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Here’s to the Problem-Solvers

November 3, 2016, 7:04 PM UTC

It is all too easy to fall into a pattern of problem-seeing. In a universe beset by entropy, we are ever confronted with stuff that’s breaking down, falling apart, or just never worked. And so it’s a rare treat to spend two days with brilliant and passionate people who aren’t so much fixated on problem-seeing as they are on problem-solving.

That’s what Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference felt like to me. My colleagues and I had built the two-day event in San Diego as a gathering of digital health revolutionaries. But what emerged on the stage, and in breakout sessions, and in the coffee-bar conversations in between, wasn’t a rebellion so much as it was a commitment to fixing and doing. The scale wasn’t always monumental, but the need to solve the discrete problems at hand invariably felt essential.

Krista Donaldson, of D-Rev, showed how one $80, high-performance artificial knee joint can transform a life—and it has already given new mobility to more than 7,000 amputees in some of the poorest of countries. Angela Baker of Qualcomm Wireless Reach and Asa Nordgren of Trice Imaging demonstrated how a portable ultrasound device—that can send scanned images into the cloud from virtually anywhere—can enable pregnant women in remote areas to be “seen” by a doctor.

“Every day, around the world,” said Baker, “800 women die from preventable causes that are related to pregnancy and childbirth—90% of them live in the developing world.” Fixable crisis? Got it. Enter two fixers.

Adam Gazzaley, a professor in neurology, physiology, and psychiatry at UCSF, showed how a clever video game—now in clinical trials—might be used to improve cognitive ability. “If you challenge the brain on multitasking, you can see improvements in other aspects of what we call cognitive control: attention and working memory,” he told the Brainstorm Health audience. Other games, he said, might diagnose or treat people with PTSD and traumatic brain injury, depression, and early Alzheimer’s disease. Said Gazzeley: “Instead of a doctor pulling out a prescription pad and only writing drugs, the idea would be that he could prescribe like six weeks of iPad play and be able to monitor that remotely.” Who said medicine has to taste bad?

I’ll offer a few more conference takeaways tomorrow. But then, it may be more fun watching it yourself—which you can do on Fortune’s YouTube channel.

More news below.

Clifton Leaf


These three futuristic health sensors could save lives. During one of Brainstorm Health's most intriguing demonstrations, a host of health entrepreneurs showed off the types of low-cost devices that could transform care in developed and developing nations alike by providing low-cost, cloud-connected, personalized care. A trio of demonstrated devices included a cheap, mobile ultrasound machine that could be particularly useful in rural regions; an air quality sensor which can report potential toxins in the air for cheaper than the types of devices the government currently uses; and a digital health necklace for babies that contains their patient histories so that medical providers can make sure they're up to date on things like their vaccinations. Make sure to check out the video of the demonstrations. (Fortune)

Doctors work on their "webside manner" as telemedicine rises. We all know about bedside manner. But what about "webside manner?" The latter is becoming an increasingly relevant issue for physicians as digital doctor visits spike in popularity. In fact, One Medical mobile chief Suneel Gupta says that his company's customers use the digital health tech around 30 times a week. And Hill Ferguson, CEO of  the telemedicine firm Doctor on Demand, said that some doctors still have a long way to go to get their etiquette right when it comes to communicating with a patient via Skype or text during Fortune's Brainstorm Health conference on Wednesday. (Fortune)

Will big data cure cancer? Data is often heralded as a panacea for the notoriously inefficient U.S. health system's ills. But it's going to take a while before the medical industry can harness the power of information to tackle massive undertakings such as curing cancer, according to one expert who would know a thing or two about the issue. "Big data is the big yellow object that everyone is in love with. But we still live in an information scarce medical world," says Greg Simon, who's the executive director of the Obama administration's ambitious Cancer Moonshot Taskforce. Simon says that there's been some promising initial progress in data-sharing through the administration's new Genomic Data Commons national database, but there's still plenty of work to be done seeing as even something as simple as accessing your own medical records can be a major pain in the neck. (Fortune)

A video game that could help treat brain disorders. Could ADHD, PTSD, and Alzheimer's patients' brains benefit from a video game? It's been a popular area of focus for a host of tech and biopharma companies looking to make inroads in some of the toughest-to-treat neurological conditions. And Dr. Adam Gazzaley says that his "NeuroRacer" video game, which aims to boost patients' coordination and multi-tasking skills, has shown some promise in boosting cognitive power in early studies. (Fortune)


Sales of Gilead's blockbuster hep C drugs keep falling. Gilead became a simultaneous industry villain and hero with the advent of its revolutionary (but expensive) hepatitis C treatments Sovaldi and Harvoni, which marked the first bona fide HCV cure. But the company's vaunted hep C franchise, which brought in staggering sales as recently as 2014, is continuing to take a financial beating (to the tune of a 31% decline) thanks to pricing pressures in the U.S. and rival options from competitors like Merck. That's led some analysts to question when Gilead will finally make the mid-range acquisition that it's been hinting at for more than a year—but chief executive John Milligan is still in no rush to announce a major move. "You don't want the sense of urgency to overwhelm your discipline because then you'll do things that don't make long-term sense," Milligan said during the company’s latest earnings call. "And that's been the history in all businesses, and that's one we apply here. So we're currently very, very active. We'll do things when they make sense for us and not before then." (FiercePharma)

Glaxo CEO Witty explains how big pharma can help the poor and still make money. GlaxoSmithKline took the number one spot in Fortune's Change the World list this year thanks in part to outgoing chief Sir Andrew Witty's dedication to providing fair drug prices to the world's "other six billion." And on Wednesday, he doubled down on the strategy, rejecting the notion that GSK's tiered pricing is anything akin to charity. In fact, says Witty, it's a smart business model because, despite delivering relatively small margins on treatments like vaccines in certain poor nations, the affordable pricing model guarantees a constant volume of sales. (Fortune)

Express Scripts CMO thinks drug price regulation is a "bad idea." Pharmacy benefits giant Express Scripts has become a biopharma gadfly over the last several years thanks to its aggressive tactic of challenging drug makers' high-priced treatments. The firm has refused to cover certain expensive therapies on its formulary in a challenge to the drug industry. But that doesn't mean that Express Scripts is rooting for even more aggressive proposals like direct drug price regulation through a move to single payer. “It’s a bad idea right now,” says Steve Miller, the firm's CMO, adding that at some point there may have to be painful tradeoffs between offering reimbursements for every therapy in order to expand choice and controlling costs. (Fortune)


Your complete Fortune Brainstorm Health 2016 coverage guide. From an IBM Watson demo on cancer care to the changing face of clinical trials to a Sanjay Gupta-moderated discussion on the types of innovations that could transform the treatment of pain (and mitigate the opioid drug overdose epidemic), make sure to catch up on all of our Brainstorm Health coverage and videos here. (Fortune)

Sleepy teens are getting a worse education. On Tuesday, Arianna Huffington told Brainstorm Health attendees that having workers get seven to nine hours of sleep is critical to boosting productivity and improving companies' bottom lines. And yet another study confirms her thesis about the importance of rest for keeping your brain sharp. Teens who don't get sufficient sleep don't learn as effectively at school and also have trouble keeping their emotions in check, according to new research published in the journal Pediatrics. (NPR, Fortune)

Herbalife CEO's departure could be a body blow to the company. My Fortune colleague Roger Parloff has a thoughtful argument on why HerbaLife chief executive Michael Johnson's decision to step down from his perch next year could be terrible timing for a firm that's been on a legal roller coaster (one that ended with a $200 million settlement with the FTC that still isn't quite a done deal). "Whatever one thinks of the morality of Herbalife’s business model—before or after the settlement—Johnson’s charisma and rapport with a wide range of people was vital to performing some of the unusual tasks that an Herbalife CEO is called upon to perform," writes Parloff. (Fortune)

Correction: The November 2 issue of Brainstorm Health Daily mistakenly labeled a panel on the proper way to approach vaccine development as focusing on antibiotic development.


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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