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US news roundup: 21-27 August


The latest policy and funding news from the US

In depth: The University of Utah has revealed it paid a ransom of just over $457,000 to stop a cyberattack on its College of Social and Behavioral Science in July, but said it remains unsure exactly what data the attackers were able to access.

Full story: University of Utah paid $457,000 ransom to stop cyberattack


Here is the rest of the US news this week…

Covid-19 plasma therapy approved despite unclear benefits

The Food and Drug Administration authorised the emergency use of blood plasma from people who have recovered from Covid-19 to treat those suffering from the disease. It said the treatment, which has been found to help recovery from other diseases through antibodies in the plasma, “may be effective in treating Covid-19”. But the FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn admitted that criticism of his presentation of efficacy statistics in the announcement—that “there was a 35 percent improvement in survival”—was “entirely justified”. “What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction”, he said, meaning it was false to state that there was evidence plasma would save 35 lives out of 100.

Concern over ‘interference’ with Covid-19 regulation

Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Frank Pallone said it was “deeply concerning” that the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would no longer require companies to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration before selling tests for Covid-19. The move “suggests that the Trump Administration is once again interfering with FDA’s regulation of medical products”, Pallone said. But Robert Charrow, general counsel at HHS, said: “Every single Covid-19 test in the United States will still be regulated at the federal level. This simply removes an additional regulatory barrier that was erected in January that at most other times is not required.”

Milestone for James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope—a planned replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope—has passed a “critical milestone”, demonstrating that it will respond to commands once launched into space, Nasa has announced. “This is the first time commands to power on and test Webb’s scientific instruments have been sent to the fully assembled observatory from its Mission Operations Center at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland,” the space agency said. The telescope is due to be launched on 31 October 2021.