Biotech’s New Ethical Dilemmas

Balancing the News

Corporate Angels

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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the April 16, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Vindicated Bear’s Brave New Theories

At the end of the last decade, Yale economist Robert

Schiller was way out of favor. As the stock market was on a tear,

rocketing to a record high of 11,722.98, his bearish comments could

not have been more out of vogue. An article in the Yale Herald commented:

"As the stock market reached unprecedented heights in 1998, many

Americans reveled in the success of their investments. One Yale professor,

however, could only watch in amazement as his predictions were repeatedly

proven wrong." Fortune proclaimed Schiller "the smartest guy

who’d been most wrong about the stock market."

In an interview with the Yale Herald in 1999, Schiller said the best

thing Americans could do with their money was to put it into indexed

government bonds. How many holders of flat-as-a-pancake equities-stuffed

retirement funds would give anything for the opportunity to turn back

the clock and take Schiller’s advice?

Schiller, testifying before the board of governors of the Federal

Reserve in 1998, discussed the irrationality of investors. Just a

few days later, Alan Greenspan issued his warning about "irrational

exuberance."

Princeton University Press published Irrational Exuberance, Schiller’s

best selling book, on the Ides of March in 2000, close to the exact

moment the bubble burst.

Now Schiller has a new book, The New Financial Order, which he discusses

on Friday, April 18, at Barnes & Noble in MarketFair. Call 609-716-1570

for more information. Here is an excerpt from a Publishers Weekly

review of the book:

Schiller is best known for arguing that stock market movements

do not reflect underlying economic reality and that the volatility

of the market makes the financial system unstable. It is therefore

a surprise to find him advocating vast expansion of financial derivative

markets to reduce the economic risk faced by individuals and countries.

According to Schiller, governments should swap 10 percent or more

of their gross domestic product with other countries and administer

income swaps among entire generations.

Individuals should manage risk by trading in new financial instruments

based on the lifetime income of their profession, the value of homes

in their area, or economic statistics like the unemployment rate or

inflation rate.

Money, he says, will be replaced by "indexed units of account"

tied to things like wage rates and commodity prices. People will carry

transponders to report on their every activity, with the results stored

in "global risk information databases," containing all personal

information, including genetic data, but protected against unauthorized

access. In this way, the government can eliminate the underground

economy and tax evasion and individuals will enjoy more economic security.

Revolutionary stuff. But while many are sure to dismiss Schiller’s

new theories as, well, crazy, anyone doing so might do well to look

back at the heady days when every grandmother, grocer, and gamekeeper

was loathe to stray too far from a stock ticker for fear of missing

all the details on the stock surge that was making them all rich.

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Biotech’s New Ethical Dilemmas

<d>Kenneth Moch, now CEO of biotech Alteon in Ramsay,

cut his entrepreneurial teeth at Liposome on Route 1 in the 1980s,

and spent the first half of the 1990s as CEO of Biocyte, a Stamford,

Connecticut-based company that pioneered the collection, storage,

and use of cord blood cells.

There are no embryos involved in the process. Cells are harvested

from an umbilical cord after birth, and are most often used to help

save the life of a family member, typically the sibling of the just-born

baby. The brother or sister often is suffering from leukemia. Perhaps

surprisingly, the life-saving procedure Biocyte, and companies like

it, make possible, is the subject of intense ethical debate.

Life sciences technology is galloping ahead, so much so that Larry

Ellison, CEO of Oracle and a major figure in the computer revolution,

stated last week that biotech is poised to shove computer technology

aside in the coming decades.

With the advances come myriad ethical questions. Examining some of

the biggest issues is "The Grand Bargain: The Pharmaceutical Industry

and Society in the 21st Century," a conference taking place on

Monday and Tuesday, April 21 and 22, at the New Jersey Performing

Arts Center in Newark.

In addition to Moch, speakers include Representative Rush Holt;

Norman Daniels of the Harvard School of Public Health; Delon

Human of the World Medical Association; Elora Weringer, Bioethics

Advisor, U.S. Science Policy; Martin Delaney of Project Inform;

and Harlan F. Weisman, president, Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical

Research and Development.

The conference on the morning of April 21 is "The Ethics of Clinical

Trials." Topics to be considered include who gets priority access

to experimental drugs; under what circumstances is it appropriate

to administer a placebo to a control group; can meaningful consent

be obtained in diverse cultural contexts; and what rights do participants

have to post-trial access to successful research products?

The afternoon conference looks at "Intellectual Property and Equal

Access." Topics to be considered include patent protection in

less developed countries with weak legal infrastructures; desperate

health needs as a valid justification for generic manufacturing; whether

indigenous peoples have intellectual property rights to traditional

medicines they have practiced for centuries; and whether AIDS has

become an international crisis that requires suspension of patent

rights guaranteed to multinational companies under the legal provisions

of the World Treaty Organization.

On Tuesday morning, the conference is "Bioethical Issues in the

21st Century. Topics to be considered include the ethics of cloning

human children; the use of Ritalin by those who do not suffer from

Attention Deficit Disorder to enhance mental acuity on an exam; the

use of human growth hormone; and the use of germ line genetic engineering

to improve the genetic characteristics of future generations.

This array of subjects hints at the complexity of the debates growing

up around new life sciences technology. So new — and controversial

— are some technologies that Moch, during his tenure at Biocyte,

the cord cell pioneer, relied on an ethics advisory panel.

One issue was equal access. "The demand was tremendous," says

Moch, who studied biochemistry at Princeton (Class of 1976), received

an MBA from Stanford, and was in on the founding of the Liposome Company.

A problem is that collecting and storing the cells for a procedure

that could mean the difference between life and death for a leukemia

patient is expensive. "Some can afford it, some can’t," says

Moch.

He points out that many ethics debates concerning life sciences technology

have a religious component, but that the issue of affordability does

not. This does not necessarily make it any easier to untangle. New

medical procedures often are not covered by insurance. Where they

are expensive, as is often the case, the wealthy will be able to extend

their lives by taking advantage of the advances, but the poor —

and many in the middle class — will not.

As health care becomes more expensive and as demand rises, the question

of affordability moves beyond new procedures like the one Biocyte

developed. Presently, the lion’s share of health care dollars go to

individuals — many of them very elderly — during the last

months of their lives. A question, says Moch, is whether society should

continue to spend finite health care dollars this way, or whether

it should put them to use to enhance the health of the very young.

"Do we say we’d rather save one person who is 90, or 100 young

people?" he posits.

Another question the cord cell technology raises is that of whether

it is morally right to have a child only — or largely — to

save the life of another child. Biocyte not only developed cord cell

technology, but also worked with OB/GYNs and with parents. In some

cases the parents seeking the procedure were having a child because

they wanted to obtain stem cells that could save one of their other

children. "Some argue that to have a child solely to benefit another

child is wrong," says Moch. His panel of ethicists, however, advised

that such a decision is a permissible personal choice.

Another issue surrounding Biocyte’s technology was its attempt to

patent it. An article in Genetics Forum magazine, a British publication,

states that "critics claim this (the patent) will enable Biocyte

to control all future uses of umbilical cord cells and jeopardize

the interests of patients. It will, for example, be able to demand

royalty payments from those using these cells for bone marrow transplants.

Such transplants are seen as a promising technique in helping to reduce

deaths of patients on bone marrow waiting lists. U.S. estimates indicate

that 9,000 patients die each year whilst waiting for a bone barrow

transplant."

In further stating the argument, the article brings up another interesting

ethical issue. It says that the International Society of Transplantation

states that no part of the human body should be commercialized, and

that donation of organs or cells should be free and anonymous. Ethical

arguments such as these led to the revocation of Biocyte’s European

patent.

In arguing against a patent on technology to remove and freeze cord

cells, opponents stated that, until very recently, patents were granted

for "mechanical inventions — not living things." As biotechnology

moves ahead, the world is sure to change radically as the cotton gin

and even the mainframe begin to look quaint. And there will be plenty

of opinions about the direction that change should take. Or as Moch

says of the upcoming bioethics conference: "It’s clear that all

the speakers will have very different things to say."

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Balancing the News

Despite hundreds of embedded reporters and 24/7 cable

television coverage, Americans are not getting the full picture of

what is going on in Iraq. It seems remarkable that a people with free

access to myriad radio, television, print, and Internet outlets could

still be missing big parts of the picture, but, according to Jay

Milner, that is the case.

Milner, a screenwriter and producer whose resume is full of both big

oil and the Middle East, speaks on "Mass Media and the Marketplace

of Ideas" on Wednesday, April 23, at 6:30 p.m. at a meeting of

the Princeton Media Communications Association at the Sarnoff Corporation.

Other speakers include Brian McKernan, editor of Digital Camera

Media, and Jeffrey Bloom, video and web informatics specialist

at Sarnoff and author of Digital Watermarks. Call 609-818-0025.

There is little but Iraq in the news now — everything from details

on the furnishings of Saddam Hussein’s palaces to desert weather reports

to interviews with Kurdish clansmen. But, normally, says Milner, there

is little reporting on international news of any sort.

"One concern," he says, "is that over the last few years,

the amount of international news has dwindled greatly. We were getting

a 50/50 split, but now I’d be surprised if it is 25 percent."

While that figure has plumped up considerably over the past two weeks,

the reporting is still quite U.S.-centric. "You don’t get full

exposure to reactions in other countries and to why they feel as they

do," he says. "We’re getting one side of the story — and

we’re getting it constantly."

A native of Tennessee who retains the diction of his home state, Milner

studied English and drama at East Tennessee State (Class of 1978).

By the time he obtained his degree he had already served for four

years in the Marines, two of them in Vietnam.

Upon graduation he went to work for a Houston company as an administrative

manager. The company did consulting work with an oil refinery that

was setting up an office in Dubai. He went to set up the office, and

then got involved in a Saudi joint venture. During the course of his

career in the oil industry he was also posted in Oman and in Qatar,

as well as in Europe.

Perhaps improbably, he ended his oil career in Princeton, a town not

known for its connection with petroleum products. He was president

of Refinery Systems International, a company involved in software,

manufacturing, and equipment for modernizing oil refineries. When

the company consolidated with a company in Houston, Milner decided

to stay put.

"I had always wanted to write," he says. "I took the stock

options and ran with them." Infatuated with the movies since the

age of two, when his mother, a fan of all movie genres, began taking

him along to the cinema, he wanted to write screenplays.

"I gave myself a five-year window," he says. He began by purchasing

Scriptware, a software package that formats screenplays, and getting

to work on a political thriller set in the Middle East. Working without

an agent, he was able to get the screenplay optioned. At that point,

he felt he was moving in the right direction. A "boot camp"

course at Media Bistro in New York City convinced him that he was

on track, and over the next five years he settled in to write 10 more

screenplays, six of which have been optioned. Last year he started

working with a partner, a veteran writer, in Los Angeles. The pair

are close, says Milner, to inking a deal for their latest screenplay,

about which he is reluctant to reveal too much.

In addition to his writing, Milner teaches screen writing at Mercer

County Community College. His wife, Karyn, owns The Beat Goes On,

a website that sells designer clothes (www.thebeatgoeson.com).

Milner gets a good amount of his war news on the Internet. "Old"

media is moving toward a consolidation that gives rise to homogenization,

in his view. He speaks with alarm about Clear Channel, the Texas-based

media conglomerate that owns 1,225 radio stations and 39 television

stations in the United States, and has an equity interest in 240 overseas

radio stations.

While radio is consolidating, Milner says that television, which has

also consolidated to a degree, is mired in political correctness.

It’s attitude on the Iraq conflict, he says, is "you’re for it."

There are not a lot of commentators striking a balance. "There

are not a lot of `but’s’ in the news," he says.

So Milner turns to the Internet. If he wants to know what is going

on in Malaysia, he says, he simply logs on and finds a site with an

English version of a Malaysian newspaper. It is now fairly easy, he

says, to find English-language versions of newspapers from all around

the world. He acknowledges that these publications may not be totally

objective, either, but at least they offer an alternate view.

As for news in this country, Milner fears that the reverence is vanishing

for the belief that "I don’t agree with what you say, but I will

defend to the death your right to say it."

Until big media rights the balance, Milner suggests a spin on the

Internet. "If somebody takes the time and effort," he says,

"they will get a better picture than anywhere else. It has the

potential to give the most balanced view."

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Corporate Angels

On Saturday, April 12, Martin House, a Trenton-based

non-profit, hosted a ground breaking ceremony for the construction

of six homes for low-income families. The construction is part of

the 100 Homes for 100 Families Campaign, which aims to raise $2.1

million to build 100 homes over the next five years. Nearly half of

that amount has already been raised.

Among the sponsors who have donated the $21,000 are the Mary

Owen Borden Foundation, the James Kerney Foundation, New Jersey Manufacturers

Insurance Company, St. John’s Church of Allentown, St. Vincent de

Paul Church of Yardville, Joyce and George Albers-Schonberg, Michael

Johnson, Joanne Livingston, Regina Bee Goaneh, Sharon Love, Jackie

and Rayfield Meyers, and Melinda Holiday.

The $21,000 provided by donors is matched with government funds, through

which it grows to the $63,000 necessary to allow Martin House to create

a home with an 11-year, interest-free mortgage.

To date, 113 mortgages have been created and 43 have been retired.

Families who receive the new homes must attend community meetings,

complete 50 hours of home repair courses, and invest a minimum of

150 hours of sweat equity in the construction of their homes and those

of their neighbors.

Creative Marketing Alliance , a marketing communications

company with offices at 191 Clarksville Road, was honored by the

American Cancer Society at the 16th Annual Celebration of Life Gala

on Saturday, March 29, at the Westin hotel.

CMA was recognized marketing communications services it provided to

the organization over the past three years, including design and layout

of the Annual Celebration of Life Gala advertising journal.

Pepper Hamilton , a law firm with offices at 300 Alexander

Park, has begun holding fundraisers in anticipation of the 33rd annual

WalkAmerica, an event that benefits the March of Dimes. WalkAmerica

takes place this year on Sunday, April 27.

The employees of the Alexander Park Pepper Hamilton office have participated

in WalkAmerica for over 15 years. This year the office aims to raise

$5,000 for the charity.

To generate enthusiasm for its team of walkers, consisting of 28 employees,

friends, and family members, Pepper Hamilton has conducted a number

of fundraising events. Starting with a Kick Off on February 10, these

events have included 10 weeks of raffles, auctions, sales, and contests.

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Donate Please

The Notre Dame High School PTA is sponsoring a

Post Prom Party for the Class of 2003 at the high school on Friday,

May 23, and is soliciting for prizes such as gift certificates, movie

tickets, theater tickets, sporting event tickets, merchandise, or

cash. To donate a prize, contact Lynn Root at 609-587-7668 or Dee

Dee Nemeth-Juno at 609-584-7510.

The Kidney and Urology Foundation of America is sponsoring

its fourth annual New Jersey Walk the Walk for Tissue and Organ Donation

on Sunday, May 4 at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant.

Walk the Walk is an event that helps raise awareness of the critical

need for organ and tissue donation. In New Jersey alone there are

2,400 people on the national transplant wait-list in need of a kidney,

lung, liver, heart, or pancreas to survive.


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