By Clifton Leaf and Sy Mukherjee
August 3, 2017

Good morning, readers! This is Sy.

As far as groundbreaking developments go, there are few technologies that have captured the life science world’s imagination like CRISPR, the gene-editing tool that holds promise in everything from treating sickle cell disease to sussing out appropriate gene targets in the fight against HIV. Now, U.S. scientists have reached a new milestone in CRISPR development, successfully modifying embryos to cut out defective genetic code that would have caused an inherited disease.

A study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday outlines the process used by researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, and Korea’s Institute for Basic Science. To be clear, this isn’t the first time that CRISPR has been tested in a non-animal setting—last year, Chinese scientists launched the first known trials in humans.

But the new embryo experiments were striking for both their efficacy and a lack of adverse events like mutations in other parts of the embryos’ genomes. “We have demonstrated the possibility to correct mutations in a human embryo in a safe way and with a certain degree of efficiency,” said the Salk Institute’s Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, who co-authored the Nature study.

The achievement is already drawing some controversy. Bioethicists have questioned whether or not modifying embryos—even for the purposes of preventing a disease’s spread—could foster a slipper slope. “Editing human embryos with CRISPR should be a long way off,” as J. Craig Venter, co-founder of Human Longevity, Inc and a genome expert, put it during Fortune‘s Brainstorm Health conference in May. “Not something we do next week.”

That’s part of the reason why the U.S. researchers took up the recommendations of an ethic committee which concluded that “with significant oversight and continued dialogue, the use of gene correction technologies in human embryos for the purpose of answering basic science questions needed to evaluate germline gene correction prior to the use in human models” was acceptable.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Microsoft tests eye control for Windows 10 users with disabilities. Tech giant Microsoft is testing out a feature that would allow users to control the Windows 10 operating system using just their eyes. The aptly dubbed Eye Control technology would sense where a user is looking at the screen with the help of cameras and allow them to manipulate the on-screen mouse and keyboard and use the Windows 10 text-to-speech feature. Microsoft specifically cited ALS, the progressive degenerative disease that killed actor and playwright Sam Shepard last week, as one of the conditions that inspired the tech. (Fortune)

Fitbit outlines its smartwatch ambitions. Fitbit CEO James Park has outlined the release window and some of the features of the company’s next major product, a smartwatch built on some technology from Pebble. The watch will be available in time for the holiday season and continue the health and fitness focus of Fitbit’s other products. What’s left to be seen is whether it can help lift the company after recent struggles with a volatile wearables market. (Fortune)

Another big Shark Tank for med tech. As Cliff noted earlier this week, there are a whole bunch of Shark Tank-style competitions for health care. Add one more to the list: MedTech Innovator, which is now in its fifth year. “I’d say we combine some of the best features of Shark Tank and American Idol. Our sharks are senior executives and investors from the leading players in our industry, hailing from companies like Johnson & Johnson, Baxter, BD, and Olympus,” MedTech Innovator CEO Paul Grand tells Fortune. “They are the selection judges who listen to the pitches and decide which companies will advance. In total, we had over 160 judges involved in narrowing down the applicants this year.” The finals for the competition will be held in San Jose on September 26 during the MedTech Conference.


INDICATIONS

Teva shares tank following worse-than-expected second quarter results. Shares of generic drug giant Teva sunk a staggering 18% in early Thursday trading after the company announced worse-than-expected financials in an earnings update. Interestingly enough, CEO Yitzhak Peterburg specifically blamed increased competition in the generic market as a result of more FDA drug approvals as a reason for its sales slump. (CNBC)

FDA panel rejects J&J arthritis drug. An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended against approving sirukumab, an experimental treatment for rheumatoid arthritis that the U.S. biopharma firm had hoped could one day become a blockbuster drug. The expert panel was wary of safety issues with the treatment, including a spike in deaths in clinical trial participants given the therapy. (Reuters)


THE BIG PICTURE

Governors urge Obamacare insurer payments, market stabilization as states get a legal reprieve. A federal appeals court ruled this week that Democratic attorneys general can join in a lawsuit that’s attempting to nix federal payments to insurance companies that help lower poor Americans’ out-of-pocket costs. Effectively, that means that the suit can go on even if the Trump administration decides to drop the case and allow a previous court ruling declaring the payments illegal to stand. And that’s a slight relief for insurers, who would likely have to substantially raise premiums or drop out of the markets without the payments. Still, Trump has the authority to stop the payments, which he calls “bailouts,” and has threatened to do just that. Meanwhile, a bipartisan coalition of governors are urging the White House and Congress to keep the payments going and to work to shore up Obamacare’s markets.


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