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Brainstorm Health Daily: April 25, 2017

Greetings, readers. This is Sy.

Today is World Malaria Day. The global health community and a coalition of public-private initiatives has successfully begun taming the scourge,with a 21% decrease in its global incidence and 29% drop in mortality rate between 2010 and 2015; still, there were 212 million malaria cases worldwide and nearly 430,000 deaths from the disease in 2015, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

One key tactic for fighting infectious diseases like malaria is to pinpoint exactly where they’re spreading in order to stop them in their tracks. This way, preventive measures like mosquito control and the deployment of treatment resources can be better targeted. And Google, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) have banded together with academic and public health partners with this very goal in mind.

The organizations are taking part in a Malaria Elimination Initiative effort called project DiSARM which will be piloted in Swaziland and Zimbabwe and uses the Google Earth Engine to map malaria. The University of California, San Francisco’s epidemiology and biostatistics professor Hugh Sturrock—who leads DiSARM—explained exactly why Google’s tech can help fight the disease.

“Every time someone is diagnosed with malaria in Swaziland and Zimbabwe, a team goes to the village where the infection occurred and collects a GPS point with the precise infection location,” he said in an interview posted on Google’s blog. “Just looking at these points won’t allow you to accurately determine the risk of malaria, though. You also need satellite imagery of conditions like rainfall, temperature, slope and elevation, which affect mosquito breeding and parasite development.”

The Google Earth Engine makes this seemingly ancillary (yet critical) data far easier to collect, according to Sturrock. “In the past we had to obtain those images from a range of sources: NASA, USGS and different universities around the world. But with Google Earth Engine, it’s all in one place and can be processed using Google computers. We combine satellite imagery data from Google Earth Engine with the locations of malaria cases collected by a country’s national malaria control program, and create models that let us generate maps identifying areas at greatest risk.”

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee

Correction: April 25, 5:35 p.m.: The original version of this article misstated the mortality rate from malaria. It has been corrected.


American Well seeks to simplify enrollment process for doctors. Telehealth giant American Well announced a number of new offerings and features during the American Telemedicine Association in Orlando on Monday, including one aimed at taking some of the pain out of the behind-the-scene signup process for doctors. The AW10 service will attempt to make it easier for physicians to enroll and begin offering telemedicine visits, and also simplify critical steps like insurance verification and shifting between automated and manual prescription services. American Well CEO Dr. Roy Schoenberg elaborated on the services in an interview with MobiHealthNews. (MobiHealthNews)


Express Scripts shares fall sharply after losing its biggest client. The ongoing battle between insurance providers, drug companies, and pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs) took a dramatic turn as insurance giant Anthem said it would ditch PBM Express Scripts going forward. That’s pretty unfortunate for Express Scripts since Anthem is its biggest customer (its shares are down about 11% since the news emerged). Anthem has claimed that the benefits manager isn’t passing on savings to the insurer, in effect overcharging it by billions. Scripts disputes that notion but has been preparing for Anthem’s exodus nonetheless. (Fortune)

Crazy biotech valuations drive Novartis to look for earlier stage candidates. The premiums that pharma companies pay for biotechs with mid-to-late stage experimental drugs has risen to a point that has some analysts crying “bubble.” But it’s not just the peanut gallery raising the alarm—drug makers are also shifting their strategies, as evidenced by Novartis chief Joe Jimenez’s statements this morning during an earnings conference call with reporters. “The price of some of these assets has increased to the point that we don’t feel like we can create value for Novartis shareholders,’’ he said. Instead, Novartis will be focusing on snatching up experimental treatments that aren’t quite as advanced (and costly). (Bloomberg)

Sanofi files antitrust suit against Mylan over EpiPen. French drug giant Sanofi is accusing EpiPen maker Mylan of tactics meant to squelch competition from a rival epinephrine device. At the heart of Sanofi’s complaint, lodged in a lawsuit filed in New Jersey on Monday? Mylan predicated discounts to pharmacy benefits managers and government health payers like Medicaid on the condition that they would not cover EpiPen alternatives such as Auvi-Q. To note: this may not exactly be the most uncommon strategy in the biopharma world. More on that later. (CNBC)


Nixing the Obamacare subsidies that are under the gun would actually cost the government even more. Health care policy is all about tradeoffs. You get rid of a regulation here, you get unanticipated social costs there. Turns out, getting rid of one set of subsidies meant to lower poorer Americans’ out-of-pocket health costs can actually raise premiums significantly—and consequently cost the government way more money to help subsidize the premium increases, to the tune of 23% more spending relative to the cost savings. (USA Today)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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