Friday, May 01, 2015

What do I write about?

Having been a bit quiet on the blog front I thought I would write a few blogs loosely around the subject of the Care and Feeding of Journalists. Having worked the healthcare beat for about six months, one of the things that has impressed me most is the degree of engagement by healthcare public relations folk. I read that there are four or five PR people for every journalist. Well double that in healthcare and make them about ten times more efficient and you get the picture. One of the questions they ask the most is what do I write about, what I'm interested in as well as who else writes on healthcare at The Economist. I'll try and write a bit about that in this blog, and in a later blog talk about how best to contact me.

Firstly, if you work in health PR in particular can I encourage you to follow me on twitter... @natashaloder 

I'm quite active and I tend to follow people back if they are in healthcare, as this builds my expert base. I also try to engage in debates about subjects that I'm interested in--and even ask questions. On the subject of experts, I've recently been using HARO a little as a way of finding them. I will also sometimes use LinkedIn.

So what do I write about?
So the first thing to know is that the job is global and that my focus is business and science.  That means pharma, hospitals, management of healthcare, drug categories, patenting, pricing. In the science section it means medical advances and technologies. For the purposes of business and science that means that many stories are US focused--just given the size of the industry and research base. But we are always interested in an international perspective and international business stories.

If you happen to work in these areas. Stop. Do not hit send yet. Unlike daily or mostly online media, we are very selective in the stories we do--so many of the stories I end up doing would broadly be described as trend pieces tied to news. Rarely will I do the story that says company A has invented widget B which will change the world. Sorry! If I write a story about generic medicines tied to a proposed merger of generic pharma companies, chances are we will not do the story again for some time unless something huge happens. So we tend to do a considered take on different issues as the news dictates. That said, if we have some genuine piece of news to break--we also do that.

Policy gets people confused. If you know a little about The Economist there is a front half foreign part, and a back half business part. My job is very traditionally "back half", which means that sanitation in India, TB in Russia, malaria in Africa and Obamacare in America, generally end up being "front half" stories. That is not to say I don't write about policy, only that I do when it emerges from the business or science stories.

If you have a health story that concerns international policy, your best bet is to contact either Helen Joyce (International Editor) or Geoffrey Carr (Science Editor). If it concerns an individual country, then you would want to go to the editor of that particular section. At present that would be Robert Guest (US), DominicZeigler (China), AntonLeGuardia (Africa). If the policy is more tied to some emerging issue of business or science, such as gene editing, or FDA regulation, that is my area.

Selection of stories in past six months:

Generic drugs: Much ado about something. May 2nd 2015

Worries are growing about the effects of dealmaking among generics firms

THE plot is worthy of a Shakespearean comedy. Teva is in pursuit of Mylan. But Mylan dislikes its suitor and runs away to declare its love for Perrigo, while seeking a poison pill in case it is forced to marry Teva. Perrigo, though, rebuffs Mylan. With many suitors, Perrigo is holding out for a better offer—perhaps even from Teva itself. It may not be quite midsummer but the unfolding drama featuring three generic-drug makers could well run until then. [More...]

A wave of new medicines known as biologics will be good for drugmakers, but may not be so good for health budgets

IN PHARMACEUTICALS, the 20th century was the era of the small molecule. The industry thrived by identifying a steady stream of relatively simple compounds that treated lots of people, patenting them and making a fortune. In the early 21st century it has become harder for drugmakers to find new cures quickly enough to replace those on which the patents are expiring. [More...]

Health in west Africa: Help in the time of Ebola, Sep 20th 2014. 

There is a scramble to control a runaway epidemic

“WE ARE exhausted, we are angry, we are desperate,” said Sophie Delaunay, the American director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) last week, frustrated at the tardy international response to the deadly Ebola virus in west Africa. Within days of these words, the outside world was at last waking up to the danger of Ebola haemorrhagic fever—a viral disease that threatens tens of thousands of lives, health systems, economic growth and even political stability in parts of west Africa. [More...]

The hunt for Ebola medicines is being accelerated

ON SUNDAY scientists and physicians from around the world will be descending on New Orleans for the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), the world's leading convention on tropical diseases. The auspiciously timed gathering will include a number of high-profile sessions about Ebola, which promise to aid efforts to contain the disease. So it seems rather odd that an e-mail sent to participants only days before the event warned that anyone who has travelled to Ebola-affected countries within the past 21 days should best stay away. "We see no utility in you travelling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room," said an e-mail from representatives of the state of Louisiana. It is one of several American states to have imposed a 21-day quarantine on anyone who has recently visited an Ebola-affected country. [More...]

The hunt for Ebola medicines is being accelerated

THE lucky ones are admitted to a health centre. They arrive bleeding, in taxis, on foot, in wheelbarrows and sometimes in ambulances. Mostly there is little help available and patients are dying alone, lying on the ground and lucky to receive even palliative care. Médecins Sans Frontières, a medical charity that has treated more than two-thirds of the known patients, says its centres are overwhelmed. [More...]

Antibodies v bacteria: Making resistance futile, Nov 22nd 2014. Gaithersburg. 

A new way to fight bacterial infections

“Our job”, says Jan Kemper, “is to make cells happy.” Ms Kemper works at MedImmune, a subsidiary of AstraZeneca based in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Her laboratory contains 40 bioreactors—fluid-filled tanks of about three litres’ capacity. Paddles within them whirl around a mixture of nutrient broth and specially engineered hamster cells that are busy making human antibodies. [More...]

Food allergies: Patching things up, December 20th 2014. Chicago.

A new treatment for allergy to peanuts is being developed

ANAPHYLAXIS, an allergic reaction that causes swellings and rashes and can thus block a person’s airways, is always unpleasant and sometimes lethal. Often, the allergen is in a specific sort of food. Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soyabeans and wheat are particularly risky. Together, they account for 90% of anaphylactic incidents in America, a country in which between 4% and 8% of children are reckoned to have a food allergy, and in which a third or more of such allergies are potentially life-threatening. [More...]

Why a promising new class of cancer treatments is so hard to value

IN THE late 1800s a New York doctor noticed that getting an infection after surgery helped some cancer patients. So he began to treat cancer using infections and had a little success. But many doctors were sceptical of his work, and other treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy eventually took off. Today, however, the pharmaceutical industry understands how his treatments would have worked and has placed a sizeable bet that immuno-oncology—the treatment of cancer using the body’s immune system—will yield breakthrough drugs. [More...]

The Ebola crisis: Much worse to come, Oct 18th 2014. 

The Ebola epidemic in west Africa poses a catastrophic threat to the region, and could yet spread further

ON MARCH 25th the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported a rash of cases of Ebola in Guinea, the first such ever seen in west Africa. As of then there had been 86 suspected cases, and there were reports of suspected cases in the neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia as well. The death toll was 60. [More...]

You can do a lot of damage with just seven genes

EBOLA is a simple virus, but also a subtle one. The stringy looking particles consist of a genome wrapped up in two layers of protein (see diagram). This long, thin package, along with a large protein called a polymerase, is packed into a membrane that is studded with a glycoproteins—that is, proteins with sugar stuck to them. [More...]

To win it requires a much larger effort in west Africa than the outside world has so far pledged

IN SEPTEMBER 1976 scientists in Antwerp received a Thermos out of Yambuku, in what was then Zaire, with two samples from a nun who was fatally ill. One of the vials had smashed, but after scooping the other out of a pool of icy water, blood and broken glass, they discovered that they were handling a deadly and unknown virus. To spare Yambuku from infamy, they named the infection after a local river, the Ebola. [More...]