It was a day that was eye-opening in every respect, and an evening that ended with a strong case for closing them.
Day One of Fortune’s Brainstorm Health revealed a way to rewrite pain (through virtual reality), edit our genetic destiny, and translate the frailty of old age into a kind of youthful progression into maturity. We had some appropriate panic over pandemics to come and were shocked—many of us, anyway—by what turns out to be a substantial risk factor for getting Alzheimer’s disease: being a woman. We learned about the virtue of the blockchain in healthcare, the need to break old chains in drug development, and what happens when you create a chain of new partnerships with your trusty supercomputer. We had an extraordinary guided meditation and mediated on the guidance of many.
Yes, it will take some measure of these newsletter essays to fully unpack all of the insights and wisdom that emerged from the first day of our inaugural Brainstorm Health. And I will do my best to follow up on these great panel discussions in the weeks ahead. But it’s now nearly midnight and time to celebrate sleep.
That, indeed, was the resonant theme in this evening’s dinner discussion between Brainstorm Health co-chair David Agus and media maven Arianna Huffington, who has just launched a company dedicated to promoting wellness in the workplace: Thrive Global.
“We are so used to being perpetually tired,” said Huffington, that we don’t know when we’re crossing what she calls “the red line”—the point of exhaustion. “We need to help people understand the signals” before they get there.
“If you think about it,” she told the rapt audience, “we all take better care of our smartphones than we take care of ourselves. I bet everybody here knows approximately how much battery life their phones have left.” And yet, we rarely have that kind of awareness of our minds and bodies.
Huffington pointed out that if you type the words “Why am I…” into Google, the first autocomplete suggestion it offers is: “Why am I so tired?” That, she said, is a window into a culture that inappropriately measures success by degrees of overwork: “It is not accurate that, in order to succeed, you have to burn out. It is not accurate that, in order to be super-productive, type A, driven people, we need to be always on and sacrifice our health and well being.” We need to change the mindset that has us believing that.
More news below.
This company is making an integrated “health operating system.” HealthTap, a health IT firm that’s billed itself as a 24/7, fully integrated platform for connecting patients with their health data and doctors, is launching a new “health operating system” called HealthTap Cloud, the company announced Wednesday. The system aims to make it far easier for developers to build health applications that are connected with patients’ health profiles. “With the HealthTap Cloud, we have built the integrated backbone for the healthcare solutions of the future,” said Sastry Nanduri, HealthTap co-founder and CTO, in a statement announcing the launch. Fortune will be following up with HealthTap CEO and founder Ron Gutman about his ambitions for the company and the strategy behind its tech.
Fitbit’s CEO on balancing privacy and improving Americans’ health. How do you square medical privacy with today’s big data world? That was one of the big questions at the heart of one of Brainstorm Health’s opening sessions, where an expert panel discussed how technology can be leveraged to actually keep patients out of the hospital. Fitbit CEO James Park noted that current regulations, including the 1990s-era HIPAA, haven’t kept up with the times, and that some concerns over privacy when it comes to corporate wellness programs are overblown. “The promise of all this data is to be able to screen people more effectively,” he said. “It’s the ability to give them more personalized treatments and guidance, and the ability to monitor people over the course of their treatment.” (Fortune)
Could 3D printing and IBM Watson replace doctors? In a spirited Brainstorm Health session on Tuesday, IBM Watson Health general manager Deborah DiSanzo and Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush duked it out on just how much promise artificial intelligence can have in making health care more efficient. While DiSanzo and others at IBM Watson Health have stressed that they see their technology as a means of augmenting physician care, Bush said the concept should go one step further: replace some traditional doctors and functions such as radiology with supercomputers, thereby driving down costs. (Fortune)
Pfizer scores a big win with Prevenar vaccine approval in China. Pfizer’s blockbuster Prevenar franchise got a big boost as Chinese regulators gave the green light to its mega-hit Prevenar 13 vaccine for pneumonia. That’s especially encouraging for Pfizer in a nation where it had to grapple with a big setback in its vaccines business: the firm shut the unit down entirely after its license for a different version of Prevenar wasn’t renewed. Now, it’ll be back on the scene in one of the world’s largest markets. The Prevenar franchise brought in $6.2 billion in sales for Pfizer last year. (Fortune)
Valeant is going back on its pledge not to sell Salix. Valeant, whose investors have been on a bona fide roller coaster throughout the company’s executive upheaval, legal and regulatory woes, and guidance cuts, delivered another surprise on Tuesday: it’s reportedly planning to sell its core gut drug unit Salix in a $10 billion deal with Japanese drug maker Takeda. Valeant had regularly insisted that it would not be getting rid of Salix, which it purchased for $11 billion, but now appears like it’s on a hunt for some quick cash. (Fortune)
The current approach to vaccine development is all wrong. Would you buy car insurance while literally in the midst of a car crash? Because that’s exactly what the current approach to fighting global pandemics is, according to U.S. National Vaccine Program Office Bruce Gellin. As with most things in health care, prevention makes a lot more sense than ad hoc reaction. And companies like GlaxoSmithKline found out just how difficult it is to get an effective vaccine for deadly infections like Ebola out once a pandemic is under way. Instead, an incentive system that encourages the proactive production of vaccines would do much more to mitigate crises like the Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks. (Fortune)
THE BIG PICTURE
Herbalife’s CEO to step down after a tumultuous reign. After 13 years at the helm of Herbalife, CEO Michael Johnson will be stepping down next June and be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Richard Goudis. Johnson won’t be exiting the company entirely; he’ll still be executive chairman. But the decision is the grand finale of an intense battle with activist investor Bill Ackman, who has accused the firm of running a pyramid scheme. That position has pitted Ackman against billionaire Carl Icahn, who has a nearly 21% stake in the company and said that he supports the appointment of Goudis as its next chief executive. (Fortune)
Companies give workers a cut of health savings. Employers are trying to beef up their workers’ incentives for making more cost-effective and efficient health care decisions by passing on some health savings to them, according to the Wall Street Journal. That means encouraging more comparison shopping (which is sorely lacking when it comes to medical care) for services like MRIs by offering workers the tools to actually undertake that arduous process. It’s also a boon to the employees themselves, who have increasingly had to take pick up the financial burden of their care thanks to the ongoing rise of high deductible health plans. (Wall Street Journal)
Here’s Why Pond Scum Will Live Longer Than You, by Erika Fry
What It’s Like to Meditate with Deepak Chopra, by Leena Rao
We’ve Been Treating Appendicitis Wrong for Years, by Erika Fry
Adobe Seeks Respect for New Artificial Intelligence Tech, by Barb Darrow
Maria Shriver Challenges Corporate America to Step Up on Alzheimer’s, by Sy Mukherjee
|Produced by Sy Mukherjee|