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Brainstorm Health Daily: March 7, 2017

Sorry for the delay today. Cliff is closing Fortune’s blockbuster March 15 double issue—he’ll be back tomorrow.

Here are the day’s big health and pharma stories.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

IBM Watson, CVS, United, and others unite to slash employer drug spending. A coalition of major firms including insurance giant UnitedHealth, IBM’s Watson unit, CVS, drug maker Johnson & Johnson, and retailers like Macy’s are joining forces in an attempt to cut employers’ spending on health care. The group is called the Health Transformation Alliance and contains 38 members. So how do these players expect to lower health care spending? By combining their massive collective buying power – and contracting with CVS Health and United’s prescription drug benefits units, as well as setting up special networks of covered doctors – to secure far better deals than would have been possible on their own. IBM Watson will be getting in the game, too, analyzing health care data. The alliance believes that it can save $600 million in drug spending over the next three years. (Wall Street Journal)

Fitbit wants to track your sleep now, too. Getting Americans to be active has always been one of Fitbit’s overarching missions (albeit with some mixed results). But now the firm wants to try and improve your sleep cycle, too. The Alta HR, Blaze, and Charge 2 wearable devices will all receive updates including a feature called Sleep Stages, which will be able to detect information such as a user’s light, deep, and REM sleep cycles (right now, Fitbit devices can only track stats like how many times and when a user wakes up or falls back asleep). This will also be paired with personalized recommendations based on the data, including the best times to fall asleep and how daily physical activity correlates with the quality of sleep you get. (TIME)

INDICATIONS

Trump says he has a plan to bring down drug prices. Another day, another presidential tweet. Donald Trump on Tuesday morning sent out the following missive from his favorite social media platform: “I am working on a new system where there will be competition in the Drug Industry. Pricing for the American people will come way down!” Trump has been making such claims for a while, but it’s still unclear exactly how he plans to institute a “new system where there will be competition” (ostensibly more competition than there is right now). He’s previously advocated for importing cheaper drugs from overseas and allowing Medicare to directly negotiate prices with biopharma companies – measures which aren’t exactly popular with most of the GOP caucus.

Roche is taking a gamble on another Alzheimer’s phase 3. After a string of major failures in the Alzheimer’s drug space (including late-stage trial crashes for Eli Lilly and Merck), Roche is taking a chance on an experimental therapy that’s already crashed and burned once before. The drug, MorphoSys’ gantenerumab, failed to meet its primary and secondary efficacy endpoints in a 2014 phase 3 trial. But Roche has argued that higher doses of treatment may actually be effective. A pair of newly-announced late-stage studies will focus on early-stage Alzheimer’s patients.

J&J finally wins one of its talc powder-cancer link cases. After three straight jury losses in the ongoing class action suit against Johnson & Johnson over alleged links between its talc powder products and ovarian cancer, the drug maker has notched a win. J&J finally got a Missouri jury to side with its assertion that larger-scale studies prove that the Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products, which many women use for feminine hygiene purposes, are safe. “The jury’s decision is consistent with the science, research, clinical evidence and decades of studies by medical experts around the world that continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc,” said Johnson & Johnson in a statement. The pharma giant is facing some 2,500 lawsuits over the issue and has already been ordered to dole out $197 million in awards to ovarian cancer patients and their families (judgments that the company is appealing). (Fortune)

THE BIG PICTURE

GOP unveils long-awaited Obamacare replacement plan. Well, it’s finally here. The House GOP on Monday evening released Obamacare replacement plans from both the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees. But there are still plenty of questions surrounding the proposed legislation. An initial reading (and the early reaction from some lawmakers and interest groups) suggests that it could face a tough road ahead as it galvanizes opposition from infuriated liberals, conservatives who consider the legislation to be “Obamacare 2.0,” plan holders who would see cuts to their benefits and a lower level of federal assistance, and industry players who may not be enamored with the thought of fewer insured patients and a whole lot of market uncertainty. I’ll have more on this today. (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

IBM, Salesforce Strike Global Partnership on Cloud, AI, by Andrew Nusca

Lowe’s Wants People to Fix Their Bathrooms in Virtual Realityby Jonathan Vanian

How to Kill the Office Narcissist With Kindnessby KT Schmidt

International Women’s Day: How to Find and Retain Women in STEMby Pat Wadors

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

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