Published online 24 March 2010 | Nature 464, 470-471 (2010) | doi:10.1038/464470a


News briefing: 25 March 2010

The week in science.

Policy|Research|Events|People|Business|Business watch|The week ahead|Number crunch|News maker


Space strategy: Britain has launched a national space agency, intended to coordinate the country's civilian space activities and develop a long-term strategy for the sector. Previously, space funding for technology, instruments and subscriptions to international bodies — such as the European Space Agency — came from separate grant-giving agencies and various government departments. At the 23 March launch, science minister Paul Drayson also announced an international space innovation centre, to be based at Harwell, near Didcot, which will be supported by £40 million (US$60 million) from government and industry.

Genetic test registry: The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced last week that it would establish a public online database to store information on genetic tests voluntarily submitted by manufacturers. The Genetic Testing Registry aims to help people to access information — including validity and availability data — on the more than 1,600 genetic tests now offered commercially. It will be developed by the NIH's National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, Maryland, by 2011.

Stagnant innovation: Europe continues to lag well behind Japan and is no longer catching up with the United States, according to a 2009 innovation scoreboard released by the European Commission on 18 March. The report, based on data from 2007 and 2008, highlights four key issues for Europe to improve: business spending on research and development, number of researchers, public–private linkage and international patenting. China continues to gain on Europe. Last year's innovation scoreboard (see Nature 457, 523; 2009) told a similar tale.

Royal Institution battle: Disgruntled members of the cash-stricken Royal Institution of Great Britain want to oust the venerable body's council. Last week they announced that a meeting will be held on 12 April for members to vote on whether to replace the institution's board of trustees, which in January forced out director Susan Greenfield (see Nature 463, 140; 2010). The council responded that the proposed changes to the governance "would cause profound harm". It also noted that other members, including prominent chemists, had signed a motion in support of the council.

Japanese roadmap: The Science Council of Japan has for the first time outlined its country's future large-scale research projects and facilities, estimating for each the budget and degree of international collaboration required. The council, which represents 840,000 scientists, posted a lengthy 'master plan' on its website on 17 March. It covers 43 projects, including proposed telescopes and satellites, as well as materials science, particle physics and biological-science facilities. The council's unprecedented evaluation was published in part to gain public understanding of basic research in the wake of a tussle over Japan's science budgets late last year (see Nature 462, 557; 2009).


Danish disease centre: The University of Copenhagen has received Denmark's largest ever private donation for research. The Novo Nordisk Foundation announced on 22 March that it would hand over 885 million kroner (US$161 million) to create a centre for research into human metabolism. The centre, to open in October, will focus on diseases such as type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses.

Drug-resistant tuberculosis: In a report published on 18 March, the World Health Organization released more data on the incidence of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) — but admitted that major gaps in monitoring prevent understanding of whether the disease is spreading. Based on data from 2008, the report puts the total incidence of the disease at about 3.6% of all TB cases, similar to previous estimates. No reliable information on proportions of drug-resistant TB is available from around 41% of the world's countries.

Korea's Antarctic base: South Korea last week chose Terra Nova Bay as the site for its first research base on mainland Antarctica. A survey earlier this year by the country's first icebreaker research ship, Araon, found that the site was more accessible and had better weather than another option, Cape Burks. The 100-billion-won (US$88-million) base, to be completed by 2014, will be used to study global warming. The country has had another base on nearby King George Island since 1988.

Rich get richer: England's top research universities have gained a greater proportion of public research funds than last year. Last week's 2010–11 allocation of £1.6 billion (US$2.4 billion) saw the five best research universities win 39.2% of the funds available for science subjects, up from 38.2% the previous year. Research funds, which are distributed to universities by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, have grown by 2% in cash terms from last year, but total hand-outs (including teaching) dropped by 1.6%. See for more.



No respite for bluefin tuna

In a victory for politics and business over conservation science, a proposal to ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna was roundly rejected last week at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Doha, Qatar. Thanks to vigorous overfishing, stocks of bluefin tuna have plummeted by an estimated 82.4% in the West Atlantic between 1970 and 2007, and both the European Union and the United States have backed a ban to save the species. The CITES meeting also rejected a proposed ban on polar-bear trade, and voted against trade restrictions on some Mediterranean corals. See for more.


Drug pioneer dies: Renowned pharmacologist James Black died on 22 March, aged 85. A pioneer of many areas of drug discovery, he shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He transformed the treatment of heart disease with work on receptor-selective drugs, developing the first β-blocking drug, propranolol, in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he helped develop the peptic-ulcer treatment cimetidine, which blocks a type of histamine receptor. He was knighted in 1981.


Generics deal: Israeli drug-maker Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries announced on 18 March that it would acquire ratiopharm, Germany's second biggest generic pharmaceuticals producer, for €3.6 billion (US$4.9 billion). The move sees Teva, which is based in Jerusalem, expand its reach in Europe. The merger will create Europe's largest generic drugmaker, with total revenue of $16.2 billion for 2009.

Satellite deal: The European Space Agency has chosen Thales Alenia Space (a Franco-Italian joint venture) and German group OHB to build Europe's next six weather satellites. The Meteosat Third Generation system, whose first spacecraft may launch in 2016, will significantly upgrade weather monitoring.

Marine milestone: Ten sites in Scottish waters have been leased to companies hoping to build up to 1.2 gigawatts of wave and tidal power by 2020 — about the same power as that provided by two nuclear plants. The schemes, announced on 16 March, mark the world's first commercial leasing round for marine energy. Installation of the projects will cost around £4 billion (US$6 billion).

Business watch

Click for larger image

China will become the world's third largest market for pharmaceuticals by 2011, behind the United States and Japan. But most global drug companies are not yet tapping the full potential of emerging markets.

The analysis comes from Pharmerging shake-up, a report released on 16 March by IMS Health, a market-intelligence company in Norwalk, Connecticut. The report focuses on 17 countries that IMS identifies as fast-growing markets — including China, Brazil, Russia and India. These markets are expected to account for 15.5% of global sales in 2009, but the world's largest drug companies derive on average only 9.4% of their sales there, and only 0.9% from China (see chart). "This reflects a continued focus on the premium section of the market rather than the typically larger branded generics segment," says the report.

Multinational firms have been expanding research work in China, however. And, "as China shifts emphasis from traditional Chinese medicine to Western medicine, the multinationals are likely to gain," says Greg Scott, founder of ChinaBio, a consulting firm in Shanghai. Four-fifths of grants from a Chinese drug-discovery programme in 2008, for example, were used in Western-style drug development, he estimates.

The week ahead

25 March

The International Energy Agency releases data on the costs of generating electricity by a variety of fuels and technologies — its first such report for five years.

25 March

Progress on climate-change policy and the global Millennium Development Goals are among issues on the agenda of the 'State of the Planet 2010' conference, which will link up delegates in Beijing, London, Nairobi, New Delhi and New York.

28–31 March

The Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development is held in Montpellier, France. It hopes to reshape agricultural research to better benefit the world's poorest people.

Number crunch

180 million — Number of computers dumped every year.

1 billion — Number predicted by 2030. Most of these will come from developing regions.


Source: Yu, J. et al. Environ. Sci. Technol. doi:10.1021/es903350q (2010).

News maker


Grigory Perelman

The reclusive Russian mathematician has won — but may not collect — the US$1-million Millennium Prize awarded on 18 March by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for solving the Poincaré conjecture. He turned down a Fields Medal for the achievement in 2006. 

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