Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Big Pharma To Begin Microchipping Drugs

Big Pharma To Begin Microchipping Drugs

The age of pharmaceutical micro-chipping is now upon us. Novartis AG, one of the largest drug companies in the world, has announced a plan to begin embedding microchips in medications to create “smart pill” technology.

The microchip technology is being licensed from Proteus Biomedical of Redwood City, California. Once activated by stomach acid, the embedded microchip begins sensing its environment and broadcasting data to a receiver worn by the patient. This receiver is also a transmitter that can send the data over the internet to a doctor.

The idea behind all this is to create “smart pills” that can sense what’s happening in the body and deliver that information to the patient’s doctor. Novartis plans to start micro-chipping its organ transplant anti-rejection drugs and then potentially expand microchipping to other pharmaceuticals in its product lineup. This same technology could soon end up in pills made by other.

The best laid plans…

It all sounds good on the surface, but readers no doubt have lots of skeptical questions about this technology. 

For starters, Novartis apparently isn’t planning on conducting any clinical trials that might take into account the safety issues of swallowing microchips. “Novartis does not expect to have to conduct full-scale clinical trials to prove the new products work,” reports Reuters. “Instead, it aims to do so-called bioequivalence tests to show they are the same as the original.”(…)

But I have a question: What chemicals or heavy metals are contained in the microchip itself? A microchip that transmits data obviously must have a power source, meaning it needs to have a very small battery or capacitor of some sort.

The materials used in capacitors and batteries, to my knowledge, are toxic to the human body and should never be eaten.

Microchips are not food, and to swallow them seems risky to your health, especially if you’re swallowing several microchips per day.
Data privacy

Another huge concern with microchips that transmit data is data privacy. If these microchips are broadcasting information, then obviously that information can be picked up by anything nearby, including potentially unscrupulous individuals or organizations who might put it to a nefarious use.
For example, suppose a local pharmacy store installs a microchip signal detector in their main door entrance in order to track people who are broadcasting medication data. They could then theoretically decode that data and use it to determine what health condition that customer might be suffering and then push competing generic pharmaceuticals as a replacement.
Government agents could carry “pharma microchip scanners” that determine what pills you’re taking right now. This could be used to violate your privacy by sharing that data with other government agencies or it could even be sold off to third-party marketing companies.
I very much doubt the data being broadcast by the microchips in these pills will be encrypted because encryption requires real processing power, and there isn’t room for much of a CPU or power source inside these tiny microchips. Most likely, they are going to broadcast raw signal data that can be detected and decoded quite easily.
Remember to take your meds But the really scary part about these micro-chipped medications is that this technology will be used to make sure people are taking their medication. 

Drug companies lose billions of dollars a year (in their minds) from patients not remembering to take their pills. Of course, half the reason they can’t remember to take their pills is because many pharmaceuticals damage cognitive function, but that’s another story.

So this smart-pill microchip technology will likely be used to track what pills patients have taken so that they can be “gently reminded” to take more pills they may have forgotten. In the marketing business, this is called a “continuity program.” It’s a way to make sure repeat sales happen on a regular basis.

In this context, microchipping the pills benefits the drug companies, not necessarily the patients. This is especially true when considering those pharmaceuticals that are harmful to human health — and we all know the pharmaceutical market is full of pills that have later been found to be extremely dangerous or even deadly (Vioxx, anyone?).
Coming soon: Police drug scanners and employer drug scanners
Now, there may be one interesting side effect to all this: Employers who are interviewing potential job candidates might be able to buy (or make) simple drug scanning devices that detect the presence of a pharmaceutical microchip broadcast signal. (You could probably make one in your garage from electronic parts purchased at Radio Shack.)
This might be very useful for employers who don’t want to hire people taking medications. They invite you in for an interview and quietly scan for drug broadcast data. A red light tells them you’re broadcasting medication data, and they calmly tell you the interview is over and “we’ll get back to you.”
With employers right now drowning in health insurance costs, this could provide a simple, easy way for corporations to avoid taking on anyone who might create a cost burden on their health insurance plans (from their point of view). I don’t necessarily agree with this use of the technology; I’m just saying this is one way in which it is likely to be used by employers to screen out employees who are on medications.
Cops, too, could use a similar scanning device to determine if a driver at the scene of an accident might be medication impaired. Now this is a use I actually do agree with. Today’s roadways are filled with mentally impaired drivers who are doped up on medications. The problem is actually far worse than drunk drivers, by the way, and yet virtually nothing is being done to combat this problem of “medicated drivers.” (Most people don’t even know the problem exists.)

If people taking medications are broadcasting that fact through all the little microchips they swallow, then scanning for the presence of medications is simple. It’s even easier than a breathalyzer test because it requires no action on the part of the test subject. The cop just presses a button, waits two seconds, and can then determine whether you’re broadcasting medication data. At that point, you might be arrested under suspicion of “driving while medicated.”
Another reason not to take meds
There are clearly a lot of unanswered questions and even some potential risks involved in taking microchipped pharmaceuticals. For some people, privacy issues may be the biggest factor of all, because who wants to broadcast the fact that they’re taking meds in the first place?

I don’t take any pharmaceuticals, obviously, and most readers avoid them, too. The fact that drugs will soon be microchipped is yet another good reason to find more holistic ways to take care of your health. 

Don’t bet your life (and your privacy) on Big Pharma’s pills. Choose a healthy, holistic lifestyle based on nutritious, organic foods, regular exercise and the avoidance of all man-made (synthetic) chemicals, and you most likely won’t ever need pharmaceuticals for your entire life.

The age of microchipping people and microchipping medications is now upon us. Given what the TSA is doing right now with naked body scanners, you can only imagine what Big Brother will do with any medication data you might be broadcasting from inside your body.

In fact, the very idea that there is a microchip inside your body that’s broadcasting data might get you flagged as a possible terrorist by the TSA, which would then proceed to finger your genitals and palm your breasts as part of their new “enhanced pat-down” groping technique.

The best way to avoid all this risk is to simply eat your veggies and drink your superfoods. Don’t become a trackable, traceable, microchipped subject of the medical industry that wants to turn your body into a chemical profit center.

The Indian-origin scientist who took a test drive, exposed VW

The Indian-origin scientist who took a test drive, exposed VW
Sruthin Lal, Hindustan Times, New Delhi |
Updated: Sep 30, 2015 08:39 IST

Daniel Carder ( L) and Arvind Thiruvengadam (R) are part of the CAFEE team that tested three European passenger diesel cars in the US. (HT Photo)

Dr.Arvind Thiruvengadam loves going for long rides, and it is often a part of his job. But when this assistant professor at the West Virginia Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions (CAFEE), went for a long 2,400 mile round trip between Los Angeles and Seattle in first week of March in 2013, to test a rented Volkswagen Passat, he didn’t know that the journey would be a landmark in the history of automotive Industry.

Thirty-two-year-old Thiruvengadam, who hails from Chennai, and his colleague Marc Besch, were surprised that during the journey, the NOx (mono nitrogen oxide) emission level of the Passat – the test vehicle that came to them accidentally in response to their newspaper advertisement requesting for a European make diesel car test vehicle – was five to 20 times higher than the European standards.

The researchers, who were emission testing three European make vehicles in real-world driving conditions, found the same with the other Volkswagen model, Jetta, too. It showed 15 to 35 times higher emissions than EPA standards, while the third vehicle, a BMW X5, did fine.

This was contrary to the perfect, and within EPA standard, emission levels that the Volkswagen cars showed during labs test. They double-and-triple checked their work. But the result was same.

Volkswagen was cheating as further investigations found.

The fallouts -- CEO of the much trusted automaker resigned;, it had to recall millions of cars from various parts of the world and face potential bans of its diesel models; it may have to pay an $18 billion fine; its investors saw more than 25 billion euros wiped off the value of the VW stock in just 5 days, and a whole rethinking is happening about the emission regulation of vehicles all over the world.

“Marc and I have done many real-world driving studies, [and those are] always exciting, because we get to visit a lot of places… [But] we least expected that the results would lead to events that we are reading about in the newspaper today,” says Thiruvengadam in an email interview with HT.

Thiruvengadam did his engineering in 2004 from Madras university, in Chennai – where his parents still live -- and went to the US to study at West Virginia university. He did his masters and PhD there and later on became a research assistant professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the university and a part of the core group of the CAFEE.

When the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) issued a public request for proposal (RFP) in December 2012, to test three European passenger diesel cars in the US, the CAFEE offered a test plan. It was accepted in January 2013.

“The request did not mention Volkswagen vehicles specifically and it was simply studying the emissions performance of passenger diesel cars equipped with a Lean NOx trap and Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), in unique driving conditions such as experienced in California,” he says.

Apart from him and Besch, the five member team worked on the tests included Dr. Gregory Thompson, Daniel Carder, and Hemanth Kappanna.

“Marc and I were project leads and executed the project in California. It involved city driving, hill climb, inter-city driving and freeway driving,” he says.

They, as usual, drove the vehicles, enjoying the long rides, in the three models that they rented.

“Jetta was the only model to operate with a lean NOx trap. The choice of VW Passat was by accident, as a gentleman responded to our advertisement in a newspaper requesting for a test vehicle that was European make diesel car,” he says.

Till then they had emission tested only heavy trucks and “this was the first time diesel passenger cars were being extensively emissions tested in real-world driving conditions. We were excited to be leading the work,” Thiruvegadam says.

The tests showed something unexpected -- large differences between the emissions during their driving tests and that during in-house tests at California Air Resources Board. They could not explained it.

“We conducted the study out of pure academic interest and not to implicate any manufacturer. The results of the study simply provided an indicator to a possible problem,” he says.

Thiruvengadam says the credits for the fallout of the tests should go to the regulators, who pursued the indicators the study offered.

“The actual investigation of the issue and the subsequent admittance from VW was a result of regulatory pressure”

Subsequent investigations found that the cars have a defeat device -- a program in the engine control unit computer that recognizes that the vehicle is being emissions tested.

The device could detect if the engines were working and the steering wheel was not moving -- that happens only during lab tests. It would then turn on the catalytic scrubber up to full power, that would minimise the emissions, allowing the car to pass the tests.

What unfolded was one of the biggest frauds in the history of automobiles.

So what are the implications for India, if any? Thiruvengadam feels there is a lot for the Indian regulators to take away from this event as India has significantly greater number of diesel passenger cars than in the US.

“The episode should give an insight into how emissions regulation should be framed for the near future,” he says.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Vasan Eye Care

P Chidambaram, Vasan Eye Care and Rs 223 Crore Black Money

By S Gurumurthy
Published: 17th September 2015 03:31 AM
Last Updated: 17th September 2015 11:22 AM

See the gravity of the charge. JD Group gave Rs 8.64 cr loan free of interest to Vasan Eye Care group — in cheque. It also gave substantial amount of Rs 40 cr in cash — that is, black money — ‘all on a single day’, ‘as a single transaction’ to one Dr A M Arun, Vasan Eye Care’s original promoter. The cash paid to Arun went to an influential politician in Tamil Nadu who was a Cabinet minister in the UPA regime for 10 years. What is JD Group? Which is Vasan Eye Care? And who is Dr A M Arun? These can wait. Now move to the heart of the story.

The charge of black money payment by the JD Group to the former Cabinet minister via the Vasan Group is no anonymous complaint. It is in the sworn statement of M Srinivasa Rao, Commissioner of Income Tax (Central), then at Chennai, in his petition (June 16, 2015) to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Delhi, against his transfer that he termed as malafide. The top official’s serious charge in the petition was based on the evidence uncovered in a tax search on the JD Group. Srinivasa Rao swears that his transfer was ‘to punish him for not heeding to the unlawful expectations’ of higher officials who ‘conveyed’ to him ‘repeatedly… to go soft on the tax evaders and money launderers’. [Rao’s petition para 1] But Rao refused to budge and initiated criminal prosecution against JD Group in which, he asserted, the former minister was involved. [para 5.L]

Rao’s petition also mentions [para 4.6] that the JD Group had made black money payments of Rs 100 cr to Vasan Group. He avers that notings on the loose papers seized by tax officials label the cash payments of JD Group as protection money to run its illegal chit funds business. Investigation beyond Rao’s petition to the CAT now shows that the amount paid by JD Group in cash to Vasan Group [Vasan] was not just Rs 40 cr or Rs 100 cr but more: Rs 223 cr all in cash — unaccounted money. Seized papers showing the black account payments of Rs 223 cr are lying with the Income Tax department.

Finding that Rao had made out a prima facie case, the CAT first stayed Rao’s transfer on June 19, 2015. But the Central Board of Direct Taxes [CBDT] swung into action and got the stay vacated. It defended Rao’s transfer on technical grounds contending that he was only a commissioner who is subject to transfer anytime and not a chief commissioner who is not. Shockingly, the CBDT brought in an Additional Solicitor General of India (ASG) to fight Rao who was chasing the corrupt. But the very same CBDT refuses to mandate a high law officer to fight tax evasion of Rs 900 cr by NDTV in the Income Tax Tribunal, thus clearly signalling to all concerned what the CBDT is more concerned about — namely not chasing tax evaders but punishing those who chase them. This is just the side show. Now back to the main narrative.

Who got it?

Who was the influential Tamil Nadu politician in the UPA Cabinet who received the JD Group cash payments? Rao does not beat about the bush. He straightaway names the former minister in his petition. Rao says he is Palaniappan Chidambaram (PC) — the media celebrity finance minister in the UPA regime, who had headed the Income Tax department for almost two-thirds of UPA’s 10-year term and appointed most of those who head it now. No surprise that his loyalists punished Rao for his audacity to act against their former boss. PC and his son Karti Chidambaram (KC) are crucial players from behind Vasan with benamis and dummy companies, the usual actors in corrupt structures, fronting for both. Now, come to the other actors in the theatre of the corrupt — the JD Group, Vasan and Dr A M Arun. The unknown JD Group bears the acronym of its even more unknown owner J Dinakaran. It seems to dabble in black money almost exclusively, running unregistered, illicit chits. The JD Group was raided by Income Tax officials in December 2014 — six months after the new government took over. That was how the tax fraud and bribery came to light, only to be suppressed later, almost, though some honourable officials like Rao managed to keep it alive. Rao says in his petition (para 5.V) that he was transferred because ‘any impartial inquiry into JD Group would lead to the former finance minister’ (PC), which the loyalists of PC wanted to avoid at any cost.

Of all actors in the fraud scripted by the fraudsters, Vasan seems to be the smoking gun. Rao’s testimony points to who the true owner of Vasan is. Rao asserts that Chidambarams acquired Vasan through front companies in Mauritius and Singapore (para 5.S). Vasan’s is an intriguing story by itself and needs to be told separately and elaborately. Its convoluted ownership structure was designed to hide who its true owner is. Here is a brief intro on Vasan. It was first incorporated as Vasan Health Care Private Limited in June 2007 with Dr A M Arun and his wife Meera Arun (both from Tiruchy) as first shareholders and with its registered office at Tiruchy. According to the company’s filings under the company law, on October 28, 2008, Arun and his wife Meera were issued 27 lakh shares of Rs 100 per share on a premium of Rs 100-plus for each share and three lakh shares were issued to one V Dwarakanathan on similar premium.

But within 48 hours of acquiring the shares, on Oct 30, Dwarakanathan transferred half his holdings (1.5 lakh shares equal to 5% of Vasan’s equity capital) to Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Limited, which was two-thirds owned by Ausbridge Holdings and Investments Private Ltd, which KC owned almost fully. PC was very much the finance minister then. KC’s company got the 1.5 lakh Vasan shares without premium, when Dwarakanathan, who subscribed for Vasan’s shares, himself had paid premium. Why should Dwarakanathan acquire the 1.50 lakh shares at a premium and sell it to KC’s company at Rs 100 per share and incur a loss of Rs 1.55 cr in 48 hours? It is only one of the many questions the intriguing Vasan story will pose.

Dramatic change

See how the fortunes of Vasan changed unbelievably. The first eye care unit of Vasan was set up by Arun in 2002 in Tiruchy. It saw no significant growth till 2009-10. Its turnover till 2008-09 was just Rs 13 cr. But soon after the advent of KC in Vasan, things changed dramatically. Within 90 days of KC’s shadow falling on it, Vasan got an investment of Rs 50 cr from a Mauritius-based investor. And within another 12 months it got another Rs 50 cr from the same investor. Soon, Vasan’s registered office shifted to Chennai. In the UPA years from 2009 to 2014, Vasan raised equity and preference capital of Rs 230 cr and debt of Rs 460 cr. Vasan’s turnover grew phenomenally from 2010. 

Its top line rose from Rs 16 cr in 2009-10 to — believe it — Rs 311 cr in 2010-11! To Rs 462 cr in 2011-12! And to Rs 604 cr in 2012-13! How did the turnover jump 20 times in just one year and some 38 times in three years itself will make the story of Vasan gripping when fully told. Vasan, which had 25 eye clinics in April 2008, boasted of a 175-plus clinic network by 2012-13 with 800-plus ophthalmologists and 8,000-plus eye care members. UPA’s second innings and Vasan’s rise seem to correlate. From nothing when the UPA won a second time in 2009, Vasan’s value topped a billion dollars in 2014 when UPA’s rule ended. India Ratings and Research (part of the globally known Fitch Group) had put a Rs 5,500 cr value on Vasan in its Outlook Report for health sector for 2014. Vasan itself was reportedly looking for investments at a value of Rs 7,000 cr in May 2014.

Political clout

The extraordinary political clout that drove Vasan’s growth is not a well-kept secret. In fact Vasan openly brandished it. It could get even Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to open its 100th eye clinic at Karaikudi, falling in PC’s constituency in December 2011. The media carried the photo-news of the event with bigwigs — Dr K Rosaiah, Governor of Tamil Nadu, Prime Minister Singh, and PC, then Union Home Minister, seated on the dais at the function, making them virtually its political brand ambassadors. 

Imagine the Prime Minister and Home Minister dropping all national work and flying down to cut ribbons for an eye clinic in far off Karaikudi! Of course, opening of Apollo’s outreach hospital was also included in the function so that it did not appear that the bigwigs came only for Vasan.

Government departments concerned with health, the insurance sector, State government departments and top public sector companies queued up to get listed as “associates” of Vasan. The galaxy of government departments, institutions and companies proudly listed as associates in Vasan’s website ( included the RBI, SBI, BSNL, Doordarshan, All India Radio, MMTC, Air India, Airports Authority of India, Indian Bank, IDBI, BHEL, ICF, FCI, all nationalised insurance companies — in all 34 of them.

But things seem to have turned for the worse for Vasan after the UPA lost the 2014 elections. Vasan’s balance sheet for March 2014 due to be out in September last year has not been filed yet. How could a company with huge foreign investment of Rs 192 cr and debt of Rs 460 cr, which it owes to various banks, delay filing its balance sheet for a whole year? 

This signals that something is seriously wrong with or in Vasan. Its meteoric rise coincided with the UPA rule from 2009 to 2014. Does UPA’s exit from power mean the other way round? The answer will have to wait till the full Vasan story is told.

Attempt to suppress

The Vasan-Chidambarams nexus explains why JD Group should pay such huge monies to Vasan. Can anyone deny the need for a full-scale anti-bribery investigation into Vasan-JD Group dealings? That would first call for a comprehensive tax probe into Vasan. 

But that was what was snuffed out before it could start. By transferring Rao out of harm’s way, the case was almost buried by PC loyalists in the tax department who continue even today undisturbed by the present regime. 

They stealthily allowed the JD Group to settle its case by agreeing for a paltry sum of tax. By transferring Rao they ensured that no honest probe would take place. Here is the insider account of how the matter was almost hushed up. Naga Prasad, Director of Income Tax (Investigation), to whom the seized records of JD Group, Chennai, were handed over by investigating officials in the presence of the Joint Director of Income Tax (Investigation), kept the records under lock and key — without acting on them.

Sanjay Srivastava, an income tax commissioner, who unearthed the huge NDTV tax fraud and because of which he was targeted by his own finance minister [PC], met Naga Prasad in April 2015, in the latter’s office at Chennai and asked him about the JD Group matter. Prasad immediately called the Joint Director Investigation in charge of JD Group cases. Srivastava asked Prasad why Vasan and Dr Arun too were not raided immediately consequent to the action on JD Group as per standard procedure when there was enough documentary proof of huge black account payment by JD Group to Vasan. Prasad remained silent. Later the Joint Director told Srivastava that he went by the senior’s instructions — meaning not to touch Vasan. Srivastava also asked Prasad why other domain agencies — RBI, SEBI, CBI, ED, State government and State police — concerned in JD Group’s illegalities were not informed. Prasad again remained silent. Later, the Joint Director informed Srivastava that he had passed on the intelligence to the concerned agencies. In this entire episode, one Guru Prasad @ Guruswamy Naidu, said to be a tax tout and close to Naga Prasad, also figured. Thanks to the attempts to bury it, the case went to deep sleep. But, with at least some in the government waking up, though late, action seems likely now. As the case has begun moving, Naga Prasad, a main player in letting the case getting sedated, is said to have been relieved on voluntary retirement, at breakneck speed, in days when it normally takes six months, even a year, and has got out of service. Relieved from office on August 1, 2015, he is believed to be trying to go abroad and even obtain foreign citizenship.

(The author is a leading political and business commentator)