First commercial flight from U.S. to Cuba in 50 years takes off

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The first direct commercial flight between the U.S. and Cuba in more than 50 years has taken off from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, marking another historic thaw in relations between the two former Cold War enemies. 

The 9:45am JetBlue flight 387 will land in Santa Clara, Cuba, about 175 miles east of Havana, at a site renowned for the huge memorial that hosts the remains of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. 

JetBlue is one of six carriers — the others being American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Southwest and Silver Airways — that will run a maximum of 110 daily flights to nine Cuban cities, according to the U.S. department of transportation. 

“We do think it’s an important part of history,” Marty St. George, the executive vice president of JetBlue, told The New York Times. “From a challenge perspective, we know the drill. Cuba has some unique elements because of 50 years of history between the U.S. and Cuba, but we’re ready to go.”

After President Barack Obama decided to restore diplomatic relationships with Cuba in 2014, restrictions on travel to the communist-run island have eased. 

Though tourism in Cuba is still illegal for U.S. citizens, there are now 12 categories of “authorized travel”, including for educational, religious and humanitarian reasons.

Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the historic flight as “another step forward”: 

JetBlue celebrated the route with salsa dancing and ribbon cutting: 

And people tweeted pictures of the plane: 

Finally, the aircraft’s doors closed, ready for take off:

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Nine-year-old boy prints a mechanical hand for his teacher

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Calramon Mabalot is a pretty wild kid. He likes 3D printing and, along with his brother, he builds lots of cool projects – including a mechanical hand for a local teacher he met while building 3D projects. In an interview with 3DPrintingIndustry, Mabalot described how he designed and built a prosthetic hand complete with full articulated fingers.

Why did he want to build a 3D-printed arm? “I like learning it,” he said.

https://twitter.com/HabSkibbix/status/745090207041544193

The project is part of the E-Nabling the Future project and can be downloaded and printed by anyone online. Mabalot met a teacher, Nick, who needed a usable prosthetic so he took up the challenge of building and assembling the project along with fitting the arm for the teacher.

Mabalot has his own website and Youtube channel and he seems like the sweetest kid in the world. While we adults flit between Facebook and email while waiting for lunch to arrive in the break room, this kid is showing us all up with his verve, drive, and talent. Seriously: take a look at the video below and be amazed.

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MIT accepts student who never finished school

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MIT accepts student who never finished school

Image: International olympiad of informatics / massachusetts institute of technology

Not that schoolwork isn’t important, but it turns out there are other ways to get into elite colleges like MIT.

Take the story of Malvika Raj Joshi, a 17 year-old from Mumbai who recently received her acceptance letter from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Despite dropping out during Class VII school (the equivalent of seventh grade in the U.S.), Joshi was very active in international computer science competitions, which attracted MIT’s notice.

It started when Joshi and her family members made the decision to “unschool” her, something they initially found risky, reported the Indian Express. Only one Indian college, the Chennai Mathematical Institute, would take her. 

From there, she started competing in the International Olympiad of Informatics, where she’s placed for the last three years in computing, with two silver medals and one bronze.

Image: INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIAD OF INFORMATICS

Turns out, MIT noticed and offered her admission in its computer science program. So it’s possible to drop out of school and still end up in one of one of the most prestigious schools on the market. Just win some Olympiads.

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A new drug that could save the US billions just got approved

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Medical Sick Injection

The FDA just approved a version of Enbrel, the blockbuster arthritis drug made by Amgen that brought in $5 billion in sales in 2015.

The newly approved drug, made by Novartis’ Sandoz division, will go by the marketed name Erelzi. It’s a type of drug called a "biosimilar," which is like a generic version of a biologic medication, a medicine produced by living cells.

Biosimilars are a bit more complicated than your average competing medicine: Unlike generics for chemical-based drugs like antibiotics, which can be interchangeable with branded versions, the copycats of biologic medications have a few more caveats.

This newest biosimilar is now approved to treat, according to the FDA, the same conditions that Enbrel is approved to treat:

  • moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis
  • moderate to severe polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • active psoriatic arthritis
  • active ankylosing spondylitis
  • chronic moderate to severe plaque psoriasis in adults

This is now the third biosimilar that the FDA has approved.

Earlier in 2016, the FDA approved a version of Remicade, or infliximab, a drug used to treat autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Another one called Zarxio (also made by Sandoz) was approved in 2015. In July, the FDA held panels that recommended that the agency approve this biosimilar, as well as a biosimilar for another autoimmune drug called Humira.

There’s not a clear timeline on when Sandoz will be able to start putting Erelzi on the market, since there are some legal disputes surrounding the drug. In response to what price it would come in at, a Sandoz spokeswoman said: "It is too early to speculate about the price of Erelzi. That being said, we believe patients in the US can benefit greatly from a competitively priced etanercept manufactured in accordance with strict GMPs and high quality standards."

And a spokeswoman for Amgen said in a statement, "We have confidence in our patents related to Enbrel and are currently in litigation with Sandoz to enforce our patent rights. Immunex/Amgen and Sandoz have entered into an agreement with respect to a preliminary injunction regarding Sandoz’s etanercept as set out in the Court’s order of August 11, 2016."

Having more biosimilars in the US would be a big deal: It might be the best way to drive down the cost of (generally very pricey) biologic medications that have been around for a while. The savings of putting people on less costly biosimilars — even just new patients who have never taken the original — are estimated to be billions of dollars.

What makes biosimilars different from generics

Developing a biosimilar is not as easy as creating a generic knockoff; because you’re working with complex living things, making a copy isn’t so simple.

"When you have a small molecule like Lipitor, you know where every single atom is," Dennis Lanfear, CEO of biosimilar company Coherus Biosciences, told Business Insider in April. Generic versions of drugs like that can be chemically identical.

That’s not the case with something like a monoclonal antibody — a type of lab-produced protein that can go after certain cells like your immune system would — which can vary widely. This means that you have to run the biosimilar through a bunch of studies to prove that it does the same thing that the original drug does.

Coherus is developing biosimilar versions of drugs for autoimmune diseases and cancer treatment, including biosimilar versions of Humira and Enbrel. It plans to file a biologic-license application to the FDA for its version of pegfilgrastim, a bone marrow stimulant, in 2016.

"Biosimilars are here," Lanfear said. "They are now here today. The simple ones have been approved, like Zarxio, and the complex ones have also been approved."

SEE ALSO: Why a lifesaving drug that’s been around since 1923 is still unaffordable

DON’T MISS: The maker of EpiPen isn’t out of the woods yet

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