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Brainstorm Health Daily: May 18, 2017

Good morning, readers! This is Sy with your daily health care fix.

Researchers at the Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts and the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City have achieved a major breakthrough more than 20 years in the making: Creating stem cells that can multiply and produce the essential elements of blood.

It’s an achievement that skeptics had long dismissed as unfeasible. And the two teams were able to create the cells in mice and humans alike, albeit through different methods. The group over at Boston Children’s created certain human cells which aren’t exactly like the ones we see in nature, but do behave like blood stem cells. The Weill Cornell team created true blood stem cells from mature cells—but in mice.

What sets the Boston Children’s team method apart from earlier stem cell experiments is that it was able to take human skin and other cells, turn them into so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (the kind that can produce all sorts of different cells), and then create certain cells that are extremely similar to natural blood stem cells that can create everything from red blood cells to immune cells through some genetic engineering magic.

There’s still plenty of work to be done here. But after decades of high hopes and ensuing disappointments, this counts as a legitimate milestone.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


7 standout moments from Fortune Brainstorm Health. Our wonderful Fortune Brainstorm Health conference co-chairs, Clifton Leaf (I believe readers may be familiar with him) and Dr. David Agus, have a wrap-up of some of the best moments from our second annual meeting earlier this month in San Diego. Some of the standouts: the Los Angeles Chargers’ Darrell Stuckey Jr. on the surprising things he learned from tracking his recovery rate; former Vice President Joe Biden’s wide-ranging, personal talk on cancer; and how Jaime “Taboo” Gomez of the Black Eyed Peas overcame testicular cancer and went on to have a baby girl. (Fortune)

Capsule raises $20 million from Thrive Capital. Digital health and pharmacy delivery upstart Capsule has nabbed $20 million in a funding round led by Thrive Capital and joined by Sound Ventures and Virgin Group. Currently, Capsule only services the New York region; but the company has plans to expand its operations, which will require it make its supply chain flow more smoothly. A number of other tech companies are also working in this space, including PillPack and Blink Health. (TechCrunch)

Former FDA commissioner has a new gig at Google’s Verily. Former FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, who was appointed by Barack Obama, has been snapped up by Google life sciences arm Verily as an adviser, the company announced in a blog post Wednesday. He’ll oversee one of Verily’s most ambitious health studies, called Project Baseline, a 10,000-person, four-year project which aims to create a “map” of human health with intensive medical and environmental data collection. Califf’s new role comes on top of his gig at Duke University and a new one at Stanford—both of which are teaming up to help Verily on Project Baseline.


The first slew of ASCO cancer conference data is out. The annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference, the largest cancer meeting in the world, is around the corner. And that means biopharma companies are beginning to release some of the data they’ll be discussing at the confab. Some early winners so far include Incyte, whose shares jumped 7% in early Thursday trading on promising mid-stage trial results for a combination of epacadostat and Merck’s flagship new cancer drug Keytruda. Biotechs are increasingly testing out combinations with immunotherapy treatments like Keytruda in an effort to make the medicines more effective in a wider array of patients.

Two more biotechs add to the IPO party. G1 Therapeutics and Argenx have become the fifth and sixth biotech companies, respectively, to go public in less than a month. G1, which focuses on cancer drugs, raised $105 million in its public offering while Argenx raised about $100 million. The spate of IPOs in the second quarter follow a sleepy period at the beginning of 2017 and has some analysts wondering if biopharma firms are ready to break out of the doldrums. (Xconomy)

The world’s best-selling drug loses a key patent battle. AbbVie’s Humira, the best-selling drug in the world, lost a major patent battle against the small biotech Coherus BioScience, which is creating a “biosimilar” copycat of the rheumatoid arthritis treatment. Humira is absolutely critical to AbbVie’s business. In fact, it accounts for nearly two-thirds of the company’s sales and is expected to ring in $18 billion in 2020. And despite the patent setback, AbbVie has enough protection around its flagship product that it should be able to keep rivals at bay until 2022.


Trump administration wants to let people skip The Trump administration on Wednesday announced new steps to circumvent the federal Obamacare marketplace. Now, customers will be able to buy Obamacare-compliant plans directly from insurance companies and brokers rather than use the website. “It is common sense to make it as simple and easy as possible for consumers to shop for and access health coverage,” said Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma in a statement. “It is time to get the federal government out of the way and give patients the best tools to make their own healthcare decisions.” (Modern Healthcare)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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