Friday Briefing

U.S. pharmaceutical companies are outsourcing drug trials on human subjects to foreign countries. The companies are turning to countries such as India to save millions of dollars, avoid regulatory scrutiny and tap into a seemingly endless supply of drug study participants. The practice, however, raises questions about lax regulatory oversight in the studies, the integrity of some of the companies contracted to run them and the reliability of the data they produce. In many cases, recruits for the trials are so desperately poor that they enroll despite potential health risks. NBC News

Two-thirds of Chinese cities are expected to fail to meet new air quality standards. The assessment by the nation’s vice minister of environmental protection, Wu Xiaoqing, came two days after the cabinet announced revised monitoring standards taking effect in 2016. The new rules, adopted after an online campaign for more stringent monitoring, are intended to curb ozone and fine particle pollution. BBC

U.S. approves first vaccine that protects against four strains of the common flu. The FluMist Quadrivalent vaccine from AstraZeneca offers an additional layer of protection against the influenza virus that affects millions each year. The Food and Drug Administration approved the nasal spray vaccine for people ages 2 to 49. Previously vaccines contained three strains of flu but the FDA said the extra strain will increase the likelihood that the inoculation will protect against illness. The Associated Press

Confidential 2006 document indicates Toyota engineers found a software problem that caused unintended acceleration. The newly discovered document concerned a cruise control system in a test vehicle later sold as the Lexus 460 in Japan and Europe. The document says a “fail-safe overhaul” would be needed. Software glitches were suspected in a rash of reports, including fatal accidents, involving unintended acceleration of Toyotas in 2010. But the company and U.S. authorities concluded that electronics were not at fault, instead blaming floor mats, sticky accelerator pedals and, in some cases, driver error. Toyota disputed the confidential document and stood by its position that electronics were not to blame.  CNN

Health threat from radiation released by Fukushima nuclear accident called extremely low. U.S. radiation experts meeting to evaluate the impact of the March 2011 meltdowns in Japan generally concurred that the levels of radiation emitted will not measurably raise the risk of getting cancer. Even among workers at the crippled plant, the average radiation exposure was only about 9 millisieverts. In comparison, the half-million workers who entombed Chernobyl had average exposures more than ten times as high. Some experts in Japan, however, questioned the U.S. experts’ conclusions, partly due to the low levels of radiation that some people will be exposed to for a long time. The Wall Street Journal

U.S. nuclear regulators move ahead on safety rules. Nuclear Regulatory Commission members approved issuing three new rules spurred by last year’s Fukushima accident in Japan. The changes, subject to further review, call for all U.S. nuclear operators to develop plans to deal with extreme situations, such as earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters that could affect multiple reactors operating at a single site. The rules also call for improved vents for certain reactors and better instruments to monitor pools containing spent fuel. Reuters, Bloomberg

Nutrition labels added to packages of raw ground beef, turkey and chicken. Under federal rules taking effect today, nutritional information also must be on package labels, or on charts displayed at the store, for certain whole cuts of meat, such as steak or chicken breast. The nutrition labels, which will provide information already found on nearly all packaged foods, will list the calories and the grams of total fat and saturated fat in meat and poultry. Food Safety News, Reuters

Recalls: American Tack & Hardware LED nightlights, Volvo sedans and wagons

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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