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Brainstorm Health Daily: March 30, 2017

Good morning, readers. This is Sy filling in (I’ll be handling our essays every Tuesday and Thursday going forward).

Purdue Pharma has been roundly criticized for its role in helping birth the U.S. opioid addiction and overdose crisis. The privately-held firm’s aggressive marketing tactics for the blockbuster OxyContin in the 1990s, including its 12-hour efficacy claim – as well as an American health system that collectively failed to realize how addictive these powerful pain-soothing drugs could be – are part of the reason that more than 165,000 Americans have died from prescription painkiller overdoses since 1999.

But can the company help staunch the very crisis in which it’s such a prominent player – with a digital health assist?

That’s what Purdue and partner Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania are trying to find out. The drug maker is sponsoring a study using the iPhone and Apple Watch in which patients suffering from chronic pain will log their symptoms. Purdue actually began utilizing Apple’s ResearchKit medical studies platform back in 2015, but this would be its first real-world deployment of the tech.

The hope is that doctors will be better able to monitor patients if they can understand the contours of their disease and only prescribe potentially addictive pain medications when it’s absolutely necessary.

Perhaps inevitably, the effort is already drawing some skepticism. “I’m sure [Purdue is] looking for some positive press out of this, [so they can] say, ‘We’re trying to make things better,'” Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School professor Robert Jamison told BuzzFeed News.

Purdue, on the other hand, insists that it has nothing but pure intentions with the study, and that it’s attempting to earnestly address the public health crisis. The firm has previously funded prescription drug monitoring programs to help doctors identify people who might be at high risk of addiction.

Other biopharma companies and health insurers have recently made forays into addressing the opioid epidemic, including by developing creative new methods to dispense pain-killing drugs that preclude the possibility of abuse and steering patients to alternative treatments.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Novartis just made a huge leap forward in the CAR-T race. Novartis just snatched up another advantage in the race to become the first company on the market with an approved chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) treatment. The groundbreaking new form of blood cancer treatment, as readers will know, involves extracting killer immune T-cells from the body, modifying them to become cancer cell hunters, and then putting them back into the patient’s blood stream. Novartis’ experimental treatment, CTL019, is meant for young patients with a type of blood cancer called B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And the Food and Drug Administration just put it on the priority review track, meaning that the agency will make a regulatory decision on the drug months earlier than it would usually take. That could give Novartis a first-to-market lead over competitors like Kite Pharma. (Reuters)


Bill Ackman: I’ve made a huge mistake. The mea culpa has finally come. Activist investor Bill Ackman poured his penance out in a letter to Pershing Square shareholders, apologizing for the Valeant Pharmaceuticals investment catastrophe that lost the hedge fund $4 billion and had investors scratching their heads. “Clearly, our investment in Valeant was a huge mistake,” Ackman wrote in the annual letter to shareholders. “In retrospect, we misjudged the prior management team and this contributed to our loss. We deeply regret this mistake, which has cost all of us a tremendous amount, and which has damaged the record of success of our firm.” (Fortune)

FDA rejects Mylan’s Advair copycat in a boon to incoming GSK chief. GlaxoSmithKline’s Advair, the inhaled treatment for asthma and chronic lung disease, has long been a flagship product for the British pharma giant. It brought in sales of more than $2 billion in the U.S. alone in 2016. But the threat of competition from generic copycats has been looming – and on that front, Glaxo and new incoming CEO Emma Walmsley, who takes over in a day, just got some very good news. The FDA has rejected Mylan’s generic version of Advair. The reason why is unclear, and the setback doesn’t mean that the agency won’t eventually approve the treatment. But, in the meantime, GSK has some breathing room. (Fortune)


Paul Ryan doesn’t really want Trump to work with Democrats on health care. Following the American Health Care Act’s demise on the House floor, President Donald Trump has indicated that he may work with Democrats in the future in order to make changes to Obamacare (well, more specifically, he predicted that Democrats would beg to work with him because the health law is destined to “explode”). But at least one Congressional leader isn’t on board with the idea: House Speaker Paul Ryan. In an interview with CBS This Morning, Ryan said he “doesn’t want” to push Trump into working with liberals on health reform. “I don’t want government running health care. The government shouldn’t tell you what you must do with your life, with your health care,” he said. (Fortune)

The EPA will not ban a pesticide linked to brain damage. The Trump administration has reversed course on an Obama-era EPA effort to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has previously been linked to brain damage in children. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision will allow farmers to continue using the pesticide, which is utilized on dozens of crops but that the Obama administration had announced a new “zero tolerance” policy for on foods. “By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results,” said Pruitt in a statement. Studies from academic institutions like U.C. Berkeley and Columbia University have suggested that youth exposure to the chemical can result in lower IQs and neurological damage. (Los Angeles Times)


A 22-Year-Old Entrepreneur Moves Forward After a Life-Changing Accident Left Him Paralyzedby Polina Marinova

Give Mnuchin a Breakby Alan Murray

India’s Extraordinary New Maternity Leave Could Work Against Womenby Claire Zillman

This Is Going to Be Apple’s Next Hitby Andrew Murphy, Doug Clinton, and Gene Munster

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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