COVID VaccinesReturn to WorkMental Health

Brainstorm Health Daily: April 7, 2017

April 7, 2017, 5:14 PM UTC
Otis Elevator
Elisha Graves Otis performing his safety elevator demonstration inside the dome of the Crystal Palace at the World’s Fair in New York City. Photograph courtesy of United Technologies
Photograph courtesy of United Technologies

The year is 1854. Hundreds gather in the New York Crystal Palace, the iron-and-glass exhibition hall at the center of the World’s Fair, to watch a man standing on a platform four stories high, suspended by a single taut rope. A few electrifying moments pass before Elisha Otis signals his assistant, hovering by the rope with an outstretched sword, to sever the cable in two. The crowd gasps. The platform jolts—but doesn’t fall, as a pair of hidden leaf springs engage the rails, keeping Otis’s “safety elevator” miraculously in place.

A few years ago I captured the scene above as part of an online package called “27 Companies That Changed the World,” conceived by my brilliant former colleague Tim Smith. Among the companies on this great list, as the above suggests, was Otis Elevator, now part of United Technologies. And that’s because Otis’s invention didn’t just whisk people and freight up and down floors with unprecedented speed, it recast the landscape of civilization: It did nothing less than reinvent the city.

The elevator, as I wrote then, “made it possible for buildings to climb ever skyward—from the 20-story Flatiron Building in New York (equipped with Otis elevators in 1902) to the nearly 60-story Woolworth Building a decade later, to the 103-story Empire State Building in 1931.” It effectively gave birth to the skyscraper, to block after block of steel-and-glass office towers, to a kind of corporate proximity that changed the way business was done—with stacks and stacks of office workers now planted just feet apart.

Otis and his elevator transformed the world almost instantly, turning the mobility of commerce from the horizontal to the vertical, and altering everyday life in ways that few could have predicted. (Elevator music, anyone?)

I thought of that last night as I was reviewing the extraordinary lineup for our upcoming Fortune Brainstorm Health gathering in San Diego on May 2-3.

As we’ve all seen and heard, the technologies, platforms, and scientific discoveries that have emerged over the past several years—and that continue to emerge by the day and week—are changing life and the way we live. But as with the Otis elevator, it is in the downstream effects of these inventions where the most radical changes are likely to be found.

And just as the elevator’s effects were amplified by the near-simultaneous introduction of other key tools and practices—from reinforced concrete to new methods of producing steel and framing buildings to modern ventilation systems—so, too, the most transformative of effects over the next decade or two are sure to be found in the confluence of new technologies and ideas.

Take big data. Alone, it is merely noise. But with an algorithm that enables a system to read, study, and learn, it is a vehicle for expanding knowledge. Now couple that couple with the tools that allow real-time connectivity across the globe and you suddenly have a mobile, locally accessible expert. Now introduce smartphone technology and applications that let the information exchange, virtual examination, and imaging happen in multiple directions—between patient and physician and hospital—and you’ve made a doctor’s visit smarter, faster, and cheaper. Throw in other systems and platforms that alert us earlier to health problems (perhaps even before they’ve begun)—and that make the costs of this care more transparent and let us pay for it in new ways—and you have a bona fide healthcare revolution.

We will dig into all of this with some of the smartest people on the planet at our 2nd annual Fortune Brainstorm Health conference in just a few weeks. We’ll be talking with the CEOs, scientists, technologists, investors, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and other thought leaders at the forefront of this revolution—and we’ll have, in addition, one very special guest who will share some insights and experiences that will, without question, move us. (More on that soon.)

We’ll, of course, report on and live-stream what we can. But here’s a nomination form for those who would like to be there in person. Given how small and intimate our gathering is, I’m afraid it has to be invitation-only (and space is truly limited), but if you want to be a part of what I’m guessing will be a mind-opening two days of conversation, thought, and interaction, we’d love to have you apply.

Enjoy the weekend. More news below.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE


Nanoparticles can more effectively deliver drugs to the lungs. A group of researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the School of Life Sciences at Tianjin University in China have found that tiny nanoparticles can be more effective than current methods of getting inhaled drugs into the airways and lungs. These specific particles are small enough that they don't get caught on mucus—they slip through mucus pores and actually penetrate into the lining of the lungs, thereby providing a more uniform and long-lasting drug delivery system. That's important because many respiratory conditions, such as COPD, are treatable but not curable, making more effective uptake of drugs particularly important. (Science)

Synergy Pharma is getting... graphic in its quest to encourage gut health conversations. Well, this is certainly one way to get attention. Synergy Pharmaceuticals, a drug maker that focuses on gastrointestinal diseases, has deployed a new emoji army called—and, forgive me, I'm just the messenger here—the "Poop Troop." The motley crew includes 14 different animated bowel movement characters with names like "Doody Dan" (if you want to see some colorful examples, go ahead and check them out at your own risk). The method behind Synergy's emoji madness is the idea that these kinds of fun, if somewhat lowbrow, depictions will “allow people to better express the physical and emotional impact of chronic idiopathic constipation,” according to the firm. And it's not certainly not the first consumer-directed marketing effort that may strike some as sophomoric (just consider Valeant's much-derided 2015 Super Bowl ad for the toe nail fungus treatment Jublia). What's less clear is whether the effort can actually move Synergy's products—or its stock price, which is down more than 33% on the year even as the NASDAQ is up 9%. (Wall Street Journal)


Merck faces FDA disappointment over flagship diabetes drug. Merck's mega-blockbuster diabetes treatment Januvia won't be getting any official FDA props for an advantage over its rivals when it comes to cardiovascular side effects. The therapy, unlike rival medications in this specific class of diabetes drugs (DPP-4 inhibitors) from companies like AstraZeneca, didn't raise the risk of heart-related complications in a massive clinical trial—a distinguishing feature that Merck was hoping to get onto the treatment's label in order to attract more prescriptions. The FDA's refusal to grant Merck's application is even more problematic because other classes of diabetes treatments have been gaining market share in recent years. (Endpoints)

Gilead's blockbuster hep C meds get milestone approval for teens. In a first, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday approved biotech giant Gilead's franchise-defining hepatitis C treatments Sovaldi and Harvoni for use in adolescents aged 12 to 17. There are no other direct-acting antiviral hep C therapies—the kind that cures HCV infection entirely in almost all patients—approved for treating children. About 0.4% of 12 to 19 year-olds have hepatitis C, according to the American Liver Foundation, and there are approximately 23,000 to 46,000 HCV-infected children in the U.S. It's possible to pass the virus on via pregnancy.


Health insurer Cigna's opioid addiction-fighting is working. Last May, health insurance giant Cigna announced an ambitious effort to cut its plan holders' opioid painkiller use by 25% in three years. And it appears the company is making some impressive headway on that goal. Cigna on Thursday announced a nearly 12% drop in its customers' opioid prescriptions over the last 12 months. The insurer has been using a number of tactics to steer Americans away from opioids, including by alerting doctors if his or her prescribing patterns run afoul of government guidelines or if patients' claims histories suggest a pattern of drug abuse. The firm also recently nixed its requirement that doctors seek authorization from Cigna before treating people addicted to opioids. (Fortune)

Iowa's Obamacare marketplace may be headed toward utter collapse. In the span of three days, two major health insurers announced they would be pulling out of Iowa's Obamacare marketplaces next year, citing the swirling uncertainty over the health law's future as the White House and Congress keep mulling ways to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield and Aetna are the firms ditching the individual insurance exchanges, leaving just two—Medica and Gundersen Health Plan—in place. Many counties will only be left with only one insurer. (CNBC)


Amazon Looks to Hire 30,000 Part-Time Employeesby Don Reisinger 

Facebook's Chat App Is Getting New AI Featuresby Lisa Eadicicco

Lyft Raises $500 Million At a $7.5 Billion Valuationby Kirsten Korosec

FCC Chairman Reportedly Has Put Net Neutrality Repeal In the Fast Laneby Reuters

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

Find past coverage. Sign up for other Fortune newsletters.