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Brainstorm Health Daily: March 31, 2017

Happy Friday, fellow Dailyites. We Americans seem to have an endless fascination with the undead: zombies, vampires, ghosts, Rambo, the DeLorean, the unkillable Fast and the Furious series, Tab.

Well add Google Glass to the mix. The much-hyped wearable-faux-pas bombed as a consumer offering—and, at least in the popular imagination, has joined the grand pantheon of flopdom alongside such legendary names as New Coke and the Edsel.

But don’t tell that to digital-health pioneers, who now see seemingly unlimited potential in the skull-mounted optical tool. A few startups, including Augmedix—which is backed by big-name venture funds and a slew of actual healthcare providers—have turned Google Glass into an effective time-saving platform for physician visits, allowing doctors to examine patients and simultaneously gather real-time information for their electronic medical records.

Meanwhile, other researchers are using the device to enhance vision for those with poor eyesight and even the near-blind, to understand how humans handle heavy workloads and multitasking—and, perhaps, most intriguingly, to better engage autistic individuals with the world around them. Through the Autism Glass Project, Nick Haber, Catalin Voss, and a very cool transdisciplinary group of researchers at Stanford Medicine are hoping that the once-disparaged Google X invention can help those with autism spectrum disorders improve their ability to recognize facial expressions and social cues and better interpret emotions in others. Until now, researchers have often used a very analog tool to achieve the same goals: cartoon flash cards.

Google Glass’s medical afterlife may be one of the reasons Apple is reportedly developing its own augmented reality (or perhaps virtual reality) eyewear. And why other big tech companies—who have already waded into biomonitoring—may soon do the same.

It’s a worthy lesson for innovators: A particular product might have a lifespan, but a good idea doesn’t.

Have an immortal weekend. Sy has the news below.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE
@CliftonLeaf
clifton.leaf@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

S Health rebrands as ‘Samsung Health,’ launches new features. Samsung’s mobile health app, S Health, has been relaunched as Samsung Health alongside the introduction of Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones. Samsung Health will be able to tap into the provider framework of telemedicine specialist American Well – part of a partnership announced during this year’s HIMSS health IT conference. The “Ask an Expert” telehealth services will allow users to connect with more than 1,200 board certified physicians, and each virtual visit will cost $59 without insurance coverage. The app will also have the ability to instantly verify insurance. (Android Community)

INDICATIONS

Halozyme shares fall as a lead treatment fails a futility test. Shares of biotech Halozyme have fallen more than 10% since Thursday morning as an early-to-mid stage trial for its experimental pancreatic cancer treatment suggested to researchers that it is unlikely to boost survival in patients when added to chemotherapy. The SWOG research network recommended halting enrollment in the study. Unfortunately for the firm, this enrollment halt may also implicate a future failure in a later-stage trial of the drug, PEGPH20. (Benzinga)

Congressional Democrats introduce tough drug pricing bills. House and Senate Democrats have introduced legislation aimed at lowering drug prices through a series of aggressive measures, including by requiring biopharma companies to reveal far more information about their R&D, manufacturing, and other costs. And, in a provision that would be met with heavy industry opposition, the bills would also reduce branded drugs and biologics’ exclusivity provisions in order to allow cheaper copycats onto the market sooner. Exclusivity for pricey biologics, current set at 12 years, would be slashed to seven years under the proposal, and a number of tax breaks afforded to drug companies would be eliminated. Of course, legislation of that scope has little chance of making it through a Republican-controlled legislature. But President Donald Trump has repeatedly signaled a wish to introduce drug pricing legislation, and HHS Secretary Tom Price is reportedly crafting some ideas. (RAPS)

THE BIG PICTURE

At least one biopharma executive is concerned about cuts to the NIH. George Yancopoulos, the co-founder of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, has some big concerns over the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health – and some tough words about what the country should actually be investing in. “We should only be working on two things, health and the freaking environment,” Yancopoulos said in an interview with Bloomberg. “The last thing we need is another freaking browser and app — those things are eroding our national intellect.” The White House has proposed a $1.2 billion funding cut to the NIH for just 2017, and more wide-ranging decreases down the line. HHS Secretary Tom Price has defended the proposed cuts in a hearing earlier this week, arguing that they would be targeting waste and overhead. (Fortune)

Congress may not be interested in immediately blowing up Obamacare’s marketplaces after all. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday suggested that Congress may not actually be interested in ensuring yet another blow to Obamacare’s marketplaces. One of the easiest ways to ensure that Obamacare does “explode,” as President Donald Trump has repeatedly predicted it will, would be to stop paying insurers a specific type of subsidy meant to reduce lower-income Americans’ out-of-pocket medical costs. Since insurance companies would still be on the hook for covering those out-of-pocket costs even if their government payments stopped coming in, there’s a strong chance they’d exit the marketplaces altogether in order to avoid the financial hit. The House is currently engaged in a lawsuit alleging that the Obama administration’s decision to pay these subsidies was illegal because they weren’t specifically appropriated by Congress. Although Ryan said that suit would not be dropped in order to preserve the “separation of powers,” he did say he expected the payments to continue in the meantime. “While the lawsuit is being litigated then the administration funds these benefits. That’s how they’ve been doing it and I don’t see any change in that,” he said. (Wall Street Journal)

Depression is now the world’s most widespread illness. According to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report, depression is now the most common cause of disability in the world and also the leading global cause of ill health. In fact, the rate of depression soared 18% between 2005 and 2015, and more than 300 million people are currently suffering from depression. “These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan in a statement. The agency goes on to suggest several ways to combat depression, including fighting stigma and significantly boosting funding for mental health treatment services. This wouldn’t just be effective from a public health standpoint – every dollar invested in funding more depression and anxiety treatment options leads to a four dollar return in better work productivity, according to the WHO. (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

The EU Just Showed It’s Going to Drive a Hard Bargain With Britainby Reuters

Snap Is Losing More than Tesla and Twitter—Combinedby Jen Wieczner

Panera Wants You to Know What’s In Your Sodaby John Kell

Astronaut Peggy Whitson Just Took a Giant Lead for Womankindby Kate Samuelson

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

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