The 60th Annual Loeb Awards showcased some amazing health reporting.

By Clifton Leaf and Sy Mukherjee
June 28, 2017

The 60th Annual Gerald Loeb Awards were held last night in lower Manhattan. The awards, which honor the best business and financial journalism of the previous year, are the biz media’s version of the Oscars…except our swag bag contained only books.

The FORTUNE team was there to celebrate two of our own: Erika Fry and Nick Varchaver. Erika was a finalist for her sprawling tale of Nestle’s calamitous response to a food-safety crisis with its monumentally popular instant-noodle packages in India. If the story, aptly titled “Hot Mess,” sounds crazy, it is—which makes it a very fun read. And Nick received the prestigious Lawrence Minard Editor award, which honors not just one story, but rather a career’s worth of exceptional (and, too often, unsung) work. There is simply no one better on Earth at crafting a long-form magazine piece than Nick, and it was great fun to see him fêted.

But I bring up the Loebs not just to celebrate my two praise-worthy colleagues, but also to point out that no less than seven of the Loeb finalists this year were for stories about health. This is a clear departure from previous year’s, when only a smattering were.

A team at Bloomberg News won the Loeb award in explanatory journalism for their series on “Superbug Spreaders,” which traced how antibiotic-laden livestock are fueling a plague of drug-resistant microbes through the global food chain. In the Investigative category, the Chicago Tribune won for its series, “Dangerous Doses,” which demonstrated how often pharmacists dispense potentially deadly combinations of medicines without warning. (Earlier this year, I wrote a post about some overlooked factors that contribute to this problem.) The Los Angeles Times also got a nod for its reporting on the painkiller OxyContin, and how it became so widely abused. The epidemic spread of painkillers, in this case in the state of West Virginia, was also the subject of a Loeb-nominated series by Eric Eyre, of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, who won the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year. A team of reporters at the Detroit News got a nod for their exposé of dirty medical instruments being used at the Detroit Medical Center. CBS News’ “60 Minutes” was recognized for their reporting on failures in the protective gowns and gear worn by health personnel fighting on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak.

And lastly, two colleagues at MONEY magazine—Taylor Tepper and Elizabeth O’Brien—took home the Loeb prize for their powerful and important series on “The High Cost of Coping.” These truly outstanding reporters dove into the often-overwhelming financial burden that can fall to those trying to treat a mental illness, where patients and their families bear a staggering 16% of the total cost of treatment on average.

Last night’s Loeb Awards were one more reminder of the centrality of health in our lives, in business, and in the economy at large. And one reminder as well that it takes a league of dedicated reporters to reveal the sometimes-ugly truth about our healthcare system—a truth that many would rather hide.

More news below.

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

DIGITAL HEALTH

A microneedle patch could become the new way to take your flu shot. A human clinical trial has found, for the first time, that a patch armed with microneedles could be just as effective as a traditional vaccination when it comes to taking your flu shot. About 100 of these tiny little needles can actually deliver a vaccine dose for three influenza strains. The convenience factor and lack of a needle could, the researchers hope, help bolster America’s abysmal flu vaccination rate. (Los Angeles Times)

Anthem settles data breach suit for $115 million. Insurance giant Anthem settled the class action lawsuit against it over a historic 2015 data breach which led to the exposure of 80 million medical records. The proposed price tag? $115 million, which would be a record. The settlement, which would cover costs such as credit monitoring for breach victims, still has to be settled by a judge. “[W]e are pleased to be putting this litigation behind us, and to be providing additional substantial benefits to individuals whose data was or may have been involved in the cyberattack and who will now be members of the settlement class,” said an Anthem spokesperson in a statement. (CNET)


INDICATIONS

Kenya becomes first African nation to use a generic of a current AIDS drug. Under a collaboration between Kenya’s government and the Unitaid nonprofit global health initiative, the crucial HIV medication dolutegravir will be made available as a generic drug in the country. And other African nations with high HIV rates, such as Nigeria and Uganda, will follow suit. As ABC News reports, there are about 1.5 million people in Kenya living with HIV. (ABC News)

Another biotech IPO: Mersana. Mersana Therapeutics has completed a $75 million initial public offering, the latest in a string of recent biotech IPOs. The company, like many in the biopharma field, is focusing on antibody drug conjugates for cancer. These sorts of compounds can better target cancer cells without damaging healthy ones, making them safer than traditional chemotherapy.


THE BIG PICTURE

More than 100 people have ended their lives under California’s right-to-die law. California became the sixth state to enact a right-to-die law in 2016 (Washington, D.C. also allows doctor-assisted deaths). And the state reveals that 111 terminally ill people have used the new law to legally end their lives during the End of Life Option’s first six months in effect. The vast majority, 58.6%, had terminal cancer diagnoses. Other types of patients included those suffering from ALS, Parkinson’s, and different progressive degenerative disorders. (USA Today)

The Senate could still pass its health care bill. Senate leaders dramatically pulled their health care legislation on Tuesday after it became clear that it didn’t have the votes to pass (shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the decision, a slew of previously-mum Senators including Kansas’ revealed their opposition to the bill in its current form). McConnell had hoped to hold a vote before the upcoming 4th of July holiday. But just because the vote has been delayed doesn’t mean the legislation is dead. Several changes, such as adding more funding for rural hospitals and opioid treatment, could sway reluctant Senators, as could changed to the bill’s huge cuts to Medicaid. (Fortune)


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