Weekly reads: abundant Abcam prices, speedy aging & cancer, stemmy CAR-T, more on STAP

When a vendor of important reagents like antibody supplier Abcam charges big money, those high Abcam prices could negatively impact research in the long run.

Some of the prices are so high that buying just a few antibodies could take up a small but meaningful slice of an entire R01 grant.

Abcam prices
An example of what I believe is price gouging by Abcam.

Sky-high Abcam prices

I’ve noticed that Abcam prices for antibodies are sky-high these days.

For example, we study an oncoprotein called histone H3.3 K27M. An Abcam antibody that recognizes the K27M mutant form of H3.3 is $600 for 100ul. A similar K27M antibody from another vendor called Cell Signaling Technology is $387 for 100ul. Other vendors have antibodies more similar to Cell Signaling prices.

We also study a protein called ASCL1. Remarkably Abcam charges nearly $1,200 for 100ul of their ASCL1 antibody. Cell Signaling’s similar antibody is $327. Thermo has a similar antibody for around $400.

In a non-scientific survey of a few more antibodies, overall Abcam often charges nearly double on average for similar antibodies available from other vendors. A few months back they were acquired by Danaher Corporation, which may have sparked higher prices.

I don’t believe these prices are justified in some cases. Abcam antibodies can be great but they shouldn’t break the bank.

Is it just inflation? I don’t think so given that other vendors charge much less. A big-corporate mentality?

In the bigger picture, the negative impacts of over-the-top prices include the fact that big slices of vital grant money could go just for corporate profits. Of course, companies need to make money but I feel like Abcam is over the top these days.

Other reccomended reads

Utah attempts to legalize placental cell therapy, Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation. This is an excellent piece by Frances Verter. She gives some new, interesting background on what went into the Utah stem cell law that conflicts with federal law. It seems like a mixture of unproven clinic commercial lobbying and naivete by legislators may have together led to the passage of this risky law.

Little change in Japan’s research sector 10 years after stem cell fraud, The Japan Times. I recently wrote about the 10th anniversary of the STAP cell scandal as well. In The Japan Times article, they stress how little has changed in science. One unfortunate lesson from STAP at the institutional level seems to be to not transparently handle such situations. Instead, many institutions just circle the wagons, delay, and try to handle the issues outside of the public domain. From the piece:

But 10 years on, structural problems that led to the scandal persist, leaving ample room for researchers to tamper with research data, experts say.

Even worse, the STAP scandal appears to have taught many research institutions how to sweep budding scandals under the rug, said Eisuke Enoki, an independent pathologist who heads a study group on science and society.

“I feel that the scandal has made many research institutions more hesitant to disclose suspicious cases, making them more likely to hide them,” he said.

Many stress that science is self-correcting but the process can be very slow and doesn’t always work. It can also be hindered by institutions.

Cancer is rising among the young. Study suggests it’s because their cells are aging faster, STAT News. I’m not so convinced about this study’s specifics. For example, is this a rigorous approach to measuring biological age: “They used nine blood-based markers to calculate their biological age, a measure that captures the overall state of a person’s cells and tissues”? Based on this, the researchers found those with “accelerated aging” had a 17% increased risk of cancer. The general conclusion kind of makes sense intuitively but it’s the specifics that seem a bit in need of additional data.

How to supercharge cancer-fighting cells: give them stem-cell skills, Nature. Very cool work. CAR-T cells have transformed the lives of thousands of cancer patients.

Dumb headline of the week

The astonishing effect of stem cell implants – as groundbreaking treatment ‘transforms’ life for those with brain damage and MS, Daily Mail. This article is so bad I’m not going to link to it.

Much of it is just advertising (rather than journalism) for an unproven stem cell clinic. It talks about cures and monthly stem cell injections, etc. It seems the doctor at the heart of this is part of a well-known stem cell clinic chain.

Okay, yes, this is the Daily Mail, but we’ve seen a big uptick in many news outlets running advertorials about stem cells.

This is bad for patients and the field.

3 thoughts on “Weekly reads: abundant Abcam prices, speedy aging & cancer, stemmy CAR-T, more on STAP”

  1. Dan S Kaufman, MD, PhD

    Is there a link to the paper or abstract that forms the basis of the Stat article? Having this story behind a paywall, and not citing the article makes it impossible to assess the science.

  2. Following the STAP scandal, the government in Japan punished the whole of RIKEN with massive funding cuts. RIKEN CDB was particularly hard hit with 40% cuts. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/29/the-stem-cell-scandal
    That severe punishment of an entire organization that was producing world-class research for one scientists misconduct sent the signal that if you are caught breaking rules your institute will suffer. No wonder they try and deal with problems internally.

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