New device can identify diseases through exhalation
BOULDER, Colo. Scientists have revealed that they have produced a machine that uses a person’s breath to identify single molecules that are associated with specific diseases, according to published reports.
People exhale a complex mixture of gases, including oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and others, according to physicist Jun Ye, leader of the research team. In fact, more than 1,000 different compounds are contained in a human breath. But along with those common gases and compounds, people also exhale certain molecules that are considered biomarkers indicating specific conditions like diseases.
Normal breath consists of trillions of molecules, only a few of which are actual biomarkers. And finding just one isn’t enough. There needs to be a pattern consisting of several different types of biomarkers that are all associated with a particular medical problem.
What’s necessary, Ye said, is to create a device that will find a few molecules in a sea of background noise consisting of trillions of harmless molecules. He calls it “seeing the forest all at once, but also seeing individual trees extremely clearly.”
The technology that he has helped develop builds on the device that won a Nobel Prize in 2005, called optical frequency comb. Ye and his group applied the technology to spectroscopy, which is used to identify distinct molecules by their emission and absorption of light.
The heart of Ye’s machine is a cavity between two curved mirrors. Laser pulses are shot into the cavity and reflect back and forth between the mirrors tens of thousands of times, bombarding any molecules in their way, before finally escaping. To test the device, the researchers recruited several students and had them breathe into the cavity.
The bouncing laser beam interacted with the billions of exhaled molecules, identifying the entire composition of the breath. The findings were very precise, Ye said. One of the participants was a smoker, and his test revealed five times the normal level of carbon monoxide.
“If you have asthma, your breath will have nitrous oxide, but nitrous oxide does not necessarily mean you have asthma,” he said. “But if you see several different molecules all at once, and they are associated with asthma, then you have found a real fingerprint of a certain disease.”
The technology can now identify a single molecule among billions. The next goal will be to find a single molecule among trillions. That would broaden its application even further.
FDA approves Abbott’s Simcor for cholesterol
ABBOTT PARK, Ill. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Abbott Laboratories new cholesterol drug Simcor, according to Reuters.
Simcor combines simvastatin, the active ingredient of Merck’s statin drug Zocor that lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol, with Abbott’s Niaspan medicine that raises levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
Simcor is a follow-up to Advicor, an Abbott combination product already on the market that pairs Niaspan with a less-potent statin known as lovastatin.
Abbott has said it expects sales of the new drug, which also lowers triglycerides to eventually reach $500 million per year.
“There is a clear need for medicines that both raise good and comprehensively lower the bad components of cholesterol,” Christie Ballantyne, one of the lead Simcor researchers, said in a statement.
Fred’s has big plans to improve across-the-board performance, profitability
MEMPHIS, Tenn. Earlier this month, discounter Fred’s announced that, based on an in-depth study of the company’s operations over the last 10 quarters, the discounter has embarked on a strategic plan to improve its performance.
That new strategic plan is heavily rooted in pharmacy.
“We are well positioned with our 296 pharmacists to take advantage of future growth in pharmaceuticals,” Bruce Efird, president of Fred’s, told analysts during a conference call. “It is worth noting that [a] key strength identified by our customers in recent customer research is our pharmacy operations. … Our plan does include accelerated pharmacy [file buys], which have historically provided a higher return on investment.”
As part of the new focus, Fred’s will be concentrating its improvement efforts on its over-performing locations—the chain’s top 50 stores represent 7 percent of Fred’s store base but 40 percent of the chain’s profits, Efird said.
“Our pharmacy teams will execute a similar program in our top 40 pharmacies that generates approximately 45 percent of our pharmacy operating profit,” Efird added. “Currently our front-end sales range from 9 percent to 10 percent higher in stores with pharmacies. This plan includes increasing the number of pharmacies script file buys as well as an aggressive marketing campaign.”
The study revealed that Fred’s has a strong and healthy core store base, and pointed out that upgrading the company’s real estate program will have measurable upside potential.
Specifically, the plan will involve the following elements, all focused on achieving the company’s long-term goal of increasing annual operating margin to 4.5 percent:
- improving the core store performance by closing 75 under-performing locations;
- repositioning and reducing corporate overhead by 10 percent;
- generating $11 million in annualized cash savings beginning in the second half of 2008; and
- initiating multiple merchandising programs to enhance margin and address the changing shift in sales mix.
Of the 75 stores identified for closure, only a handful have pharmacies, company executives told analysts Feb. 7.
Aside from these immediate steps, Fred’s plans to slow capital spending and the rate of new store openings beginning in 2008 in order to focus on growth that is more profitable and that produces a higher return on investment. Fred’s plans to open 18 new stores, 15 with pharmacies, in 2008. “Subsequently upon execution and validation of our transformation plan, we anticipate accelerating our store and pharmacy growth to historic levels,” Efird said.
And Fred’s is not concerned with expanding national chains like Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid into its core Southeast base, Efird said. “When they come into these rural settings they don’t affect us,” Efird told analysts. “They are [pricey] at the front end and once a customer is accustomed to it, [it does] not match up well with [our present] pricing.”
Separately, Fred’s reported sales of $1.8 billion for the fiscal year ending Feb. 2, representing a 1 percent lift. Comparable store sales for fiscal 2007 increased 0.3 percent.