Brainstorm Health Daily: March 17, 2017

March 17, 2017, 8:37 PM UTC

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Today is quite possibly the 1,556th or the 1,557th or the 1,524th or anniversary of the death of this beloved Irish saint—which should sow enough confusion to turn any bar bet today into something truly unpleasant.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE

Which brings me to three other numbers that are liable to cause confusion: 27,500, 27%, and $14,000. Those are some key figures released today by Amgen in a highly awaited report of a trial called FOURIER. (What—you don’t want the acronym? Okay, fine: The “Further Cardiovascular OUtcomes Research with PCSK9 Inhibition in Subjects with Elevated Risk” study.)

The trial tested an Amgen drug called Repatha against a placebo in a 27,500-patient (there’s one of our numbers) multi-nation, Phase 3, randomized, double-blind trial to see how effective it was in reducing the risk of nasty cardiovascular events. And the results were impressive. Repatha, a monoclonal antibody that substantially lowers LDL cholesterol in the blood, was shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks in patients (who already had evidence of atherosclerosis) by 27%. (There’s number No. 2.) The drug reduced the risk of “hard major adverse cardiovascular events” by 20%—but didn’t appear to affect overall mortality from cardiovascular disease (which wasn’t expected anyway.)

Repatha, which has to be injected, is also priced at $14,000 a year. (Number No. 3.)

So what happened? Naturally, Amgen stock tanked in early morning trading (Sy has a write-up below). Why, you ask? Because many were expecting even more dramatic results—especially for a medicine with a $14,000-a-year price tag.

This, of course, is one of the challenges with chemopreventive approaches (at least from a drug maker’s point of view)—and why so many pharma companies don’t even try to develop medicines with the primary goal of disease prevention. It’s too knotty an issue to discuss in a few hundred words, so I’ll leave that for another time. But just take a second and imagine if the drug cured (rather than prevented) 20%…or 27%…of patients with a scary disease.

More on this topic soon.

In the meantime, I’m headed off for a short vacation. (I’ll be back with an opening essay for the newsletter on Tuesday, March 28.) In the meantime, Sy will take over this high-dollar space.

When I return, I should have some exciting stuff to report about our 2nd annual Fortune Brainstorm Health conference, which is taking place on May 2-3 in San Diego. We have some AMAZING speakers lined up—and some very cool surprises, too. It’s a by-invitation affair (sorry—I know that sounds rude), but if you’ve got a great story to tell in the field of digital health, and you want to apply to be a conference delegate, please shoot me an email.

The day’s news (well, old news at this point) is below.


GE Healthcare buys connected fetal monitor firm Monica. GE Healthcare has expanded its foray into the maternal digital health space by acquiring U.K.-based firm Monica. “At GE Healthcare, we are committed to improving the health care experience across care areas, including childbirth,” said Tammy Noll, general manager of GE Healthcare’s Maternal-Infant Care division, in a statement. “Through this acquisition, we will combine the incredible expertise and mobile-digital innovation from the Monica team with GE Healthcare’s longstanding industry leadership and customer focus – all with the goal of bettering maternal and infant care for patients worldwide.” The terms of the deal were not disclosed. (MobiHealthNews)


Amgen's cholesterol-buster fails to meet outsized expectations, shares tank. Call it the bigotry of high expectations - biotech giant Amgen's stock plunged nearly 7% in early Friday trading. The reason? Ironically, new data finding that the firm's new "bad" cholesterol-slashing drug, Repatha, significantly reduced the risk of adverse cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes. In a gigantic, 27,500-patient study, patients who were already taking other cholesterol-controlling medications (statins) saw a 20% reduction in risk, and a 15% reduction in risk for hospitalizations. But investors were hoping to see an even more significant effect since the treatment comes with a list price of $14,000 per year. That's led to disappointing sales as doctors and insurers wait on the sidelines to see an actual heart benefit associated with massive drops in LDL cholesterol since statins are so much cheaper. Still, Amgen is forging ahead in its PR campaign - in fact, if someone taking Repatha has a heart attack, the firm will refund their money.

Sir Patrick Stewart takes marijuana edibles for arthritis pain. Add Star Trek's Captain Picard to the list of celebrities who use medical marijuana for pain management. Sir Patrick Stewart uses marijuana edibles, ointments, and sprays in order to soothe his arthritis pain. "Two years ago, in Los Angeles I was examined by a doctor and given a note which gave me legal permission to purchase, from a registered outlet, cannabis-based products, which I was advised might help the ortho-arthritis in both my hands," Stewart said in a statement, according to Mashable. "This, it would seem, is a genetically-based condition. My mother had badly distorted and painful hands." But the marijuana products have helped reduce his stiffness, according to Stewart, and even allowed him to once again be able to make a fist. (Fortune)


Trump budget nixes Meals on Wheels program. President Donald Trump's budget takes the axe to multiple science and health care-related agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But another program, Meals on Wheels, that it may eliminate entirely feeds 2.4 million needy, elder Americans. "[I]t is difficult to imagine a scenario in which they [the program] not be significantly and negatively impacted," said a Meals on Wheels spokesperson. The initiative delivered 219 million meals to 2.4 million seniors in 2016 alone. (Fortune)

Tech leaders line up to support Planned Parenthood. More than 70 tech industry leaders, including the CEOs of  Tumblr, Slack, Foursquare, and Eventbrite, have written a letter to Congress in support of Planned Parenthood as the Republican health care plan seeks to freeze federal funding to the women's health organization. "There is no doubt that current congressional efforts to cut off access to this essential health care provider would hurt women, their families, and the businesses they lead, work for, and support," read the letter. "We are committed to supporting their ability to build on this important work and, above all, we are connected to Planned Parenthood’s mission which so closely resembles what we stand for as leaders in technology: creating opportunity for everyone to chart their own path in life and pursue their own ingenuity – without barriers or fear." (Fortune)


There's a Martin Shkreli Musical Coming to New York Cityby Abigail Abrams

5 Reasons Why Trump's Meeting With Angela Merkel Matters So Muchby Linda Kinstler

Why Stocks Are Better Than Leprechaun Gold on St. Patrick's Dayby Lucinda Shen

The Invisible Selling Machineby Stephen M. Baldwin

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