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Brainstorm Health Daily: March 2, 2017

Good morning, readers. This is Sy filling in for Cliff.

Last year, Facebook announced that its gigantic user base devotes an average of 50 minutes per day to checking their news feeds, chatting with friends on the Messenger app, or perusing the amateur photography on Instagram. And that number may actually be growing.

This new era of social media indulgence has raised questions about its effect on mental health and the wisdom of leading an increasingly digital life. But the tech giant is now ramping up its efforts to fight a societal ill which overwhelmingly afflicts young people: suicide.

The firm announced Wednesday that it’s launching a new tool for assisting users who post Facebook Live videos that are suicidal. “Facebook is in a unique position — through friendships on the site — to help connect a person in distress with people who can support them,” the company said in a statement. “It’s part of our ongoing effort to help build a safe community on and off Facebook.”

Facebook users will now be able to report videos that contain suicidal content. Then, the user who posted that video will be directed to live crisis counseling services such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line through Facebook Messenger.

It isn’t hard to see why the initiative is so important: In January, a 14-year-old girl live streamed her own suicide on Facebook. Suicide is one of the top causes of death in young people, and youth suicide rates have been on the rise since 2010.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Juno abandons its lead CAR-T cancer therapy in the wake of patient deaths. Juno Therapeutics has finally thrown in the towel on JCAR015, its lead chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) candidate, and will instead focus on developing another CAR-T treatment called JCAR017. The decision comes in the wake of multiple patient deaths in Juno’s trials caused by brain swelling. “The delay with JCAR015 means it no longer makes sense to continue its development as we can instead bring forward a defined cell product candidate in a similar timeframe,” said Juno CEO Hans Bishop during a conference call. “We believe a defined cell product candidate will have higher complete remission rates, a better tolerability profile and importantly get a greater percentage of patients into durable remissions.” From a business perspective, the nixing ensures that Juno will be second or third to market in the groundbreaking new class of therapies which re-engineer blood cancer patients’ immune cells to fight the disease, behind rivals Kite Pharma and Novartis. Kite announced impressive results for its own CAR-T therapy earlier this week and said it plans to file an FDA marketing application by the end of next month.

Health record app developers vie for a $50,000 prize from the government. CedarBridge Group, EMR Direct, Foxhall Wythe, Lush Group, and Live and Leave Well have been named the second round winners in a competition to create software that makes it easy to share patients’ health records. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC) goal is to incentivize development that could finally enable the elusive goal of health record interoperability. This sort of information-sharing wouldn’t just be convenient for patients and doctors; it could go a long way towards reducing unnecessary tests and improving health by ensuring that all the various moving parts of the medical system have access to patients’ latest health information. The competition’s winner will receive $50,000. (Modern Healthcare)


Valeant preps a re-do on its female sexual desire drug. Valeant Pharmaceuticals quickly snapped up Addyi-maker Sprout Pharma mere weeks after the FDA approved its controversial female libido-boosting treatment. That buyout has pretty much looked like a dud considering Addyi’s anemic sales and questionable safety/efficacy profile. Now, Valeant is forging ahead and attempting to salvage the therapy with an assist from the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA). Not only is Valeant re-launching the drug – it’s ramping up a campaign called Find My Spark in tandem with ASHA, including an online sex health quiz. Valeant said that the relaunch will occur this month during its latest earnings presentation, when the company announced a 17% decline in branded drug sales. (MM&M)

The trouble with speeding up drug approvals. President Donald Trump’s first address to Congress included a heart-rending moment featuring a rare disease patient. Megan Crowley, who suffers from the rare genetic movement disorder Pompe disease, was a guest at the speech. She wasn’t supposed to make it past age five and yet is now 20 years old thanks to an enzyme replacement therapy that her father, Amicus Therapeutics CEO John Crowley, helped develop by launching a biotech company. And Trump used her story to justify his agenda for the Food and Drug Administration, an agency he has argued is bloated with a “burdensome” approval process. “If we slash the restraints, not just at the FDA but across our government, then we will be blessed with far more miracles just like Megan,” said Trump. But despite the legitimately moving story, the life sciences community is decidedly split on hacking up FDA regulations and messing with its approval process. Some fear that this could supplant the FDA’s rigorous focus on science and make drug approvals a game of “Who Has the Best PR Campaign?” Others are uneasy that insurers may balk at covering therapies that may not be effective but wind up on the market because it’s meant to treat an unmet medical need. Check out my analysis of the controversial issue here. (Fortune)


Subway insists that its chicken is really, seriously chicken. Sandwich chain Subway wants you to know that your order contains real chicken, not mystery meat, following a report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp claiming that a DNA analysis revealed the protein to be just 50% chicken (the rest being soy protein). “The stunningly flawed test by ‘Marketplace’ is a tremendous disservice to our customers,” Subway CEO Suzanne Greco said Wednesday. “The allegation that our chicken is only 50 percent chicken is 100 percent wrong.” Subway says that it hired two independent labs to conduct their own analyses and found that the chicken’s soy content was less than 1%. In any case, at least it’s not horse meat. (Fortune)

Democrats introduce bill to allow drug importation. Senate Democrats are challenging President Donald Trump to back up his tough rhetoric on high drug prices with some policy action. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and several of his colleagues introduced legislation Wednesday that would allow Americans to import cheaper drugs from other countries. “[The president] has made promises to the American people about prescription drug prices; he has made promises to the American people, and now it’s time for him to put up or shut up,” said New Jersey Democrat Sen. Cory Booker, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, in a statement. “It’s time for him to join with us, or, in my opinion, to confess his lies to the American people.” Both Trump and 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have supported drug important as a means of tackling high prices in the U.S. But the issue is a lot more controversial within the FDA, which opposes the proposed policy over safety concerns.


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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