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Why there is no Ebola vaccine

The first diagnosed case of Ebola in the United States reveals a truth people in developing countries know all too well: There is little incentive for drug manufacturers to develop vaccines and drugs for diseases that affect the poor.

The simple reality is that drug manufacturers want to make money. To that end, Columbia economist Frank Lichtenberg says companies want to know two things: the number of potential customers and their ability to pay.

“If there are a million consumers and each of them would be willing to pay $1,000 for a drug, that translates into a billion-dollar potential market,” he says.

That is in no way the Ebola market.

“The total number of cases of Ebola in the world between 1976 and 2013 were less than 2,000,” says Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which last month committed $50 million to address Ebola.

What the Ebola outbreak reminds us all is that millions of lives are potentially at risk and there are few incentives for private industry to treat or prevent diseases like Ebola and malaria. That has left funding vaccines and medicines to philanthropies, federal governments and entities like the World Health Organization.

Desmond-Hellmann says the spread of Ebola forces people to ask whether that system is adequate.

“This epidemic is showing us how important it is for the world to have at the ready a response for such an epidemic,” she says.

The U.S. government has invested millions on Ebola over several decades, but it could take years—and quite a bit more money—to develop effective therapies.

So how do you get more money into research and development for these diseases and other public health concerns? USC health economist Joel Hay shares one idea that's being kicked around: “If you just had a tax on every pharmaceutical product sold, that money could be used for some more of these socially desirable goals,” he says.

The thing to remember is that this is a tricky market to regulate. And it’s trickier still for our government, which has a duty to keep people safe, but must find the right incentives to keep the drug industry in the game.

Reddit raises $50 million and wants to share with users

Reddit is a digital bulletin board of sorts, the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” where gazillions of users post, share and read about almost any topic area, or "subreddit," that you can conceive of and many that you honestly couldn't (or perhaps shouldn't).

“The content is 95 percent of the time relevant and interesting, which is really cool,” says user Colin Grussing, of his favorite subreddits, which mostly include entrepreneurship. “I don’t know if there’s any other site on the Internet that does that so well.”

Reddit has just announced that it raised $50 million from a series of investors, including top tech venture capitalists and stars like Jared Leto and Snoop Dogg.

The company will use the money to:

"... hire more staff for product development, expand our community management team, build out better moderation and community tools, work more closely with third party developers to expand our mobile offerings (try our new AMA app), improve our self-serve ad product, build out redditgifts marketplace, pay for our growing technical infrastructure, and all the many other things it takes to support a huge and growing global internet community.”

“I grew up with a computer, and many of my friends were people I met online,” says Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator and the lead investor in this round of funding. “I think one of the most fundamental societal transitions in the last 20 years is this idea that people connect to some of the closest people in their lives and have some of these important parts of their personalities get developed in online communities.”

But he also thinks Reddit’s passionate, highly engaged users will make the site a good long-term investment.

Like other large community sites, he says Reddit could make money in three ways.

“One, obviously, is with ads,” he explains. “Two is with charging users for premium features, and three is some version of commerce. That’s more in the experimentation phase, but where you let people basically spend money on the site and take part of that transaction.”

Altman and his fellow investors want to give 10 percent of their shares back to the community, because users have helped build the site, and, as he says, people treat a car they own better than a rental.

It’s a relatively simple idea, but one that’s very difficult to execute legally, says Lance Kimmel, a securities lawyer.

“I think Reddit really has their work cut out for themselves,” he says. “This stuff is really, really complicated.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission has shut down other companies' attempts to do something similar, says Kimmel.

In announcing the idea, Reddit admitted that it has been interested in a similar move in the past, but hasn't found the right legal avenue.

Its CEO recently floated the idea of giving users a cryptocurrency backed by shares, though Kimmel is skeptical about the legality of that approach as well. 

Who are the small cable providers that are getting out of TV?

Cable subscribers aren't the only ones cutting cords. Increasingly, smaller broadband providers have been getting out of the TV business altogether, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, or scaling back their offerings. The latest is Suddenlink, a smaller cable provider that just dropped Viacom's suite of channels, including MTV, VH1 and CMT.

A representative for small cable companies told the Journal that change in the cable TV market is going to "come from the bottom." Are small broadband providers key to upending the cable business model? Here's what you need to know:

Who are these companies?

Just about all metropolitan areas in the U.S. are claimed by just a few large broadband providers like Comcast, Cox and Time Warner, but about 14 percent of pay TV subscribers are served by a cable company with a million or fewer customers.

These companies — like USA Communications, a co-op in Shellsburg, Iowa — typically serve rural or small-town customers. Many eschew eye-catching new subscriber discounts used by larger companies in favor of straightforward price lists by community. These subscriber bases are small, sometimes only a few thousand customers. 

About 915 smaller cable companies are represented by the National Cable Television Cooperative, which told the Journal that companies serving a total of 53,000 subscribers have gone out of business or dropped their TV offerings in favor of broadband. One provider in Missouri said only a fifth of its customers pay for TV anymore.

How do networks fit into this?

TV networks charge "carriage fees" to cable providers for the right to run their channels. Providers pay a fee per subscriber, often for a bundle of channels. Historically, cable companies have complained about rising fees and being made to carry channels their customers don't want.

The fees themselves are closely guarded secrets, but some estimates put them as high as $6 per subscriber for ESPN. The rising costs and ballooning bundles can put a strain on smaller providers, like Cedar Falls Utilities, who spoke out against the carriage system earlier this year.

Between high costs and low subscriber interest, it's easy to see why some smaller providers might be eyeing a broadband-only business model.

How are small providers making up for the lost programming?

These small companies are making up for programming by pushing à la carte streaming services. Earlier this year, Netflix inked deals with three small cable companies to put their services directly into set-top boxes, for example. One company, RTC Telephone in Georgia, promotes Roku's set-top box as a $5 add-on to its broadband service.

More rural cable companies, like BTC Broadband in Oklahoma, are also providing high-speed fiber internet, which could push customers away from pay TV and toward reliable broadband.

Take A New Test Aimed At The World's English-Language Learners

NPR News - 8 hours 38 min ago

Over 1 billion people around the world are studying English. Now they have a new test to see how they're doing — and if you're curious, you can see how your language skills measure up.

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Amid Scandal, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Resigns

NPR News - 9 hours 4 min ago

The efficacy of the Secret Service has come under scrutiny lately, after an armed man ran into the White House. Under pressure from lawmakers, the service's chief resigned.

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Alleged White House Intruder Pleads Not Guilty

NPR News - 9 hours 54 min ago

Omar Gonzalez was indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts, including entering a restricted building with a weapon. Gonzalez allegedly jumped a fence, then ran into the White House.

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Africa's 'Switzerland' Bans Ebola — But At What Cost?

NPR News - 9 hours 56 min ago

Mauritius won't let in anyone who's been to an Ebola-affected country over the past 60 days. That mindset won't stop the outbreak. But it could deal a blow to the Pan-African economy.

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Europe's 'Moral Obligation' Is To Repair West Africa's Health Care System

NPR News - 10 hours 16 min ago

With money and manpower, the European Union hopes to help stop the Ebola outbreak. But the EU has a long-term goal as well: Improving health care in West Africa to prevent future medical crises.

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Hospital Official: Ebola Patient's Travel Not Relayed To Doctors

NPR News - 10 hours 18 min ago

A nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital learned that the man had flown to the U.S. from Liberia, but that information was not communicated to doctors making the diagnosis, the official says.

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Experimental Drug Jams Ebola Gene To Fight The Virus

NPR News - 11 hours 17 min ago

A drug being tested against Ebola makes use of new scientific insights that could prove useful for treating other illnesses, including one that is inherited.

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Is That A Lark I Hear? A Nightingale? Surprise! It's A Bat

NPR News - 11 hours 41 min ago

There are animals famous for their songs. Whales sing. Birds sing. We humans have Aretha, Elvis, Ray Charles, Pavarotti. But bats — who knew?

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One System, Two Media: How China, Hong Kong Are Covering The Protests

NPR News - 11 hours 51 min ago

Hong Kong media are providing wall-to-wall coverage of the protests calling for the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, but in mainland China there has been little mention of the unrest.

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Raya The Muppet Talks About Poop And Is Proud Of It

NPR News - 12 hours 31 min ago

She's an aquamarine puppet with a mission: Stop the practice of open defecation. That's a tall order for a 6-year-old Muppet. But she's up for the job: "Let's face it. We all got to go."

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The Message On Ebola: Don't Panic

NPR News - 12 hours 52 min ago

Following the first confirmed case of an Ebola patient diagnosed with the disease after reaching U.S. soil, the Centers for Disease Control and the news media caution against an overreaction.

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The numbers for October 1, 2014

The private sector added 213,000 jobs in September, according to an ADP payroll report out Wednesday morning. That's just ahead of expectations and a jump from the August report, which was revised down to 202,000 additions. Small businesses lead the way, with 88,000 jobs added to companies with less than 50 employees in September.

The government will release its monthly jobs report at the end of the week. As we wait for those numbers, here's what we're watching Wednesday:

24

Wednesday is Chinese National Day, and one human rights group estimates "nearly two dozen" people have been detained in mainland China for their support of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The government has been moving quickly to scrub images of the protest from the Internet and tamp down small bursts of solidarity from the mainland, the New York Times reported, and Amnesty International said at least 60 people have been brought in for questioning about their support.

$1.5 billion

California's drought enters its fourth year Wednesday. An August study from the University of California at Davis estimated $1.5 billion in farm revenue has been lost, along with 17,100 jobs. A new report released this week linked climate change to many heat waves around the world in 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported, but could not draw a clear connection between human activity and the drought.

45 percent

That's how high fees can get for families sending money to incarcerated loved ones through JPay, a private vendor that handles money transfers for 70 percent of inmates in the U.S. JPay is at the center of an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity exploring the heavy, hidden costs put on inmates and their families. The second half of the series, focusing on no-bid agreements between big banks and corrections departments, will run Thursday.

5 Things We Learned From New Database Of Payments To Doctors

NPR News - 13 hours 20 min ago

Royalty and licensing payments accounted for almost a third of the amount paid to doctors by drug and device companies. The total exceeded the amount spent on speeches, consulting and meals.

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Public health officials: We're prepared for Ebola

Marketplace - American Public Media - 13 hours 23 min ago

Federal health authorities are working hard to reassure the public they’re ready to contain the Ebola virus after announcing the first confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S. — a man who traveled from Liberia to Texas. 

Health workers are now trying to find people the infected man may have come into contact with. Those contacts will be monitored for 21 days.

“You’ve having to monitor all of those folks this person has been in contact with. And then that may expand to, you know, if one of those people is sick then you expand to trace all of their contacts,” says Jeanne Ringel, director of the population health program at RAND Corporation.

All that monitoring takes a lot of people and resources. Federal health officials tried to get a head start.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent checklists to hospitals with advice on containing the disease and protecting staff. The U.S. started beefing up bioterrorism preparedness years ago, after the anthrax attacks in 2001. 

Now, health officials say, all of that prep work is paying off.

“Our health system today is in much better shape than it was five or ten years ago to be able to identify and contain outbreaks like Ebola, even though that’s not exactly what we’re planning for,” says Dr. Paul Biddinger, chief of the division of emergency preparedness at Mass General Hospital. 

Dr. Biddinger says he’s not surprised that an Ebola case showed up in the U.S. He’s been preparing for it for months.  

 

 

 

Death Toll From Japanese Volcano Rises

NPR News - 15 hours 22 min ago

Nearly 50 people are listed as dead from an eruption of Mount Ontake, located about 125 miles west of Tokyo.

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ISIS Militants Reportedly Behead Kurds In Northern Syria

NPR News - 16 hours 7 min ago

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Islamic State militants killed the seven men and three women near the besieged Kurdish town of Kobani.

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Hong Kong Protesters Vow To Step Up Pro-Democracy Campaign

NPR News - 16 hours 59 min ago

With the territory's leader, Leung Chun-ying, refusing to step down, some demonstrators say they will move next to occupy key government buildings.

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