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Brainstorm Health Daily: May 30, 2017

Greetings, readers! This is Sy, back from vacation (speaking of—a massive thank you to my colleague Laura Entis, who so generously took over Daily production duties while I was out). I hope you enjoyed your long weekend.

The handshake is one of the most prominent social customs in the world, a near-universal greeting which elegantly allows strangers and friends alike to say hello. Unfortunately, it can come with a hazardous side effect: spreading potentially deadly germs.

That's a big problem in places crowded with the sick and physically vulnerable—especially hospitals. And this reality led UCLA doctors to test out a novel idea: handshake-free zones in neonatal intensive care units (NICU).

"To help reduce the spread of germs, our NICU is now a handshake-free zone. Please find other ways to greet each other," reads a sign at the NICU which is accompanied by a picture of two clasped hands with a big "no-no" slash through them.

"We are trying to do everything to minimize hospital-acquired infection except for the most obvious and easiest thing to do in my opinion, which is to stop shaking hands," UCLA professor of pediatrics and cardiologist Dr. Mark Sklansky tells NPR.

The no-handshake zones obviously aren't a cure-all against hospital-acquired infections, which afflict 4% of patients. But, as Sklansky and his colleagues note, they're a pretty simple prophylactic measure, especially considering that a sizable number of health care workers (and patients' family members) don't adhere to strict hospital hygiene protocols.

And the UCLA experiment appears to have popular support among staff and others, according to a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control. "The [handshake-free zone] decreased the frequency of handshakes within the NICU," wrote the study authors, adding that, "[p]atient families and most HCPs supported the implementation of an HFZ."

Read on for the day's news.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Is your pacemaker vulnerable to cyber threats? Last year, the U.S. government saw fit to introduce new rules for preventing nefarious attacks on pacemakers. A new report from security firm WhiteScope underscores why: more than 8,600 security flaws were identified in an analysis of seven different pacemaker programmer systems and third-party data libraries. "The findings reveal that the inherent architecture and implementation interdependencies are susceptible to security risks that have the potential to impact the overall confidentiality, integrity and availability of the ecosystem," wrote the report authors. "The findings are relatively consistent across the different vendors, highlighting the need for all vendors to perform an in-depth and holistic evaluation of implemented security controls." (Healthcare IT News)

INDICATIONS

Gilead aims for another HIV treatment superstar. Gilead Sciences is known for its flagship hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS drug franchises. While it's been facing some sales problems on the former front, the biotech is now attempting to strengthen its position in the latter with solid new data for an HIV treatment cocktail combining bictegravir with emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide, two of its main drugs for the virus. The combo proved non-inferior to competing HIV medicines in a slew of late-stage clinical trials, and Gilead is expected to file a new drug application with the FDA soon. (Endpoints)

Sanofi steps up its cancer drug ambitions. French drug giant Sanofi has nabbed licensing rights to four of biotech ImmunoGen's cancer drug compounds in a $30 million deal. The two firms have had a collaborative relationship since 2003. But the new arrangement will give Sanofi exclusive development and manufacturing rights to the four experimental therapies. Sanofi, a diabetes specialist which is now facing increased competition from rivals, has been on a mission to boost its treatment pipeline with new products for diseases that affect a wide swath of patients.

THE BIG PICTURE

An update on Obamacare: Uncertainty still reigns. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) finally released its evaluation of the American Health Care Act, the House GOP's legislation to dismantle Obamacare. The verdict? 23 million Americans would lose health insurance by 2026 relative to current law, according to the independent legislative scoring agency (while reducing deficits by about $119 billion). The new data point is another headache for Senate Republicans who were already wary of the House bill. Senators are attempting to craft their own legislation, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated he's not sure the chamber will muster the 50 votes needed to pass an overhaul, especially in the CBO report's wake. In the meantime, health care industry stakeholders are quietly waiting for a final bill to take form.

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