Can my Fitbit predict a coming heart attack?
That was the subject of the breakfast session I attended this morning at Fortune Brainstorm Health in San Diego. And as it turns out, the short answer to the question is “no.” Heart rhythms, as measured by a Fitbit or other wearable device, don’t give any indication of a coming heart attack. But there are proteins in the blood that do, and the day may soon come when a nano-sensor implanted in your blood stream could provide early warnings, perhaps by as much as two weeks. (Read about Fitbit’s unrelated stock swoon yesterday here.)
That’s the sort of discussion that characterized Brainstorm Health, which brought together denizens of two very different worlds – the world of information technology and the world of bioscience. The differences between the two are legion – Mars and Venus – but they appear to be starting to come together in ways that could utterly transform health care in the years ahead. That’s why at Fortune we intend to make Brainstorm Health an annual event, and why we’ve started the Brainstorm Health Daily email, which you can subscribe to here.
One notable difference between the two worlds is the existence of Moore’s Law, which has meant computing power has increased geometrically while its price has plummeted. Health care operates on the inverse principal – “erooM’s Law,” Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan Kettering called it – where prices soar far faster than any measurable improvement in quality can justify.
Will the convergence of IT and bioscience bring Moore’s Law to health care? That was the topic of a panel I moderated with Dr. Bach, Steve Miller of Express Scripts, and Vijay Pande of Andreesen Horowitz. The answer to that question seemed to be “maybe” – but not in a big way any time soon. The peculiarities of the U.S. health care market, as well as the heavy hand of regulators, seem likely to insure that the marriage of computer tech and biotech will require a very long and arduous courtship.
One telling indicator of the long road ahead came from Athena Health CEO Jonathan Bush, who told the group his clients “still get 8 million faxes a week…. Who sends faxes?”
More news below.
• Facebook Is About to Leave its Sweet Spot
Shares in Facebook fell nearly 7% in after-hours trading after another blowout quarter fell short of what, in retrospect, appear to be unrealistically high expectations. The company is still in a sweet spot by most metrics: revenue up 56% on the year, net profit up 166%, gross operating margins of 45%. Many a smaller company would love growth rates like that. Moreover, the company appears to have largely completed a strategic shift to mobile delivery—84% of its ad revenue came from that format in the last quarter. The market reaction was due in large part to CFO Dave Wehner warning that the long-flagged slowdown in revenue growth could happen as early as next year.
• Market Sell-Off Extends
Financial markets’ pre-election jitters got worse as the risks of a Clinton presidency vied with fear of a Trump one for the title of “Best Reason to Sell and Sit the Next Week Out.” The S&P 500 fell for a seventh straight session—something it’s only managed three times in 20 years, according to some market analysts–while the dollar hit a three-week low, falling sharply against the yen, euro and even sterling (of which, more below). The sell-off was made worse by a highly bearish surge in U.S. oil inventories, which sent crude futures to a five-week low. They’ve recovered a bit to around $45.70 a barrel overnight. For good measure, the Federal Reserve hinted again at a rate hike in December, which may or may not be nailed on by tomorrow’s payrolls report for October.
• U.K. Court Puts the Brakes on Brexit
The U.K.’s High Court ruled that PM Theresa May can’t formally start the process of leaving the EU without a vote from parliament. This puts the cat firmly among the pigeons: a solid majority of MPs oppose the whole idea at heart, while a slender majority (the Tory party) know that they risk being voted out of office in 2020 if they are seen to be actively undermining the referendum result. Involving parliament in the process will force the government to display its hand from the start, weakening its position in a dynamic negotiation process with the EU and making it even harder for May to deliver the (in any case unrealistic) promises of the Brexit campaign. It raises the chance of the U.K. ultimately giving Brexit up as a bad idea, but at the price of deepening the divisions between the electorate and the political class.
• A New Name, But the Old Acquisitiveness
Broadcom, the chipmaker formerly known as Avago, said it would buy network gear maker Brocade Communications Systems for $5.5 billion in cash, to expand its fiber channel and data storage businesses. The $12.75 per share offer represents a premium of 46.7% to Brocade’s close on Friday. Customers use Brocade’s fiber channel protocol-based networking products to build storage area networks within their data centers. Broadcom said the deal would enhance its position as a provider of ‘enterprise storage connectivity solutions,’ but said it would divest Brocade’s IP networking business.
Around the Water Cooler
• Valeant Sued Over ‘Female Viagra’ Pill Failure
After all the noise about improper accounting and unethical sales practices, it’s almost refreshing to see Valeant sued for what boils down to good old-fashioned incompetence. The Canadian company had promised to pay investors in Sprout, the maker of female libido booster Addyi, a share of future profits from the drug when it bought the company last year for $1 billion. It had expected $1 billion in annual sales by mid-2017, but actual sales may be less than $10 million this year. The original target relied on distribution through the controversial pharmacy chain Philidor, from which Valeant has now distanced itself. Valeant’s new CEO Joseph Papa abandoned plans to re-launch Addyi in September, a decision that appears to have triggered the suit.
• Mackey Gets Whole Control
Whole Foods announced a drastic change to the way it is run, making co-founder John Mackey soled CEO as of Dec. 31. His sidekick Walter Robb will stay on as a director, get a $10 million severance when he leaves and also, as Fortune’s Phil Wahba only half-jokingly points out, a lifelong 30% discount on purchases at Whole Foods that may actually be even more valuable. The move comes as Whole Foods expands its lower-price 365 chain and looks to return to growth in its main business.
• Alibaba Returns to Form
Alibaba’s third-quarter results handily beat Wall Street expectations, with sales rising 55% and profits touching $1 billion. The results were the kind of mixed bag that is inevitable when you’re chasing as many businesses as Alibaba. The core e-commerce business’s revenue rose 4.1% to $4.2 billion, and its cloud computing business grew 130%, but operating margins fell to 27% from 29% as some of its other ventures showed a worryingly familiar lack of capital discipline (it lost $211 million on its fledgling streaming business for a start).
• And Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen…the Victorious Chicago Cubs
The last time this happened, Teddy Roosevelt was about to hand over to William Taft, the White Star Line had just ordered the Titanic from shipbuilders Harland & Wolff, and the 2 year-old Pu Yi was Emperor of China. You could say the Cubs were due one. Somewhat poignantly, it’s the defeated Indians who now claim the longest drought without a World Series title–albeit a mere 68 years. Tickets for Wrigley Field had changed hands for over $11,000 ahead of the game. Number of Cubs fans who feel they overpaid this morning: zero.