Skip to Content

Is Your Company Committed to Being “Healthy”?

Consider what your company does for a moment. Does it make or sell something, or provide a service, that promotes health, safety, better nutrition, or wellness in its users? Feel free to think broadly here: Your company doesn’t have to manufacture meds or sell organic yams to qualify. If it makes comfy mattresses that help people sleep better, for instance—or builds software that keeps trains running on time, and therefore lowers commuter stress—consider it a yes.

Next, does it put a premium on its employees’ well-being? Here, think about not just the health plan it offers, but also the general work practices and culture at your job. Question 3: Does your company make a point (or seem to, anyway) of contributing to the broader community’s health? In this case, consider not so much the products or services it sells as the other ways it participates in the neighborhood and world around it. And finally, does it seem to pay attention to its affect on the environment, and try to lessen any negative impact?

Those four questions are at the core of a fascinating (and slim) new book, Building a Culture of Health: A New Imperative for Business, by John Quelch and Emily Boudreau—which grew out of a conference of the same name held in April at Harvard Business School and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stronger the “yeses” are to those questions—that is to say, the more they reflect your company’s engagement in the wellness of others—the more robust your company’s “culture of health.” And, importantly, companies with robustly healthful cultures reap other, more quantifiable benefits, too. A raft of evidence—which Quelch, who holds dual professorships at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Boudreau, an HBS researcher, helpfully compile and aggressively footnote—suggests that they may have lower healthcare costs overall, less absenteeism, better employee retention, fewer workplace injuries, stronger growth, improved corporate reputations, and even mightier stock performance.

Take the last of these. Earlier this year, researchers published an academic study examining the long-term stock performance of companies that had won the Corporate Health Achievement Award, an annual prize that the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has bestowed since 1996. In every scenario they back-tested, various portfolios of CHAA–winning companies substantially outperformed the returns of the S&P from 2001 to 2014—often by 200 percentage points or more.

Chief financial officers, take note.

More news below.

Clifton Leaf


Chinese scientists may have set off a new ‘space race’ after launching the first CRISPR trial in humans. The biopharma world went into a bit of a frenzy on Tuesday as Nature reported that a team of Chinese scientists had become the first in the world to launch human trials of the groundbreaking CRISPR gene-editing technology. Immune cells modified by CRISPR-Cas9 were inserted into a lung cancer patient at the West China Hospital in Chengdu in the hopes that they’ll be able to fight tumors, and 10 people total will receive injections of CRISPR re-engineered cells in order to assess the method’s safety. That puts China well ahead of the U.S. in launching CRISPR trials; the first one in America, which will be conducted at the University of Pennsylvania and is being funded by tech billionaire Sean Parker, isn’t set to begin until early 2017. But cancer immunotherapy expert Dr. Carl June believes that this could foster a positive rivalry. “I think this is going to trigger ‘Sputnik 2.0’, a biomedical duel on progress between China and the United States, which is important since competition usually improves the end product,” he told Nature. (Fortune)

GE Healthcare and UCSF want to use machine learning to speed up medical data analysis. GE Healthcare and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) announced a collaboration on Tuesday that aims to use machine learning algorithms to “help radiologists make more effective, accurate and faster diagnosis across a variety of specialties,” the groups announced. GE notes that radiologists’ error rate in x-ray based diagnoses can range from 35% to 50%; the hope is that the eight machine deep learning algorithms being deployed as part of the partnership can help bring that figure down significantly by more accurately analyzing the medical data. I’ll have more on GE Healthcare’s health analytics ambitions this week.

Walgreens, Theranos aren’t mincing words in their fiery breach of contact suit. More details have emerged from Walgreens’ contentious $140 million lawsuit against beleaguered blood testing startup Theranos, and they underscore a legal battle that is likely to be vicious. Court documents show that Walgreens believes Theranos misled the pharmacy giant over the course of their now-scuttled collaboration, in which Walgreens offered Theranos’ proprietary diagnostic tests across 40 “Wellness Centers” across California and Arizona. Among the more interesting revelations in the documents? Walgreens claims it only learned that Theranos had to void the results of thousands of those tests (more than 10% of them, in fact) through media reports, and that the Elizabeth Holmes-run outfit didn’t divulge those details to Walgreens until June. Theranos has shot back that it’s actually Walgreens which hasn’t lived up to its side of the bargain. (Fortune)

This company wants to use drones to deliver medical supplies. Zipline, a drone startup, has snatched $25 million in a funding round that will help the firm deliver blood to patients who need transfusions. And the company’s ambitions are considerably larger than that: one day, Zipline hopes that it can also deliver medicines and vaccines to areas that need them. CEO Keller Rinaudo says this type of technology is critical since the “inability to deliver life-saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year.” Zipline reportedly aims to begin deliveries in the U.S. within the next six months. (Healthcare IT News)


The next-gen cholesterol drug wars are heating up. The ongoing American Heart Association (AHA) meeting in New Orleans is producing a deluge of data—including some promising prospects for a class of next-generation cholesterol drugs that have been slow to take off so far in the U.S. So-called PCSK9 inhibitors have shown tremendous efficacy in lowering LDL-C, or “bad” cholesterol. In fact, Amgen’s Repatha and Sanofi’s Praluent, the first of these types of treatments to win approval in the U.S., reduced LDL cholesterol by as much as 60% in clinical trials. But they’ve been hampered by somewhat skeptical physicians who still aren’t sure that the drugs are worth their price (their topline costs are around $14,000 per treatment course); part of the problem is that it’s unclear whether or not those dramatic cholesterol reductions actually translate into broader health outcomes like a reduced risk of stroke or heart attack in heart disease patients. Now, there’s at least one data point to suggest they might: Amgen’s Repatha was shown to strip out dangerous arterial plaque in 64% of patients in a trial. But despite the good news, the first-comers to the market could also be facing competition down the line—the Medicines Co. and partner Alnylam unveiled their own experimental PCSK9 drug data showing a durable reduction in LDL cholesterol that lasts as long as 6 months after just one or two injections, a considerably more convenient dosing schedule than Repatha’s or Praluent’s. (Bloomberg)

Carl Icahn has sold off $700 million worth of Allergan shares. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn has been dumping his large stake in pharma giant Allergan. In fact, he owned just about $98 million worth of Allergan shares as of September, compared with nearly $800 million at the end of June. It’s unclear exactly why Icahn diminished his stake so much, although worries over the strength of biotech stocks and the market in general might explain the move. But it’ll be interesting to see whether Icahn revisits his decision in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential victory, which sent biotech and pharma stocks soaring (though those gains may well be short-lived). (Wall Street Journal)

Three biopharma giants jockey for market share in psoriatic arthritis with new data. The inflammatory drug space for conditions like plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondilitis, and others is among the most lucrative in the world, with flagship products such as AbbVie’s Humira (the best-selling drug globally) and Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade making up some of big pharma’s most successful drugs by sales. It isn’t surprising that these therapies are so popular: psoriasis is an extremely common condition in the U.S. and abroad. But Novartis, Celgene, and Pfizer are now duking it in the psoriatic arthritis space, unveiling positive clinical trial data for inflammatory drugs Cosentyx, Otezla, and Xeljanz (respectively) during the American College of Rheumatology’s (ACR) annual meeting. The play for psoriatic arthritis indications makes sense because it would add some depth to the companies’ market penetration in the psoriasis-related disease space, which already has plenty of available options. (FiercePharma)


The men who might run healthcare in Donald Trump’s America. Rep. Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon and Georgia Republican who became an early supporter of President-elect Donald Trump, is among the top prospects being considered to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the new administration, according to Politico. He joins a list of very different reported candidates including former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (who was a top HHS official in the George W. Bush administration) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. All of these men are united in Trump’s loudest message on healthcare policy, aka dismantling Obamacare (although Trump has hedged on a full repeal since his election), but could be very different types of Secretaries. For instance, Gingrich is a strong advocate for funding scientific research and has even endorsed doubling the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. (Fortune)

Some heroin users request involuntary commitment. In a sobering report, NPR highlights the depths to which some Americans addicted to opioids will go in order to try and get clean, including seeking out involuntary commitment for substance abuse. The addicts can’t actually ask a judge to imprison them—but they can have a relative, probation officer, or doctor ask a judge to commit them for their own good and decline to protest such a request. One man who’s used the tactic explained the rationale to NPR. “If I don’t do this, I’m going to lose my freedom eventually anyway,” he said. “Eventually, I’m going to get enough charges to the point where I go to jail anyway.” (NPR)

Teva sets aside $520 million to resolve overseas bribery probe. Pharmaceutical giant Teva is getting ready to fork over as much as $520 million to settle charges that it may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in countries like Russia, Mexico, and Ukraine. The investigation into the possible bribing of medical providers was launched by the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice in 2012, and a follow-up internal investigation by Teva turned up enough concerns that the company feels it may have have to pay a substantial fine. As STAT News points out, foreign bribery charges are pretty common among large biopharma companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb. (STAT News)


The 2017 Fortune Crystal Ballby Fortune Staff

Google Adds Artificial Intelligence Hotshots to Lead New Data Crunching Teamby Jonathan Vanian

These Are the Most Popular Employers and Jobs for 2016 College Gradsby Kia Kokalitcheva

Inside America’s Newest Digital Crime Labby Jeff John Roberts and Robert Hackett

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

Find past coverage. Sign up for other Fortune newsletters.