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NEELIE KROES, the European Union's competition commissioner, did not mince her words when reporting on Europe's energy?markets on Wednesday January 10th. Europe's energy firms have failed to invest in networks and so customers are suffering. Those “vertically integrated” energy companies such as Electricité de France (EDF) or Germany's E.ON, widely dubbed as “national champions”, are effectively behaving like local monopolies. Shy of competition, eager for artificially high prices, they are helping to block the efficient generation, transmission and?distribution of energy on the continent.
Complicating the matter is an argument over the security of energy?supply in Europe. Much has been made of the risk for western Europe of depending too heavily on Russian exports of gas. Russia under Vladimir Putin is prone to using energy exports as a blunt tool of?foreign, especially when trying to bully countries in its hinterland. Last year Russia interrupted?gas deliveries to Ukraine, affecting supplies in central and western Europe too. This week it blocked oil exports passing via Belarus to Europe, though that spat was soon resolved.
In contrast, the Commission's new?policy proposes, ideally, a break-up of these companies into suppliers and distributors. (As a second best solution, especially for France and Germany, it recommends the management of the networks by a third party.) Properly independent managers of Europe's energy networks would have a strong incentive to build interconnecting pipelines and power lines across borders.
If America is willing to play, the Commission proposes to reduce emissions by as much as 30%. Achieving either target would mean promoting cleaner cars, a more effective emissions-trading system for Europe, wider use of?public transport and a sharp increase in the use of renewable?sources of energy, like wind and solar power. All that is laudable enough, but will also require political horse-trading as?government—Europe's leaders are due to meet in March to discuss the various energy proposals—try to avoidcommitments that may?hurt domestic energy companies or make European firms less competitive than rivals in America, Asia and elsewhere.
The African Bush Willow, which grows in South Africa, has been recognised as a medicinal plant by local tribespeople for many years. In the past, its roots were used as purgatives and its gum was used to treat sores and ulcers. Common along river banks in southern Africa, this plant (scientific name, Combretum caffrum) has proved both hardy and prolific, It is one of the world's fastest-growing trees and can grow one metre in height annually to a maximum of fourteen metres.
Combretastin, the active ingredient in the bark, was originally isolated form the stems and branches in the 1970a by South African researcher, Dr Gordon Cragg. A massive seventy-seven kilogrammes of material was needed from the tree to produce just a few milligrams of the active ingredient. However, scientists have now been able to produce the drug?synthetically. This type of manufacturing has meant that the drug can now be mass-produced and used much more widely in the treatment of cancer. Most cancers are caused by tumours, which create their own network of capillaries to?supply the blood they need in order to grow.
Combretastin appears to work very quickly, often reducing the blood flow to a tumour within four to six hours after its first application. A feature in its favour is that combretastin does not appear to affect the blood supplies to other healthy organs. But, used in isolation, a small number of cancerous cells which appear able to live off normal blood supplies, appear to remain unaffected by combretastin, and?radiation therapy is required to?destroy these cells and remove the threat of cancer altogether.
Initial trials have been carried out on twenty-five patients in the USA. These have met with a remarkable?measure of?success . One 55-year-old man, suffering from a particularly aggressive form of thyroid cancer before treatment, has been cancer-free for two years following a course of the new drug. It is generally held that if a cancer does not return within two years of treatment, it has been cured. So far, other patients involved in the trials since then, including those with cancer of the bowel, have also remained clear of their cancers.
In Britain, experts believe that the drug works best in conjunction with other therapies, including radiotherapy. The?results of these combined treatments suggest that 85% of cancers could be totally?eliminated, and similar trials are due to start in the USA. Dr Kate Law of the Cancer Research Campaign in London comments, "We will be watching the?results of these trials with interest. On the face of it, these latest trials are very encouraging.
The drug has been greeted with enthusiasm by professionals and patients alike despite some of the experiments having limited?success. One patient suffering from lung and liver cancers agreed to be one of the guinea pigs in the pharmaceutical trials. Fortunately he met with a degree of?success in that his respiratory organs have been clear for over a year. However, this has not been the case with the other?source?of cancer and as yet the new drug has had no marked effect on it. Nevertheless, researchers are continuing in their quest to find a cure for all forms of cancers and they are confident that a breakthrough is on the horizon.