Brainstorm Health Daily: April 19, 2017

April 19, 2017, 4:22 PM UTC

Good morning, readers. This is Sy with some digital health updates.

Verily, the Google/Alphabet arm that focuses on the life sciences, announced a big new health study in collaboration with Duke University and Stanford Medicine this morning. The study, part of Verily’s “Project Baseline” drive, will recruit around 10,000 participants and be conducted over the course of the next four years at research sites across the country.

What makes the study so interesting is the depth of its ambition. Verily wants to keep tabs on everything from participants’ biometrics through the use of wearable sensors to their general well-being through interactive smartphone surveys. It will also regularly collect data such as “clinical, imaging, self-reported, physical, environmental, and molecular and genetic measurements,” as well as biospecimens like “blood, tears, and saliva, among others,” says the company. This will create an extensive “map of human health.”

The goal here is to figure out what combination of these metrics represent someone who’s in good health—and to observe how healthy people eventually become sick. With this approach, Verily thinks it can suss out the risk factors for various illnesses and eventually help people stop diseases in their tracks with a healthy assist from digital technologies.

“Through the Project Baseline study, we are aiming to engineer a true twenty-first century approach to health—in a preventive and personalized way,” said Dr. Adrian Hernandez, professor of medicine at Duke and member of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, in a statement. “Instead of having the annual physical exam that has not changed in decades, we’re hoping to develop new platforms that will discover changes in health as it happens in meaningful and actionable ways.”

Read on for the day’s news.


Novartis, Parvus team up on diabetes nanomedicine. The Swiss pharma giant announced a new partnership today with the tiny, preclinical stage Canadian "virtual" biotech—the kind that doesn't exactly have extensive lab space, funding, or workforce—Parvus to test its nanomedicine platform's promise in type 1 diabetes. The system, called "Navacims," involves deploying tiny little particles that are coated with certain compounds that potentially modify the body's immune system responses without wreaking havoc. "This is a transformative collaboration for Parvus," said Parvus CEO Janice LeCocq in a statement. "We are excited by this strong endorsement of the science behind our Navacim platform, as well as the opportunity to collaborate closely with a globally recognized leader in the field of immunology and autoimmune disease." (FierceBiotech)


PhRMA prepares all-out publicity blitz in the next step of its "GOBOLDLY" campaign. The powerful drug industry trade organization PhRMA has launched a series of new ads as part of its GOBOLDLY PR blitz, a new initiative that's seeking to paint a different picture of biopharma than the one presented by constant pricing scandals. This latest effort will feature videos of patients paired with the scientists who helped create their drugs, the idea being that consumers who see the print, television, and digital advertisements will be reminded of the innovation that drives the industry. Meanwhile, Kaiser Health News reports that the nonprofit Partnership for Safe Medicines, which is trying to put the kibosh on legislative efforts to allow drug importations from abroad as a price-cutting strategy, has deep ties with the lobbying outfit. (Kaiser Health News)

FDA drug approvals are moving at a solid clip this year. 2017 is off to a solid start when it comes to new drug approvals—an encouraging sign for an industry that was overall disappointed with the rate of marketing green lights in 2016. So far, the FDA has approved 14 new treatments (including one extremely controversial one for Duchenne muscular dystrophy); last year, the agency had approved just seven new therapies at this point. 2016 ended with just 22 new drugs after two consecutive years of more than 40 medicines debuting on the market. Some of the highlights so far in 2017? The first-ever treatment for severe multiple sclerosis patients (from Roche) and a Neurocrine Bioscience therapy for tardive dyskinesia. (Endpoints)


Health care provides a safe haven for private equity. In general, private equity was in a slump in 2016 fueled by economic uncertainty and major political events like Brexit and the U.S. presidential election. The number of global PE deals and deal values plummeted by 18% and 14%, respectively, in 2016, according to a new report released this morning by Bain & Company. But there was one big exception: health care, where PE rose sharply to $36.4 billion, the highest level since 2007. "The growth of health care is powered by several immutable long-term trends: an aging global population, a rising incidence of chronic diseases, an expanding demand for quality services and an ongoing need to deliver those services more efficiently," wrote the Bain analysts. (Bain)

UnitedHealth profits on the rise post-Obamacare. Insurance giant UnitedHealth has raised its yearly earnings and profit guidance as the firm's decision to pull away from Obamacare's marketplaces produced its desired effect. The company is projecting $200 billion in revenue this year and posted first quarter 2017 net income of $2.17 billion—a significant improvement from one year ago, when that figure was $1.61 billion over the same period. UnitedHealth's earnings update could foretell similar guidance lifts for other insurers in the space. (Wall Street Journal)


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