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Brainstorm Health Daily: July 6, 2017

Greetings, readers! This is Sy.

One of Obamacare’s biggest transparency provisions is the Sunshine Act, which requires medical device and drug makers to disclose how much money they pony up to doctors and teaching hospitals. And for the third consecutive year, the figure has risen—to the tune of $8.18 billion in total 2016 payments, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). That’s up from $7.52 billion in 2015 and $7.49 billion in 2014.

The figure includes payments from 1,481 companies to 631,000 physicians and 1,146 teaching hospitals. This money can serve a variety of purposes, such as research funding (approximately half of the 2016 payments) and ownership and investment interests. But it can also be used to pay for doctors’ speeches, continuing medical education, meals, and travel.

So who were some of the biggest spenders? Pharmaceutical giant Allergan took the number one spot with $66 million in payments while biotech Celgene rang in at number two with $54 million.

Watchdog groups and transparency advocates say that it’s important to have this information in hand to analyze whether or not the payments are linked to clinical decision-making. And at least some previous research suggests a correlation. For instance, a ProPublica analysis from last year found that doctors who receive a higher share of payments from drug and device makers are also more likely to prescribe pricier brand name drugs.

Read on for the day’s other news.

Sy Mukherjee


UK’s NHS, Google DeepMind deal continues to face scrutiny. Google’s DeepMind, the British AI outfit snatched up by the tech giant three years ago, has a partnership in place with the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS). But the health care system is coming under fire for allegedly failing to safeguard private patient data. The source of the controversy is a DeepMind app that aims to suss out which patients are at risk for kidney disease. As the BBC reports, most of the criticism is being lobbed at the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust; but DeepMind also faced a rebuke. “It would be well-advised to remind partners of their responsibilities,” said Dr. Julian Huppert, who chairs the DeepMind Health Independent Review Panel. (BBC)


Celgene is getting into the PD-1 cancer drug game. Add biotech giant Celgene to the roster of companies chasing a new class of cancer immunotherapy treatments called “checkpoint inhibitors.” The company has struck a $263 million upfront cash deal with China’s Beigene for the outside-of-Asia rights BGB-A317, an experimental treatment. Several big biopharma players already have their own checkpoint inhibitors on the market (including Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Roche). But the latest trend with these drugs is to test them out in combinations with other types of therapies since the drug cocktails could prove more effective and reach a wider share of the cancer patient pool. (FierceBiotech)

Merck multiple myeloma trials on hold after patient deaths. Speaking of checkpoint inhibitor drugs… Merck’s star cancer immunotherapy treatment Keytruda is facing some troubling clinical trial incidents which have now compelled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to halt three studies of the drug in multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer, after a number of patient deaths. It’s a bit of a rare setback for Keytruda, which has rebounded from a sales disadvantage to rival Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo to gain landmark approvals to treat lung and other cancers. From a pure business perspective, however, troubles in multiple myeloma are unlikely to derail Keytruda’s momentum considering its approvals in much more common cancers. (Reuters)


We have no idea when the Senate is going to vote on its health care bill. A number of GOP Senators are saying that the Senate’s health care bill probably won’t get a vote until the later part of July—a pretty clear departure from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hope to get the legislation out of the way before last week’s 4th of July recess. For now, the newest version(s) of the bill are being scored by the Congressional Budget Office and will have to be reviewed by the Senate parliamentarian to see whether or not it hews to certain standards that would allow it to pass by just 50 votes. And it’s unclear if current version(s) have sufficient support to pass as disagreements between the conservative and moderate factions of the GOP abound. (Politico)

Clif Bar recall launched over nut allergy complaints. Clif Bar & Company has recalled a number of flavors of its protein bars over complaints of potential peanut contamination. This is a voluntary recall involving the Chocolate Mint flavor CLIF BUILDER’s Bar, the CLIF Kid Zbar Protein Chocolate Mint, and the CLIF Kid Zbar Protein Chocolate Chip bar. (Fortune)

Trump Surgeon General nominee praised for HIV, opioid efforts. President Donald Trump’s pick to replace former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Dr. Jerome Adams, is getting some bipartisan praise for his efforts to combat opioid addiction and the HIV scourge in Indiana—where, maybe not-so-incidentally, he served under then-Gov. Mike Pence as the state’s health commissioner. Adams is credited with convincing Pence to implement a needle exchange program that both men were originally skeptical of in order to tackle the prescription painkiller and heroin overdose crisis, which has hit Indiana particularly hard.


Women Who Freeze Their Eggs Aren’t Doing It for Career Reasonsby Claire Zillman

Hobby Lobby Fined $3 Million for Smuggling Iraqi Religious Artifactsby The Associated Press

Microsoft Expected to Cut Up to 3,000 Jobsby Jonathan Vanian

‘CopyCat’ Malware Infected 14 Million Google Android Devicesby Robert Hackett

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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