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Brainstorm Health Daily: March 28, 2017

Good morning, readers. This is Sy filling in one more time.

In December, the life sciences world witnessed a milestone in the intellectual rights battle for the groundbreaking CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology in the U.S. Back then, the big winners were the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University and scientist Feng Zhang, along with their various affiliated biotech partners (such as Editas Medicine, whose shares have risen nearly 30% since the patent decision).

But biotech is a global sector and IP battles can be waged on multiple fronts. And now, the Broad Institute’s academic CRISPR rivals, U.C. Berkeley and scientists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, have notched their own wins in Europe.

The European Patent Office (EPO) intends to grant Berkeley and affiliated firms such as CRISPR Therapeutics a wide-ranging patent on the gene-editing technology in the region. The patent would cover uses in multiple cell types, including humans – the main focus of companies developing treatments using CRISPR.

“We’re very pleased with the decision by the European Patent Office recognizing the broad applicability of our foundational IP, and we look forward to pursuing additional cases to grant in other jurisdictions globally,” said CRISPR Therapeutics CEO Rodger Novak in a statement.

The patent scuffle is far from over. Now that there’s a split decision between the U.S. and Europe on CRISPR rights, the Broad Institute is almost certain to appeal the EPO’s decision. And then there’s still the matter of Asian nations like China and Japan, which have yet to make their own rulings in the dispute.

CRISPR Therapeutics shares were up nearly 9% in early Tuesday trading.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Cognoa raises $11.6 million for early autism detection platform. Digital health startup Cognoa has raised $11.6 million from investor Morningside to continue work on its technological platform for detecting the early signs of developmental disorders like autism in children. Cognoa’s technology uses a combination of machine learning tools and patient-reported data in order to conduct smart screenings. And while there’s a consumer-directed component to the business, the firm’s overarching strategy is to become a part of employer benefits plans. “Our goal is to improve families’ lives while supporting clinicians by enabling earlier diagnosis and improved outcomes for children,” Cognoa CEO Brent Vaughan told Venture Beat. “Cognoa’s next phase of growth will involve not only engaging in additional clinical validation and pursuing FDA approvals, but also working with employers and health plans to offer our clinically validated assessment and child development support platform to employers to support their parents in the workplace.” (Venture Beat)

The latest in training surgical residents? Virtual reality. Ohio University is taking medical training to the virtual realm. A team of researchers from the academic institution recently designed an immersive trauma surgery experience for surgical residents by creating a 360-degree videos of various trauma scenarios, such as attending to car crash victims. By using a virtual reality headset, the residents can feel what it’s like to work in a trauma treatment scenario, including observing what the role of each medical team member is. (FierceHealthcare)


Michael Pearson is suing Valeant. Valeant Pharmaceuticals may be done with J. Michael Pearson – but Pearson isn’t quite done with it. The former Valeant chief executive is suing his recent employer for allegedly refusing to pay him more than 3 million shares that are owed to him. The suit, filed in New Jersey on Monday, also alleges that the drug maker owes him $180,000 in consultation fees. On the other hand, Valeant’s current CEO, Joseph Papa, appears to be doing just fine in the compensation department – last year, he had a base salary of nearly $1 million, more than $9 million in bonuses, and another $52 million in options and stock awards. (Fortune)

FDA approves Tesaro ovarian cancer drug. Biotech Tesaro notched a key victory on Monday as the Food and Drug Administration approved its ovarian cancer drug niraparib, which will be marketed as Zejula. Even better news for the company? No accompanying diagnostic will be necessary to prescribe the drug, which is part of a promising new class of cancer treatments known as PARP inhibitors, because the therapy “has demonstrated a clinically meaningful increase in progression-free survival (PFS) in women with recurrent ovarian cancer, regardless of BRCA mutation or biomarker status,” according to the FDA. (Reuters)


The doctor shortage could be a big problem for health reform. My Fortune colleague Shawn Tully makes a critical observation: any sort of health care reform, whether it be Obamacare, single payer, Trumpcare, or something in between, will continue to be hobbled if meaningful steps aren’t taken to address the U.S. doctor shortage. Shawn points to new studies underscoring just how difficult it can be for Americans to see a doctor, including the millions of people who have recently gained coverage under Obamacare. “For the fifteen large metro areas, the average wait time for all specialties was 24.1 days, 30% longer than in 2014. The increase was especially pronounced in two of the most essential categories, family medicine (+50% to 29 days), and OBGYN (+53% to 26.4 days), while another staple, cardiology, rose a significant 27%,” he writes. “Some of the numbers for individual cities are especially alarming. In L.A., it takes 45 days to see a family doctor; in Portland, the wait is 39 days.” (Fortune)

Trump taps former Anthem lobbyist to head Justice Department antitrust division. President Donald Trump has tapped Makan Delrahim to oversee the Justice Department’s antitrust division. Delrahim was a member of Trump’s transition team and has been advising the president on the nomination process of Supreme Court hopeful Neil Gorsuch; he must be confirmed by the Senate. One tidbit about Delrahim that’s almost certain to come up? His previous role as a lobbyist for the Anthem-Cigna merger, which has been opposed by the Justice Department and was recently blocked in court. Anthem has appealed that decision; in all likelihood, Delrahim would be expected to recuse himself from any evaluations of the Anthem-Cigna deal. But there’s plenty of other high stakes corporate marriages that will be under his purview, including the proposed Bayer-Monsanto and AT&T-Time Warner mergers. (Fortune)


Trump Is Slashing FDA Rules. Why Isn’t Big Pharma Excited? by Sy Mukherjee

A Modest Proposalby Alan Murray

Amazon Wants to Help Customers Support Their Customersby Barb Darrow

Uber Pulls Out of Denmarkby Reuters

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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