By Sy Mukherjee and Clifton Leaf
February 10, 2017

Good morning, readers. This is Sy taking over for Cliff on this chilly Friday.

Today, Cancer Research UK announced that it’s awarding $87 million to four research teams as part of its Grand Challenge, an initiative that seeks to tackle the unresolved aspects of cancer care.

“Cancer is a global problem, and these projects are part of the global solution,” said Cancer Research UK CEO Sir Harpal Kumar. “Together, we will redefine cancer–turning it from a disease that so many people die from to one that many people can live with. We will reduce the number of people worldwide affected by cancer and achieve our goal of beating cancer sooner.”

CRUK’s decision to fund four projects is a far cry from its original plans to sponsor just one per year. But the charity says that there were simply too many exciting options to cull the herd.

The four winning teams will be exploring: new ways to prevent cancer from forming in the first place; how to best map out tumors; strategies for determining which patients are at the highest risk for developing cancer and need treatment; and a virtual reality map of breast cancer.

Read on for the day’s news, and enjoy your weekend.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Allscripts CEO says to keep an eye out for these trends in 2017. Health IT and electronic medical records specialist Allscripts’ chief executive is out with a new op-ed in Healthcare IT News, ahead of this year’s HIMSS conference (the biggest health tech and digital infrastructure meeting of the year). Paul Black lists out three big trends to watch for in health IT this year, namely: a continuing shift to value-based care models (rather than the fee-for-service, volume-oriented paradigm which still dominates the sector); digital health infrastructure interoperability that makes it possible for different systems to talk to each other and coordinate care; and an increased focus on precision medicine and “genomically aware care” that can help take a lot of the guesswork out of medicine. “Patients aren’t the only ones whose lives will be improved by precision medicine,” writes Black. “Precision medicine is already positively affecting providers (for example, by reducing ED visits by 30% through application of molecular profiling treatment strategy); payers ($25 billion expected annual spending on genetic tests by 2021, and 45% of FDA approvals were geared toward targeted therapies in 2013); and pharma (the pharmacogenomics market is expected to be $7.5 billion by 2017).” (Healthcare IT News)

We’ve learned a lot more about how badly Theranos labs screwed up. A federal inspection report of one of beleaguered blood testing upstart Theranos’ former labs (which has since been shuttered) details a host of alarming deficiencies. For instance, inspectors say that Theranos neglected to follow its own manufacturer’s instructions on key tests such as blood-glucose monitoring and pregnancy tests in order to assure accuracy. Furthermore, Theranos employees even improperly operated conventional blood testing machines (as opposed to the “nano-prick” blood test technology that CEO Elizabeth Holmes had claimed would revolutionize the diagnostics industry) – and the firm failed to ensure that all patients who may have received inaccurate test results from Theranos has been duly informed. (Fortune)


INDICATIONS

Tesaro flies high on takeover rumors. Cancer drug maker Tesaro’s shares have soared more than 12% in the past two days, bringing its market cap up to the $10 billion range. Why all the investor attention? A Reuters report citing sources who say that the firm is in talks with investment backs after being approached by several pharma companies for a buyout. While Tesaro is remaining publicly coy for now, a buyout has always been in the cards as big pharma companies continue to snap up biotechs that have already done drug development legwork for them. In Tesaro’s case, the grand prize is the breast and ovarian cancer treatment Niraparib, which is part of an oncology treatment class that inhibits the PARP protein and consequently helps kill off cancerous solid tumor cells with speed. These types of drugs could potentially be used with other sorts of immunotherapies, which are all the rage in biopharma these days. (Reuters)

CVS: Don’t blame us for drug prices. Pharmacy benefits managers like Express Scripts have recently been on the defensive regarding the role they play in escalating drug prices. And, just like Scripts, CVS Health is pushing back hard against the narrative. “[A]ny suggestion that PBMs are causing drug prices to rise is erroneous,” said CVS CEO Larry Merlo in an earnings conference call Thursday. Drug makers have asserted that benefits managers, who negotiate rebates and discounts with drug makers and then partially pass those savings on to insurance companies and consumers, are part of the reason that list prices have risen so much, since biopharma companies must incorporate the expected future discounts into their pricing strategies. Merlo noted that its Caremark PBM unit is allied with so many clients precisely because it’s effective. (Fortune)

An old drug gets a new Duchenne approval in the U.S., is immediately price gouged. Here’s yet another facet of the U.S. drug pricing conundrum: older treatments which have been around for years can win label expansions that significantly increase their value, and consequently, their list prices. That appears to be the case with Marathon Pharmaceuticals’ deflazacort, a steroid that has now achieved FDA approval for treating the devastating muscle-wasting disorder Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). There’s a dearth of available DMD treatments (and the most recently approved one in the U.S. was cleared under a cloud of controversy), so it’s not hard to see why the FDA wants to speed treatments to the finish line. But Marathon also decided to price the drug, which is available for less than $1 per pill in Canada as a steroid, at $89,000 per year. And since the treatment isn’t already approved in the U.S. for other, cheaper indications, there’s no risk of doctors prescribing it for off-label purposes to Duchenne patients. (Endpoints)


THE BIG PICTURE

Tom Price confirmed as HHS chief after bitter battle. Georgia Congressman Tom Price has been cleared as the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services after an ugly confirmation battle which included Senate Democrats boycotting his vote by a key panel (a tactic that was rendered useless as the majority Republicans changed committee rules to push his nomination forward). Price received plenty of scrutiny over his views on what to do about Obamacare (including the extent to which he will use his administrative role to dismantle the law) and his investments in a number of biopharma companies that would have benefited from legislation that he championed. The final Senate vote to confirm Price was 52-47 and occurred in the middle of the night. (Fortune)

Which injury type is unusually common in your state? Digital health startup Amino is out with a fun little map of the most distinctive injury types in the U.S. So what constitutes a “distinctive” injury? Amino examined insurance claims data from across the U.S. to figure out which injuries were disproportionately concentrated in states compared to the national average. For instance, car accidents are a huge source of physical malaise in California, while suffocation – meaning an extreme lack of oxygen – is uncommonly common in Mountain states like Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. (Fortune)


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