Brainstorm Health Daily: August 10, 2017

August 10, 2017, 5:05 PM UTC

Greetings, readers! This is Sy.

Genetic testing firm Color Genomics has been focused on cancer, the number two cause of death in America. But the upstart is now spreading its reach to the leading killer in the U.S.—heart disease.

Color announced Thursday that it’s introducing a Hereditary High Cholesterol Test that can detect a genetic mutation indicating Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH), a genetic disorder which leaves carriers with high cholesterol that often leads to early heart disease. The test must be administered by a doctor and costs $249 for new customers.

FH can be a fairly common condition depending on whether or not you have inherited the mutation from one or both parents. The one-parent variety afflicts one in 250 people worldwide—in the U.S., an estimated 1.3 million people have FH, according to the FH Foundation. Yet only 10% are diagnosed. That can have dire consequences as the disease, barring treatment, increases men’s risk of having a heart attack by age by 50 by 50% (and increases women’s risk for having one by age 60 by 30%).

Read on for the day’s news.


Grail's "liquid biopsy" shows promise in boosting cancer patients' chances of survival. A new study suggests that Silicon Valley upstart Grail, which is creating "liquid biopsy" technology that can detect cancer through DNA fragments in the blood (rather than a conventional tissue sample), may be able to help boost head and neck cancer patients' chances of survival. Grail's liquid biopsy was found to detect the specific form of head and neck cancer both earlier and more accurately than conventional methods used today. (Bloomberg)


Valeant price increases led to far less use of key heart drugs. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that Valeant Pharmaceuticals' infamous price hikes for a pair of heart drugs called nitroprusside and isoproterenol—whose prices were increased by 310% and 720%, respectively—had significant downstream effects on patient care. "From 2012 to 2015, the absolute number of patients treated with nitroprusside decreased by 53%, and the number treated with isoproterenol decreased by 35%," wrote the study authors. What's more troubling is that the drugs, unlike statins and other common heart disease medications, don't have a whole lot of alternatives. Valeant launched a hospital discount program for the treatments last year. (NPR)


The state of Obamacare premium hikes. The Kaiser Family Foundation is out with a broad new analysis of individual insurance premium changes in Obamacare markets. Rate filings for 2018 have been rocked by an uncertain regulatory environment that's led many insurers to price defensively. KFF finds massive geographic variation when it comes to premiums; for instance, the second-lowest "Silver" plans in Wilmington, Delaware will see premium hikes of 49%, while they'll actually go down 5% in Providence, Rhode Island. What's more, insurers added as much as 20 percentage points to their requested premium increases due to uncertainty surrounding federal payments that the Trump administration has threatened to end and weak enforcement of Obamacare's mandate that people carry insurance, according to KFF. (Kaiser Family Foundation)


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