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Fresh pizza vending machine prompts horror in Rome

Europe|Offbeat|: Rome: Raffaele Esposito, the 19th century Neapolitan credited with inventing Italy's most famous type of pizza, may be turning in his grave: Rome has a new vending machine that slides out freshly cooked pizzas in just three minutes. Buyers using the flaming red "Mr. Go Pizza" machine can choose from four different kinds of pizzas costing from 4.50 to 6 euros ($5.2-7.2; Dh19.92-26.56). The machine kneads and tops the dough and customers can watch the pizza cook behind a small glass window. Reviews by customers on Thursday of the machine, one of the first in Rome, ranged from "acceptable if you're in a hurry" to outright horror. "It looks good but it is much smaller than in a restaurant and there is less topping," said Claudio Zampiga, a pensioner. People have been eating forms of flat bread with toppings for millennia, but it is generally accepted that pizza was perfected in Naples, where it was a street food for the poor. Tradition holds that Esposito created the classic "Pizza Margherita" on June 11, 1889 to honour the queen consort, Margherita of Savoy, during her visit to Naples with King Umberto I. He used tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves to represent the colours of the flag of a just united Italy - red, white and green. A plaque is affixed to a wall in Naples saying "Pizza Margherita was born here." Fabrizia Pugliese, a Naples native and university student in Rome, gave the machine-made pizza a try and gave it a thumbs down, saying it tasted more like a "piadina", an ultra-thin soft unleavened bread wrap popular in northern Italy. "It's OK but it's not pizza," was her verdict. Gina, a pensioner who declined to give her surname, rejected the concept outright. "Terrible. Pizza really needs to be eaten hot, immediately. This doesn't work for me," she said. In fact, for many Italians, the classic pizza experience includes watching a "pizzaiolo," (pizzamaker) knead the dough and cooking it in a wood-burning brick oven within sight of your table. In its current location, at least, the "Mr. Go Pizza" machine will face stiff competition getting a slice of the market. Nearby is the Napolitano restaurant, which uses a brick oven. "I wouldn't even think of eating a pizza made by a machine," said Giovanni Campana, biting into one. Esposito, who made a pizza fit for a queen 132 years ago, would likely agree.

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Why patents on COVID vaccines are so contentious

Americas|: Washington: The Biden administration's call to lift patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help poor parts of the world get more doses has drawn praise from some countries and health advocates. But it has run into resistance from the pharmaceutical industry and others, who say it won't help curb the outbreak any time soon and will hurt innovation. Here's a look at what patents do and why they matter: How do drug patents work? Patents reward innovation by preventing competitors from simply copying a company's discovery and launching a rival product. In the US, patents on medicines typically last 20 years from when they are filed, which is usually done as soon as a drugmaker thinks it has an important or lucrative drug. Because it often takes a decade to get a drug approved, companies typically end up with about a dozen years of competition-free sales. But drugmakers usually find ways to improve their product or widen its use, and they secure additional patents that can extend their monopoly for another decade or more. Why is patent production so important to drugmakers? Medicines are incredibly expensive to develop. Most experimental drugs fail at some point during what can be years of laboratory, animal and finally human testing. Averaging in the cost of all those flops, it typically costs more than $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) to bring a drug from discovery to regulatory approval. Without the prospect of years of sales without competition, that work is all the more risky. Why is the US backing efforts to lift protections on COVID-19 vaccines? The Biden administration has been under intense pressure, including from many Democrats in Congress, to get more COVID-19 vaccines to the rest of the world. Support for the waiver idea floated by India and South Africa in October has been growing in other countries while the outbreak worsens in some places, especially India. Why have the US and others opposed lifting protections in the past? The US and some other wealthy countries lead the world in many areas of research and innovation. That's particularly true for medicines. Aside from the prestige they confer, pharmaceutical companies provide millions of jobs that pay very well, pay taxes on their income and provide new medicines that can save or improve lives. Drugmakers and their trade groups spend millions every year lobbying governments to maintain the status quo on patents. Why is the industry so opposed to the effort? In a word, money. In the US, pharmaceutical companies can charge whatever they want for their medicines. They can and do raise prices, typically twice a year, so that list prices often double or triple during a drug's patent-protected years. That makes the big, long-established drugmakers among the world's most profitable companies. But a huge amount of innovation comes from startup pharmaceutical and biotech companies. They must constantly raise money from venture capital firms and other investors to fund early research until they can get their medicine approved or, more often, get a big drugmaker to help fund the research and buy rights to that drug or the entire startup. Without the prospect of a big payday for the new drug, it would be much harder to attract the crucial early money. What would be the practical effects of lifting protections on COVID-19 vaccines? That's not entirely clear, but drugmakers and some analysts say waiving their patent rights won't do much to get COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries faster. That's because making the vaccines is far more complex than following a recipe, requiring factories with specialized equipment, highly trained workers and stringent quality control - things that can't be set up quickly. There's little available factory capacity, as the companies with authorized vaccines already have hired many contract drug manufacturers to help them make their shots. In addition, many of the raw materials to make the vaccines, along with vials, stoppers and other components, are in very short supply, and that's not expected to change soon.

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COVID-19: Moderna vaccine 96 per cent effective in 12-17 year-olds, study shows

Americas|: Washington: Moderna said Thursday its Covid-19 vaccine is 96 per cent effective among youths aged 12 to 17, according to the results of its first clinical trials. Two-thirds of the 3,235 participants in trials in the United States received the vaccine and one-third were given a placebo. The study "showed vaccine efficacy against COVID-19 of 96 per cent; mRNA-1273 was generally well tolerated with no serious safety concerns identified to date," the company said. Tests detected 12 cases of coronavirus 14 days after the first shot. For these intermediate results, participants were followed up on average 35 days after the second injection. The pharmaceutical company said that any side-effects had been "mild or moderate in severity," most commonly pain at the injection site. With the second shot, side effects included "headache, fatigue, myalgia and chills," similar to those observed in adults who had received the vaccine. "No serious safety concerns have been identified to date," it said. Moderna said it is currently "in discussions with regulators about a potential amendment to its regulatory filings" to authorise the vaccine for this age group. It is currently only certified for people aged 18 and over in countries where it has already been approved. Pfizer and BioNTech have already applied for authorisation of their own vaccine for 12-15 year olds in the United States and Europe. On Wednesday, Canada became the first country to authorise the Pfizer shot for this age group. The vaccination of teens is the next step in the campaign to eventually contain the epidemic. Moderna also began trials of its vaccine in children aged six months to 11 years in March. Pfizer and BioNTech announced on Tuesday that they hope to file an emergency authorisation request for their vaccine for children aged two to 11 in September in the United States. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the company could apply for authorisation to inoculate children aged between 6 months and two years "in the fourth quarter."

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Former Maldives president injured in suspected bomb attack

Asia|: Mali, Maldives: A suspected bomb blast injured former Maldives president and current parliament speaker Mohamed Nasheed on Thursday and he has been rushed to hospital, officials and residents said. The explosion went off as Nasheed, 53, was getting into his car in the capital, Male, an official from his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), told AFP by telephone. "It looks like some sort of an improvised explosive device, possibly rigged up to a parked motorcycle," the official said adding that an investigation was under way. There were no details of the injuries suffered by Nasheed. At least one of his bodyguards was also taken to hospital. Residents in Male said the blast was heard across the capital. Nasheed became parliament speaker, the Indian Ocean nation's second most powerful position, following his party's landslide victory in elections in April 2019. He became the country's first democratically elected president after winning the first multi-party elections in 2008. He was toppled in a coup in 2012 and was unable to contest the 2018 presidential elections after he was convicted of criminal charges. However, he returned to the country from self-imposed exile after his party won the 2018 presidential elections and then entered parliament. Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid strongly condemned the attack. In a statement on Twitter he said: "Cowardly attacks like these have no place in our society. My thoughts and prayers are with President Nasheed and others injured in this attack, as well as their families."