow the Chinese line will help steer the group’s agenda closer to the Chinese agenda,” she said. 

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