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Brainstorm Health Daily: February 17, 2017

February 17, 2017, 7:21 PM UTC

I’ve spent this morning and yesterday at the Lake Nona Impact Forum in Orlando—listening and taking part in some really thoughtful conversations about how to transform our American “sick care” system into one focused on health preservation.

And maybe I’m playing favorites—well, sure I’m playing favorites—but I was especially partial to the conversation I had with Sandi Peterson, Johnson & Johnson’s Group Worldwide Chairman. (J&J is the lead sponsor of the forum, which is now in its fifth year.)

Peterson, one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business, oversees the company’s litany of iconic consumer businesses (everything from Band-Aid to Listerine to Tylenol), which together pull in some $20 billion in annual sales—and, as if that isn’t enough, she’s also responsible for J&J’s global operating infrastructure (supply chain, IT, quality control), plus several new enterprise initiatives (insert dizzying list here), and yeah, I’m forgetting stuff too.

I mention these résumé line items because, well, Sandi—and this is true every time I’ve seen her—looks both preternaturally relaxed and yet seemingly ready at a moment’s notice to run the 400-meter dash. Others have noticed this, too. In the feature story my colleague Erika Fry wrote about J&J in July, she said of Peterson: “you get the sense, within seconds of meeting her, that she gets shit done.”

What you might ask is the secret to this exec’s focus and equilibrium? Here, dear Daily readers, are three components:

1. Exercise. Peterson is a near-daily gym-goer—though she has lately been singing the praises of exercise “microbouts.” The idea is that if you interrupt your hours of deskbound sedation with occasional bursts of physical activity—even five minutes every hour—you can get a surprising share of the benefits you’d have gotten if you visited the gym everyday. (J&J has been funding research studies in this, I should point out.)

2. Balance. She needs—and typically makes sure she gets—seven hours of sleep a night. She shuts off her phone on Saturdays: “If someone really needs to reach me, they will,” Peterson says. And my favorite line: “People take vacations in Europe—they take those vacations very seriously. And y’know what? The world goes on.”

And 3. She doesn’t try to do it all herself. “Honestly, my secret is I pick really, really good people around me,” she says. “I don’t need to spend hours in meetings because I can have a two-minute conversation with a colleague who is pretty damn smart and who knows how to get the job done. And, if he needs my help on something, he’ll let me know.”

Some Friday food for thought, eh? Enjoy the weekend.

More news below.

Clifton Leaf


Gene therapy pioneer uniQure plots its next moves. uniQure hasn't exactly had an easy go of things after becoming the first-ever company to win a gene therapy approval in the Western world. The firm's treatment, Glybera, has barely been prescribed at all thanks to a $1 million-plus price tag. But uniQure is still forging ahead on a number of developmental programs that it hopes will have better luck and broader market appeal, the firm said during Leerink's health care conference. The gene therapy maker is getting ready to move AMT-060, a gene therapy for the blood clotting disorder hemophilia B, into later stage trials. It's also preparing to advance to preclinical assets (one for Huntington's disease and the other for heart failure in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb) into the early clinical setting. But on the more advanced hemophilia front, uniQure is racing against Spark Therapeutics, which is also working on a hemophilia B gene therapy and may win the first-ever gene therapy approval in the U.S. as early as this year. (FierceBiotech)

The CRISPR patent ruling has been very good to Editas. As Cliff reported yesterday, a U.S. patent appeals board has sided with the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT (and against U.C. Berkeley) in a heavyweight biotech IP battle centering on the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique. And that's already fueling a surge of investor interest in the biotech companies affiliated with the winning academic institutions. For example, shares of Editas, which had 2016' s first IPO, have spiked more than 38% since the ruling came down on Wednesday. That's a sharp reversal from last spring, when the newly public company's stock was cratering in the face of the impending patent-related court proceedings. Both Intellia Therapeutics and CRISPR Therapeutics, which are on the other side of the dispute, saw their shares tank in the hours after the ruling before recovering by the end of the day as the firms (and U.C. Berkeley) continued to voice optimism about their ability to capitalize on CRISPR therapies.

Theranos is facing a major cash crunch. Theranos is trying mighty hard to shed its sketchy image with an entirely new business model and feature product. But the hits just keep on coming for the Silicon Valley blood testing startup. The latest? The firm reportedly had just $200 million in cash on hand at the end of 2016, according to the Wall Street Journal. What puts Theranos in a particularly precarious position is the smattering of lawsuits that it's currently facing, including by former partner Walgreens. A ruling in favor plaintiffs in those cases would be a devastating blow to the company with such little cash on hand. Theranos reportedly did not make any material revenue in 2015 or 2016. (Wall Street Journal)


AstraZeneca shares spike on promising cancer drug data. British pharma giant AstraZeneca's stock spiked about 1.7% in Friday morning trading after the company announced promising topline data for cancer drug Lynparza. The treatment is part of a cancer therapy class called "PARP inhibitors" that's been effective in breast and ovarian cancers. Lynparza is currently approved for ovarian cancer; but AstraZeneca's new late-stage trial data demonstrated statistically significant superiority to standard of care chemotherapy in a type of breast cancer, where the company is trying to win an indication. Shares of AstraZeneca rival Tesaro, which is working on its own experimental PARP inhibitor called niraparib, also jumped about 1.6%, signaling optimism for the drug class as a whole.


What we learned from Seema Verma's Congressional testimony. Seema Verma, President Donald Trump's choice to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), testified before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. Verma is known for her experience planning out conservative alternatives to health care safety net programs, including Indiana's unique Medicaid expansion system. So, unsurprisingly, a decent share of her testimony centered on Medicaid, which the GOP leaders have said they wish to block grant. "The Medicaid program as a status quo is not acceptable," she said. "I'm endorsing the Medicaid system being changed to make it better for the people relying on it," adding, "whether that's a block grant or per capita cap, there are many ways we can get there." Verma declined to endorse other big entitlement changes, however, such as turning Medicare into a voucher system. But she did say that maternity care shouldn't be a mandatory benefit provided by insurance plans. "[S]ome women might not choose that," she told Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow (Obamacare requires health plans to provide this coverage). If confirmed, Verma will oversee Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare. (TIME)

UnitedHealth accused of bilking Medicare in lawsuit. Insurance giant UnitedHealth is engaged in a whistleblower suit which has now been joined by the Justice Department, according to documents unsealed on Thursday. The suit was initiated by former UnitedHealth executive Benjamin Phoeling five years ago but was sealed as the DOJ investigated his claims that the firm regularly over-billed the Medicare program for the elderly by claiming plan holders were sicker than they actually were. UnitedHealth is denying the allegations. "We reject these more than five-year-old claims and will contest them vigorously," said a company spokesperson in a statement. (Fortune)

Trump will reportedly press on with a "vaccine safety" commission. President Donald Trump will persist in creating a controversial new "vaccine safety" commission despite massive opposition from public health experts and the pharmaceutical industry, according to Robert Kennedy, Jr., who says the president has tapped him to run said panel (a claim that the Trump administration has denied). Kennedy, who (like Trump) is a noted vaccine skeptic, said that he has been "trading documents about what the commission would look like" with Trump's team and that the president is moved to act on the issue because he had five friends whose kids ostensibly "changed" after being vaccinated (claims that vaccines are linked to autism have been repeatedly debunked). (Fortune)


Grocery Stores Are Getting Rid of Sell-By Dates on Food, by Kate Samuelson

It's Time to Take AI Seriouslyby Erin Griffith

Mark Zuckerberg Warns Against Threats to Globalismby Reuters

What Bill and Melinda Gates See That Donald Trump Doesn'tby William C. Taylor

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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