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Brainstorm Health Daily: April 20, 2017

One woman’s company is putting tens of thousands of living cells on a micro-engineered block of polymer the size of a double-A battery—and using these “organ chips” to test new drugs and study human tissue. Another is pushing to redefine what it means to be healthy. (The answer, she says, includes having enough food and safe housing, too—and that’s what she’s helping to deliver to many.) A third is using blockchain technology—the distributed digital ledger behind Bitcoin—to make our insane medical payment system more efficient.

All three women are on Fortune’s list of 34 Leaders Who Are Changing Health Care, which is live online (love to say that) on Fortune.com right spanking now—and which appears in full analog glory in our May 1 issue, speeding to mailboxes and newsstands this moment.

A fourth woman, another fast-rising entrepreneur, is at the forefront of regenerative medicine; a fifth left the globe-circling media empire she founded in order to focus full time on bringing the gospel of wellness to billions. A sixth pushed through one challenge after another to bring genetic testing directly to consumers.

And, yes, our list has a few men on it, too.

Take a moment, if you would, to check out these nearly three dozen change agents—the policy visionaries, the fierce disrupters, the corporate innovators, the courageous patient advocates, the discovers, and the risk-takers who put their acumen, money, and soul into bringing new med-tech businesses into the world.

Along with our leaders list, we’ve also got a deep and thoughtful examination of the progress being made today on five frontiers of digital health—from telemedicine to genomics to modern drug delivery—which includes a close look at 21 companies who are leading the charge.

The package is part of our spectacular FUTURE ISSUE of Fortune—which, take it from a long-term reader like me, is worth subscribing to. Seriously, please sign up for an all-access subscription and support the real-news revolution today. We can’t make this happen without you. And besides, nothing like having the future waiting for you at your front door.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE
@CliftonLeaf
clifton.leaf@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

J&J wants to use 3D printing to heal broken bones. Pharma giant Johnson & Johnson's bone health-focused firm DePuy Synthes has snatched up 3D printing technology from Tissue Regeneration Systems. The technology can be used to create personalized bits of material with a special coating that can be absorbed by the body and help in the bone injury/deformity healing process. "We are systematically investing in building a pipeline of 3D printed products," DePuy Synthes company group chairman Ciro Römer in a statement. "The TRS technology, which will be added to the DePuy Synthes Trauma Platform, is the latest example of how we are working toward developing next-generation technologies that transform healthcare delivery with individualized solutions for patients." (Fortune)

IBM posts study results from diabetic eye disease machine learning study. IBM has released a new study finding that its machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies can detect diabetes-related eye diseases—and, critically, their severity—with a high degree of accuracy. The company says its tech scored an 86% accuracy score across five different levels of diabetic retinopathy; eventually, the machine learning system could help eye care specialists analyze far more patients and catch on to their disease at earlier stages to prevent it from getting worse.

The company that wants to become the OpenTable of urgent care. Urgent care centers have soared in popularity for people who have minor injuries or conditions that they want addressed quickly but would rather avoid the emergency room. Now, one company, Solv Healthcare, is hoping to make booking an urgent care appointment just as simple as reserving a table on the OpenTable digital platform for restaurants, reports my colleague Leena Rao. And it's snatched up $6.25 million in new funding from Benchmark Capital and early Uber and OpenTable investor Bill Gurley. One particularly convenient aspect of the platform? It actually tells people how much they may have to pay out of pocket for specific conditions. (Fortune)

INDICATIONS

Drug price increases are a problem for pharma's bottom line, too. Drug price hikes are a big hassle for insurance companies, benefits managers, and patients themselves. But they're also a bad sign for the biopharma industry, which has had to rely on these increases to plug holes in their revenues amid plunging return on investment in drug development and falling sales. A new report from Credit Suisse fleshes out the concerning trend: net price increases across the section added $8.7 billion in net income among the largest U.S. drug makers in 2016. That literally doubled the sector's net income last year. The problem for large pharma companies like AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and others is that any successful payer pushback on prices—including that driven by increasing competition, such as in the cancer immunotherapy space—could make a large dent in net income and earnings-per-share growth.

A massive setback for UniQure as it finally gives up on its $1 million gene therapy. UniQure became the first-ever company to win approval for a gene therapy—Glybera, which treats the rare condition familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency, and was approved in Europe in 2012. But the firm won't be seeking another five-year marketing authorization when the current one expires this year, it announced on Thursday. "Glybera's usage has been extremely limited and we do not envision patient demand increasing materially in the years ahead,” said CEO Matthew Kapusta in a statement. The treatment's list price of more than $1 million was so high—and the condition so rare—that it's barely had any sales at all. UniQure says it will now focus on other projects in its pipeline, including drugs for the treatment of hemophilia B and Huntington's disease.

THE BIG PICTURE

Is the GOP inching closer to an agreement on health care? Well, it's hard to tell. There's a whole lot of moving parts to this story (still), and some mixed messages coming from different factions. For instance, House conservatives are reportedly pleased with some of the changes in the latest deal on the bill, which includes "limited waivers" that states can use to seek broad reforms; but others point out that moving the legislation to placate hardliners like the House Freedom Caucus may alienate more moderates, particularly in the Senate. As of now, there is no vote on a bill planned for the next week.

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