New Alzheimer’s drug fails at last test

A new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease has failed to pass its final stage tests.

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Despite earlier promise, the drug RVT-101, also known as intepirdine, has not produced benefits to people living with Alzheimer’s disease, the Axovant Sciences pharmaceutical company announced.

The trials began in 2015 and new hope was offered to around half a million people in the UK living with Alzheimer’s.

Axovant Sciences said it was “deeply disappointed” by the results and “saddened” for the millions of patients and their families, while Alzheimer’s Research UK’s chief scientific officer Dr David Reynolds described it as “clearly a setback” for those affected by the disease.

“The 15-year wait for a new Alzheimer’s drug does not end today,” Reynolds said.

“In recent years science has made huge leaps forward in tackling diseases like cancer and HIV/Aids, and despite setbacks like this, we will be able to tackle diseases like Alzheimer’s if we continue to invest in research.”

RVT-101 was designed to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s by boosting levels of chemical messengers in the brain.

The unsuccessful trial involved 1,315 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who received either a daily pill containing 35mg of RVT-101 or a placebo pill, alongside the current Alzheimer’s treatment, donepezil.

After 24 weeks of treatment, people who took the daily dose of RVT-101 did not show signs of a benefit compared with people who took donepezil alone.

Axovant will not be submitting the drug for regulatory approval for the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s.

No sufficient progress in Brexit: Tusk

European Council President Donald Tusk says Brexit talks haven’t yet made sufficient progress to begin negotiating a new relationship between Britain and the European Union.

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After meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Tusk said he believed Britain had finally abandoned an unrealistic “having a cake and eating it” approach to Brexit.

Britain triggered a two-year countdown to Brexit in March, but since then talks have made little progress. Negotiators are meeting in Brussels this week for a fourth round of discussions, as EU officials warn Britain that time is running out.

Britain wants to start discussing future trade and security relations with the bloc, but EU officials say that can’t happen until there has been “sufficient progress” on the terms of the divorce.

In a bid to break the logjam, May made a conciliatory speech in Florence, Italy, last week, saying the UK would be willing to pay into EU coffers during a two-year transition phase after it formally leaves the bloc in March 2019.

“I feel cautiously optimistic about the constructive and more realistic tone in the prime minister’s speech in Florence and of our discussion today,” Tusk said after meeting May at 10 Downing St.

“There is no sufficient progress yet, but we will work on it.”

Other EU officials also gave a cautious welcome to May’s speech, but say more detail is needed.

Chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Monday he was “keen and eager” to understand how May’s words would be turned into a negotiating strategy.

The EU says it won’t discuss future relationships until it has guarantees on Britain’s outstanding financial commitments, the rights of more than 4 million EU and British citizens affected by Brexit and the status of the Irish border.

‘I only have horizons’: Macron delivers passionate EU speech

The 39-year-old leader spoke for more than an hour and half in front of students at the Sorbonne university in Paris in a passionate speech that contained a raft of proposals for the 28-member European Union.

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“The Europe that we know is too weak, too slow, too inefficient,” he said. “But Europe alone can give us the ability to act in the world faced with big contemporary challenges.”

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Macron’s proposals for a post-Brexit shake-up included a finance minister, budget and parliament for the 19-member eurozone, as well as a European “rapid reaction force” to work with national armies.

Macron is desperate for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s endorsement of his reform agenda, but his plans were dealt a blow by Sunday’s election in Germany that saw eurosceptic parties make gains.

Merkel must now try to form a government likely to include the Free Democratic Party (FDP), whose leader Christian Lindner is an outspoken critic of Macron’s European agenda and who considers a eurozone budget to be a “red line”.

‘Only horizons’

Macron appeared to respond to Lindner directly on Tuesday, saying: “I don’t have red lines, I only have horizons.” 

But he also steered clear of defining how big any future eurozone budget might be, having previously said he wanted it to be the equivalent of “several points” of eurozone GDP which could amount to several hundred billion euros.

Among his propositions was a new type of tax on technology giants like Facebook and Apple — based on how much value they create in a country rather than their profits — and taxes on financial transactions across the bloc.

An EU-wide agency to handle asylum requests, a beefed up common border force and a European innovation agency were among other ideas for EU organisations that would require further pooling of national sovereignty. 

He even raised the prospect of major changes to the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU’s giant farm subsidy programme, which has historically been defended by France and its powerful agricultural lobbies.

Opposition inevitable

Macron’s vision for a new phase of European integration, a process which started in the post-war era and led to the creation of the EU, is likely to run into objections in some countries. 

Nationalist governments in Poland or Hungary do not share his desire to send new powers to Brussels, while his plan for harmonised corporation tax will ring alarm bells in low-tax countries such as Ireland.

Addressing the issue of Britain’s planned departure from the European Union — the most vivid illustration of growing nationalist feeling in the bloc — Macron appeared to leave the door open for London to rejoin or change its mind.

“In a few years, if they want, the United Kingdom could find its place… In this reformed and simplified EU that I’m proposing, I can’t imagine that the United Kingdom could not find its place,” he said.

Along with Brexit and the German elections, Macron’s proposals are likely to top the agenda at a two-day summit of all 28 EU members in Estonia from Thursday.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed the speech, saying the bloc required “courage” to move ahead.

Macron’s style is also likely to be widely discussed by his European partners and his pitch for the leadership role for the continent has grated with some policymakers in Germany since his election in May. 

One person close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel accused him of acting like a “Sun King” with a “God-given right to rule” in recent comments to AFP on condition of anonymity.

But the former investment banker was undeterred Tuesday, saying European leaders needed to revitalise the project to take the sting out of rising right-wing nationalism on the continent.

“We don’t have a choice,” he said.

He made frequent references to the European wars of the 20th century just days after the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AFD) shocked Europe by winning 93 seats in parliament.

“Europe enabled us to turn our backs on the wars. We need to find this ambition again,” he said.

French officials considered that now was the best time for Macron to lay out his vision for Europe as Merkel begins cobbling together a coalition which will agree a detailed roadmap for the four-year term ahead.

“It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss,” a French presidency official told a briefing on Monday.

Bachar Houli adds cultural touch to AFL Grand Final preparations

The Bachar Houli Academy launched in 2012 is a week-long program which provides pathways for young Muslim men across the country aspiring to play AFL football.

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This year’s group is made up some of Victoria’s most promising exponents of the game, and according to former St Kilda player Ahmed Saad,  the 15-to-18-year-olds are at a pivotal time in their lives.

“I think that’s when they start going to the cross-roads – alcohol, drugs, going out a bit too much… the kind of stuff you don’t want your kids to get involved in,” Saad told SBS World News.

This year’s crop of AFL hopefuls take part in the Bachar Houli Academy program.SBS World News

“Sport creates a camaraderie, relationships… commitment and discipline as well.”

In addition to providing a unique football development opportunity, the Bachar Houli academy teaches participants about their religion, culture and off-field leadership.

Adam Kaddour, whose parents are Lebanese-Muslims, said the program provided him with some timely advice.

“Coming into the academy I did have a few questions into my own identity and myself as a Muslim – I’ve been able to speak with them one-on-one and find out more about my religion.”

For Sudanese-born 17-year old Amar Elnour, it provided a more practical – but equally important – skill.

“Coming to the Academy I was a really quiet person, I wouldn’t be able to get up in front of groups and talk, but Ahmed and Bachar have egged me on [encouraged me], and pushed me to take a leadership role in the group, so now I’ve got confidence to talk in front of large groups.”

For the aspiring athletes who participate in the academy, physical training is also crucial.

“Coming into the academy I did have a few questions into my own identity”: Adam Kaddour.SBS World News

Activities can involve early morning beach runs, football skills sessions and sprints.

In the AFL’s biggest week, their highlight was undoubtedly enjoying a barbecue cooked by none other than Lebanese-born Bachar Houli.

A key component of Richmond’s flag-effort this Saturday, the defender couldn’t be happier sharing his big week with academy hopefuls.

“When you see the older boys that have been involved for two or three years, they come back as true leaders and they’re actually leading the charge, so when you see that sort of leadership it makes you proud to see the program’s actually working,” Houli told SBS World News.

And Amour Elnour says he speaks for all Houli Academy participants when he describes what a Richmond win would mean. 

“I’m an Essendon supporter but definitely this week I’ll be barracking for Richmond and Bachar – especially Bachar, he’s done a lot for me and it would be great to see him achieve something so big as to win the AFL Grand Final.”

Seventeen-year-old participant, Amar Elnour.SBS World News

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Senate Republicans pull plug on latest Obamacare repeal bid

Grim-faced lawmakers, who had hoped to hold the vote this week, made the announcement shortly after a Republican luncheon in which senators discussed the impasse, and possible future paths forward for their efforts to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s landmark 2010 health care reforms.

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“We’ve made the decision that since we don’t have the votes we will postpone that vote,” Senator Bill Cassidy, one of the bill’s main authors, told reporters.

Republicans had scrambled to pass health care reform before a September 30 deadline, using special rules that would have allowed them to avoid a Democratic filibuster and pass the bill with a simple majority.

Republicans, who hold 52 seats in the 100-member chamber, could afford just two defectors. But three, including most recently Senator Susan Collins, have declared their opposition.

“Am I disappointed? Absolutely,” Cassidy said.

The collapse, yet again, of an effort to fulfill one of Trump’s primary campaign pledges is sure to be an embarrassment to the White House, which has seen several Obamacare repeal and replace bills crash and burn this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the party, still searching for a first major legislative victory under the Trump administration, will now turn to another Trump priority.

“Where we go from here is tax reform,” he said.

Despite the latest collapse, Senator Lindsey Graham insisted the effort to sink Obamacare — and fulfill a seven-year Republican promise — was alive and kicking.

“We’re coming back to this after taxes,” Graham said. “There’s plenty of fight left in us.”

But Democrats immediately claimed victory, with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer saying that with the failure of the Graham-Cassidy bill, “the health care of millions has been protected and preserved.”

The Republican plan had aimed to replace the Affordable Care Act with a system of block grants to states.

It would make sweeping changes and cuts to Medicaid, with experts projecting a staggering $1 trillion plus in cuts between 2020 and 2036 to the federal health program for the poor and the disabled, which has been expanded under Obamacare.

Compounding the problem for the bill, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released a preliminary analysis of the new legislation Monday, and projected that it would leave “millions fewer people” with comprehensive health insurance.

Restarting bipartisan talks?

With the latest repeal failure, Democrats swiftly said they wanted to restart stalled bipartisan talks aimed at boosting the existing health care system.

“GrahamCassidy is officially dead,” Senator Martin Heinrich tweeted. “It’s time to get to work, hold hearings & find bipartisan ways to improve our #HealthCare system.”

Democrats have said the first task at hand is to stabilize the Obamacare insurance markets. At issue are the billions of dollars in federal reimbursements to insurance companies for covering millions of low-income Americans under Obamacare.

Trump in the past has threatened to suspend the so-called cost-sharing reductions as a way to speed Obamacare’s demise.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray have led efforts to craft a bipartisan plan to stabilize the insurance markets.

Their talks broke down as Republican leader pushed for a vote on Graham-Cassidy, but Murray said she is ready to resume them on a moment’s notice.

“Making sure that the president made the payments that he can right now… is the single most important thing to do over the next several years to stabilize the marketplace, which will reduce the premiums for everyone,” she said.

Trump friend denies Russian interference

Roger Stone, an advisor to Donald Trump for many years before he entered the White House, on Tuesday told Congress that the mogul’s presidential campaign did not coordinate with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

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Appearing before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-door session, Stone denied having any prior knowledge of the leak involving e-mails of John Podesta, the campaign director of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

“I understand the committee’s interest in me … I am provocative and partisan, but let’s be clear: I have no involvement in the alleged activities that are within the publicly stated scope of this committee’s investigation – collusion with the Russian state to affect the outcome of the 2016 election,” Stone said.

The House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating Russia’s involvement in the election and the Kremlin’s possible links with the Trump campaign.

Stone responded to lawmakers’ questions for more than three hours in a private session and told reporters later that he refused to answer when asked about who his “intermediary” was for communicating with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

After the hearing, Democratic congressman Adam Schiff threatened to subpoena Stone for not answering questions.

Democrats are interested in pressuring Stone about his communications with Assange and the Russian hacker known as Guccifer 2.0, citing a public tweet in which he suggested that he had prior knowledge about the leak of the Podesta e-mails.

After being asked if he felt Trump should have fired Robert Mueller, the man who is leading the investigation, Stone responded, “yes.”

Food aid and face masks dispatched to Bali as 75,000 flee volcano

Mount Agung, 75 kilometres from the resort hub of Kuta, has been rumbling since August and threatening to erupt for the first time since 1963 – a potential blow to the country’s lucrative tourism industry.

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Increasingly frequent tremors show the molten magma is still rising towards the surface, with the mountain entering a “critical phase”, said the national disaster mitigation agency.

It said the number fleeing their homes had increased as fears grow that the mountain could blow.

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0:00 Experts monitor Mount Agung activity Share Experts monitor Mount Agung activity

“The local mitigation agency reported that until 12 pm Tuesday, the number has reached 75,673 people, spread across 377 evacuation centres in nine districts,” said agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Around 62,000 people lived in the danger zone before the evacuations, according to the agency, but residents just outside the area have also left as a precaution.

“The number is expected to continue to rise,” Nugroho said.

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The Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation said there has been an increase in volcanic tremors, with a total of 564 recorded Monday.

Evacuees have packed into temporary shelters or moved in with relatives. Some 2,000 cows have also been evacuated from the flanks of the volcano.

Speaking in Klungkung district, President Joko Widodo told evacuees the government would do its best to reduce economic losses incurred during the evacuation.

0:00 Tens of thousands flee rumbling Bali volcano Share Tens of thousands flee rumbling Bali volcano

“It is not easy to handle a volcanic eruption because there is no certainty when it’s going to happen, or if it’s going to happen at all,” he said.

“I ask everybody near Gunung Agung to listen to the officials, the governor, and the mayor’s instruction so we can all minimise the impact of this volcano.”

Balinese residents, international NGOs and the central government have begun organising aid.

Vehicles loaded with noodles, mineral water and blankets have been sent to the evacuation centres, while residents around the island have been collecting donations.

Mount Agung is seen from Datah village in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, 26 September 2017.AAP

Bali’s “sister village” programme and tradition of communal assistance means evacuees have been able to stay in villages outside the danger zone.

I Ketut Subandi, head of logistics at the village of Tana Ampo, said basic food items like rice, instant noodles, cooking oil and water were most needed.

“This morning we were worried because we had limited rice supply, but now we have received more rice stocks from donors,” Subandi said.

Indonesia’s national disaster agency has sent 640,000 face masks, 12,500 mattresses, 8,400 blankets and 50 tents. The central government has a relief fund totalling nearly $150 million to meet the cost of natural disasters, which could be tapped in case of an eruption.

The Indonesian Palace shows Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (white) visits Indonesian displaced people at a shelter in Karangasem on the island of Bali.AAP

Officials announced the highest possible alert level on Friday due to the increasing volcanic activity and warned people to stay at least nine kilometres away from the crater.

Operators have cancelled trekking tours on the mountain  but officials have otherwise been at pains to assure tourists the island is safe.

The airport in Bali’s capital Denpasar, through which millions of foreign tourists pass every year, has not been affected, but several countries including Australia and Singapore have issued a travel advisory.

Flights to and from the island have not been interrupted but airlines are watching the situation closely.

Virgin Australia said it would be making an extra fuel stop in Darwin for some of its flights between Australia and Bali in case it is forced to turn back.

Singapore Airlines said customers travelling between September 23 and October 2 could rebook flights or ask for a refund.

Mount Agung is one of more than 120 active volcanoes extending the length of Indonesia, which straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire.

It last erupted in 1963, killing nearly 1,600 people and sending ash as far as the capital Jakarta.

Dual citizenship: Roberts, Ludlam ineligible, Commonwealth will argue

But it believes the five other politicians referred to the High Court – including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce – should not be found ineligible.

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The government believes only those who “voluntarily obtained, or retained” citizenship of another country should be affected by section 44 of the constitution which prohibits dual citizens running for parliament.

That does not include “a person who does not know that they are, or ever were, a foreign citizen”.

The government’s stance also gives hope to Nationals senators Fiona Nash and Matt Canavan and crossbench senator Nick Xenophon, who all claim they never thought they could be a citizen of another country by descent, and former Greens senator Larissa Waters, who is said to have not voluntarily acquired or retained her Canadian citizenship.

The government believes that the requirement to take “all reasonable steps” to renounce foreign citizenship doesn’t actually require the person to take any steps.

“Taking no steps is reasonable in these circumstances,” its submission reads.

In the submissions filed on behalf of Attorney-General George Brandis on Tuesday, the Commonwealth claims One Nation’s Senator Roberts and Mr Ludlam – a former Greens senator – were incapable of being chosen to sit in parliament.

The High Court last week ruled Senator Roberts, who was born in India to a Welsh father and Australian mother, was a dual British and Australian citizen when he nominated as a candidate.

Mr Ludlam resigned in July after learning he was still a citizen of New Zealand, where he was born.

The Commonwealth believes Mr Ludlam and Senator Roberts voluntarily retained their status as citizens of New Zealand and Britain respectively and failed to take all reasonable steps to renounce it and should be disqualified.

Their vacancies should be filled by a special count, it submitted.

“The other referred persons are not disqualified,” it said.

The matters will go before the full bench of the High Court on October 10.

0:00 Joyce says he’s ‘shell-shocked’ after citizenship news Share Joyce says he’s ‘shell-shocked’ after citizenship news

Inventor Dyson aims for electric car

James Dyson, the billionaire British inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, said on Tuesday his company was working on developing an electric car to be launched by 2020.

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Dyson said he was spending $US2.7 billion to exploit his company’s expertise in solid-state battery technology and electric motors.

“Battery technology is very important to Dyson … I have been developing these technologies consistently because I could see that one day we could do a car,” Dyson said.

Dyson said a 400-strong team of engineers had already spent 2-1/2 years working on the hitherto secret car project.

However, the car itself still has to be designed and the choice of battery to be finalised.

The company was backing solid-state rather than the lithium ion technology used in existing electric vehicles because it was safer, the batteries would not overheat, were quicker to charge and potentially more powerful, he said.

Dyson said his ambition to go it alone was driven by the car industry’s dismissal of an idea he had of applying his cyclonic technology that revolutionised vacuum cleaners to handle diesel emissions in car exhaust systems in the 1990s.

“We are not a johnny-come-lately onto the scene of electric cars,” he said.

“It has been my ambition since 1998 when I was rejected by the industry, which has happily gone on making polluting diesel engines, and governments have gone on allowing it.”

But the car does not yet have a design nor a chassis, he said, and the company had not yet decided where it will be made, beyond ruling out working with the big car companies.

“Wherever we make the battery, we’ll make the car, that’s logical,” he said. “So we want to be near our suppliers, we want to be in a place that welcomes us and is friendly to us, and where it is logistically most sensible.

“And we see a very large market for this car in the Far East.”

Dyson gave no details of the concept for the vehicle, beyond saying it would not be like anything else already on the market.

“There’s no point in doing one that looks like everyone else’s,” he said, adding that it would not be a sports car and it would not be “a very cheap” car.

Australian Serb ‘Captain Dragan’ jailed for 15 years over war crimes

Dragan Vasiljkovic, known as “Captain Dragan”, was extradited by Australia to Croatia two years ago after a decade-long legal battle.

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The court in the coastal town of Split found Vasiljkovic guilty of torturing detainees in the ethnic Serb rebel stronghold of Knin and a deadly attack on the central town in Glina at the beginning of the 1991-1995 war in Croatia.

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He was charged with setting up an “improvised prison” at the Knin fortress in mid-1991.

There, his subordinates tortured detained Croatian policemen and civilians by “beating them with hands, feet and ox tendons… pushing guns in their mouths”, the indictment said.

Dragan Vasiljkovi and the president of the ultra-national Serbian Radical Party Vojislav Seselj (2-L) at the battle field in Benkovac city in Croatia, in 1991.AAP

“All witnesses described in a similar way difficult conditions in which they were held … by members of a paramilitary unit commanded by Dragan Vasiljkovic,” judge Damir Romac said.

Velibor Bracic, a former Croatian soldier detained at Knin in 1991, testified how Vasiljkovic personally beat him while showing his subordinates how to do it properly.

“He told the guards ‘If you want to beat him this is how you will do it’ and kicked me with his leg in the head,” Bracic told the tribunal during the trial.

Vasiljkovic was also found guilty of orchestrating a 1991 attack on Glina and the surrounding region, in which a civilian and a German reporter were killed, while local people had to flee their homes.

Vasiljkovic was foundguilty of the killings and torture of civilians and Croatian troops while he was a rebel Serb commander between 1991-95 war in Croatia. AAP

He was acquitted on charges of ordering the 1993 torture and killing of two detained Croatian soldiers in a village in the country’s south.

Vasiljkovic, 62, pleaded not guilty and labelled the trial an “obsessive fascist persecution”.

“Neither I committed the crimes stated in the indictment nor they occurred,” he told the tribunal recently.

Vasiljkovic’s attorneys, who had insisted that as a Serbian national he was not treated fairly, said they would appeal the verdict, national radio reported.

In Australia, where he was first arrested in 2006, Vasiljkovic worked as a golf instructor under the name Daniel Snedden.

Croatia’s proclamation of independence from the former Yugoslavia sparked the 1991-1995 war with Belgrade-backed rebel Serbs. The conflict claimed around 20,000 lives.