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Brainstorm Health Daily: June 8, 2017

Greetings, readers. This is Sy.

Human health, while strongly influenced by genetics, is also inextricably intertwined with our environments, socioeconomic realities, and day-to-day behavior. And new research highlights just how much your lot in life can affect medical well-being, including heart health.

Low-income Americans saw no improvements in blood pressure, their risk of heart disease, or a drop in the share of people who smoke between 2011 and 2014 compared with the period running from 1999 to 2004, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Cardiology. That's a far cry from high-income people, who experienced gains across the board.

For instance, the proportion of poorer Americans who had 20% or higher risk of heart disease actually increased in the early 2010s even as it dropped by 2.5 percentage points for the rich. High-income people also experienced a 4-point drop in average systolic blood pressure. Perhaps most concerning is the study's findings that the smoking rate hasn't changed in poor populations; among the rich, it's fallen more than five percentage points.

Earlier research has found that your zip code is one of the strongest indicators of your health, and that regions with more economic inequality have higher rates of chronic illness and worse medical outcomes.

Read on for the day's news.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Woebot launches a chatbot therapist in Facebook Messenger. Woebot Labs has launched what very well may be the world's first digital therapist—a chatbot which uses Facebook Messenger to help patients manage their mental health. The eponymous "Woebot" was created by Stanford psychiatrists and artificial intelligence experts, according to WiRED, and interacts with people through short conversations, questions about their moods, and interactive videos and word games. One big current drawback is privacy, however. Since Woebot functions through Messenger, Facebook would still have access to users' conversations (even if Woebot itself tries to protect the data on its end), which is why the company is trying to raise money for an independent app. The service costs $39 per month. (WiRED)

INDICATIONS

NewLink Genetics shares plunge as Genentech ditches cancer deal. NewLink Genetics' stock price cratered more than 32% in early Thursday trading after Roche arm Genentech told the company it would be returning the rights to NewLink's experimental cancer treatment navoximod. The drug is part of a therapy class called "IDO inhibitors" which are being tested in combination with popular new cancer immunotherapy medicines created by large drug makers. "We are obviously disappointed in this decision,” said Dr. Charles J. Link, Jr., CEO of NewLink Genetics, in a statement. “We remain committed to advancing our IDO pathway inhibitor indoximod, which continues to generate exciting data in combination with anti-PD-1 agents, cancer vaccines, and chemotherapy in multiple cancer types including melanoma, prostate cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, and pancreatic cancer.”

Eli Lilly, looking to revamp pipeline, strikes $55 million deal for diabetes drugs. Eli Lilly is attempting to move on from a number of clinical setbacks in recent years by shoring up its experimental drug pipeline. The U.S. drug giant has ponied up $55 million in upfront cash to KeyBioscience in order to license its type 2 diabetes treatments, which the company hopes can tackle multiple aspects of diabetes such as blood glucose levels and weight loss. (FierceBiotech)

THE BIG PICTURE

Early contours of Senate health bill shares similarities with House-passed AHCA. GOP Senators are aiming to put a health care bill vote on the books by the 4th of July. And the early outlines of the Senate's legislation shares plenty of similarities with the House-passed American Health Care Act, albeit with some important tweaks meant to attract support from moderates. For instance, it wouldn't quite take the hammer to Medicaid to the same extent that the AHCA does, but would faze out Obamacare's expansion of the program nonetheless. The question is, if the Senate does manage to pass a bill, would it be able to coordinate a common compromise with the more conservative-leaning House?

WHO reports polio outbreak in Syria. The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday announced that a number of children in war-torn Syria have contracted polio. These cases aren't of the wild poliovirus variety, however, but rather derived from the oral vaccine used against the pathogen. Political instability and dangerous conditions in Syria have made it difficult to wage a large-scale public health campaign against infectious diseases like polio. (STAT News)

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