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Dr. Tom Insel, the former head of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), has left his relatively new perch at Google life sciences arm Verily in order to launch his own digital health company called Mindstrong, Nature reports. Like some of Verily's psychology-centered projects, Mindstrong will focus on "digital phenotyping"—a high-tech method of detecting signs of mental illness through how users interact with devices.
That might mean sensing irregularities in smartphone typing patterns or word choice that might mean someone is feeling suicidal or depressed, and then directing that person to emergency resources (or alerting next of kin). I'll be speaking with Dr. Insel later today to discuss his new firm's ambitions.
In the meantime, Verily plans to continue its own mental health efforts, which will now be run by clinical psychologist Danielle Schlosser.
Read on for the day's news.
The female-founded startup that wants to become the Spotify of meditation. My colleague Valentina Zarya profiles Simple Habit, a female-founded, four-person company that just raised $2.5 million in a seed funding round with investors like Dropbox founder Drew Houston and New Enterprise Associates. The firm was founded by Yunha Kim and is focused on bringing a marketplace of meditation to users. "Most of these [meditation] apps really have one teacher, but I needed access to all kinds of meditations, all kinds of teachers," Kim tells Valentina. The library of guided meditations will be based on a Spotify-esque model, where users can pay a premium for access to more content. (Fortune)
One third of new drugs have safety issues. A new JAMA report finds that the one in three new drugs approved by the FDA between 2001 and 2010 proved to have safety risks that didn't become evident until they were already on the market. That doesn't mean that the risks were so bad that all (or even most) of the treatments had to be yanked from consumers; but it does underscore the tricky nature of drug development and the clinical trial process, where side effects may not become clear until later on. And it underscores the fine line regulators have to walk between getting groundbreaking treatments to patients and making sure that anything that makes it to market is safe. (Fortune)
Roche hit with setback on key cancer immunotherapy drug Tecentriq. Pharma giant Roche faced a stunning setback as its star cancer immunotherapy drug, Tecentriq, failed a follow-on late-stage trial in advanced bladder cancer. That could be something of a clinical body blow for the company, especially if it causes the FDA to reconsider an initial early approval for bladder cancer; Roche executives have previously told me they consider Tecentriq to be the "backbone" of their next-generation immuno-oncology treatment program—a space in which it's competing with the likes of Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca. But the company is sticking with the drug. "We believe that Tecentriq will continue to play an important role in the treatment for people with advanced bladder cancer, and will discuss these data with health authorities," said a Roche spokesperson in a statement.
AstraZeneca's asthma treatment flunks late-stage trial. Speaking of clinical setbacks: U.K. drug maker AstraZeneca faced its own late-stage failure for the experimental asthma treatment tralokinumab. That's a second major dent in this particular class of asthma drugs called interleukin-13 inhibitors (a similar therapy from Roche also disappointed in a study last year). (Reuters)
THE BIG PICTURE
Senate confirms Dr. Scott Gottlieb to lead the FDA. Amid some of the other events unfolding in Washington on Tuesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Dr. Scott Gottlieb to be the next FDA commissioner on a 57-42 vote. The biopharma industry has enthusiastically lauded Gottlieb, who's seen as a pragmatic conservative physician who will work to cut through red tape at the FDA without excessively rocking the boat. But some critics question his close ties to the industry; in fact, Gottlieb himself has said he will stay away from decisions related to some 20 health care companies in which he's either invested or been paid by. (Fortune)
Drug resistant tuberculosis strains are on the rise. The latest superbug threat could come in the form of drug-resistant tuberculosis. According to Science, this TB strain is becoming more and more prominent in Russia. In fact, four specific countries are expected to see an explosion in cases over the next few decades: Russia, India, South Africa, and the Philippines. (Science)
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