Sandro Galea’s latest collection is damn smart—and equally surprising.

By Clifton Leaf and Sy Mukherjee
July 14, 2017

Happy Bastille Day, y’all. In a day when we enshrine rebellion—and liberation, naturellement—I am pleased to celebrate a revolutionary healthcare thinker, and book.

The thinker is Sandro Galea, Dean of the Boston University School of Health. The book is entitled Healthier: Fifty Thoughts on the Foundation of Population Health, which was published by Oxford University Press last month.

What makes this book so radical—and thought-provoking—is its ingenious composition: fifty dart-like essays that shoot to the heart of an equal number of components of public health in the current age. From the modern epidemic of suicide among middle-aged Americans to the lessons we can draw from the undrinkable drinking water in Flint, Michigan, Galea has produced a compendium of teachable surprises.

Most of these ruminations are just a few pages long—the longest are six pages—and nearly all seem to be brimming with eye-opening factoids: “Between 2003 and 2012, natural disasters killed an average of 106,654 people per year.” (A shockingly large number to me.) There are “300 definitions” for the word “culture.” (Who knew?)

But the statistics are mere kindling to Galea, a means for starting a fire of argument and ideas. Take those natural disasters. As horrific as the tolls from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy—or those from the tsunamis in Japan (2011) and the Indian Ocean (2004)—were, Galea reveals how the social context in each affected region transformed the population’s health, in ways good and bad, for years afterward.

A clear and incisive writer, Galea seems ever to be connecting things: linking handwashing to courage; or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 to the ongoing civil war in Syria. (The connective tissue in the latter, as readers discover, is the role human empathy plays in the public response to the tragedy.) There are ample footnotes to these short essays, but the writing is anything but academic. Galea, a physician and epidemiologist by training, is quick-to-the-point and unflinching—even brutal, at times, in his directness, particularly in the chapterettes on firearms, substance abuse, and incarceration.

The inescapable thesis that emerges from these 50 “thoughts,” as Galea frames them, is that our own individual health and longevity—as private as that destiny may seem—is connected to the broader public’s well-being in ways unseen and surprising. Health culture (there’s that word) is a shared resource, like water and air. And Galea’s latest book is one that’s eminently worth sharing as well.

Before we get to the day’s news, though, I have a favor to ask of each of you: If you would, please take a brief moment to fill out the reader survey in THIS LINK. No, it’s nothing personal, political, or privacy-invading in any way. It’s about THIS very newsletter, Brainstorm Health Daily. I would simply like to know whether you like receiving it, what you like best about it, what you’d like more of/less of, and so on. So please do take a minute or two to fill it out. (Thank you!)

Enjoy your weekend. The news is below.

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

DIGITAL HEALTH

Google’s life sciences unit is releasing 20 million machine-reared, bacteria-infected mosquitoes into Fresno. You read that sentence correctly. Verily, the life sciences arm of Google umbrella firm Alphabet, is about to release some 20 million mosquitoes into the Fresno, California region. No, it’s not mad science—it’s an effort to combat the Zika virus scourge. These mosquitoes were specially raised and infected with bacteria called Wolbachia which are harmless to humans (besides, the male mosquitoes don’t bite anyways). But when these mosquitoes, which are of the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti variety, mate with females, they produce non-viable eggs. And that means, over time, a diminished population of the pests which carry Zika and other pathogens.

Mayo Clinic, nference to launch AI-fueled drug discovery company. The Mayo Clinic is getting into the digital drug development game. Alongside partner nference (an AI platform company whose stated goal is “automated extraction of knowledge from the commercial, scientific and regulatory body of literature”), the organizations are launching a new firm called Qrativ with the help of $8.3 million in Series A financing. This company will initially focus on rare diseases and conditions where there aren’t a whole lot of options for patients. The basic hope is that nference’s deep learning tech, combined with the giant swaths of medical data that the Mayo Clinic has, can help pinpoint the existing drugs that may hold the most potential for rare disease patients. I’ll have more on this approach to drug development shortly.


INDICATIONS

Johnson & Johnson scores a major approval for its psoriasis drug. The Food and Drug Administration delivered a boon to U.S. drug giant Johnson & Johnson on Thursday, approving the company’s psoriasis treatment Tremfya (a psoriasis drug that analysts say could wring in billions of dollars in annual sales). The psoriasis field is among the most lucrative (if not the most lucrative) in biopharma, thanks to a combination of a massive patient pool and the ways in which these treatments can extend to somewhat related immune and inflammatory conditions, like arthritis and Crohn’s disease. Drug titans like AbbVie, Eli Lilly, and Novartis are all major players in the space. The question now is if J&J can steal away significant market share from those firms, particularly from newer products like Novartis’ Cosentyx.

GSK nabs Pfizer exec Tony Wood. Tony Wood, the senior vice president of medicinal sciences at Pfizer, is taking up a new gig at British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline, FiercePharma reports. He’ll serve as the company’s SVP for platform technology and science. It’s the latest chapter in a series of major changes at GSK after the departure of its former chief executive, Sir Andrew Witty, and the nascent tenure of new CEO Emma Walmsley. (FiercePharma)


THE BIG PICTURE

Why the Senate’s latest health care bill could still be a tough slog. The Senate released another version of its health care legislation to undo Obamacare on Thursday. Predictions are gambles that have a way of failing. But, on first glance, it appears that the new draft bill won’t do much to change the Congressional Budget Office’s initial assessments that tens of millions of people would lose coverage and that costs would spike substantially for people who are old, poor, or sick (or all three). There’s some new funding for opioid addiction treatments and several Obamacare taxes are kept in place; but an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, included in the latest bill, could also wreak havoc in the individual insurance marketplace, according to experts and the insurance industry itself (note: this amendment is so complicated that several prominent health wonks are openly admitting they don’t know what its full implications are). (Fortune)

Medicare gets a solvency upgrade from its trustees. Here’s one bit that may have been buried under the avalanche of health care news that came out this week: the latest Medicare Trustees’ report projects that Medicare will become insolvent by 2029. Sounds bad, right? Actually, that’s a one-year improvement over last year’s report. The assessment also means that Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board won’t be activated to propose cuts to the program for the elderly and disabled. But don’t break out the champagne quite yet. “Notwithstanding recent favorable developments, current-law projections indicate that Medicare still faces a substantial financial shortfall that will need to be addressed with further legislation,” the report notes. “Such legislation should be enacted sooner rather than later to minimize the impact on beneficiaries, providers, and taxpayers.” (Becker’s Hospital Review)


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