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Brainstorm Health: Parkinson’s Implant, Big Pharma’s Digital Officers, Aetna HIV Status

August 25, 2017, 4:55 PM UTC

Hello and happy Friday, readers! This is Sy—Cliff will be back with you on Monday.

Last year, I reported on Titan Pharmaceuticals and partner Braeburn Pharmaceuticals’ milestone Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for an implant to treat opioid addiction. Using Titan’s “ProNeura” platform technology—composed of matchstick-sized implants inserted in the upper arm—the companies won marketing approval for Probuphine, which dispenses a medication called buprenorphine for up to six months. This therapy both treats pain while weaning users off of more powerful addictive opioids.

Now, Titan has been given the FDA go-ahead to launch trials for a long-acting implant with a commonly used Parkinson’s disease drug called ropinirole. The automated delivery system could be particularly useful for Parkinson’s patients, as the company explains, since a drop-off in symptom control medication levels can make life extremely difficult for people suffering from the disease.

“While oral formulations of ropinirole have greatly benefitted those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, many patients develop serious motor complications and dyskinesias after several years, due to the peak-trough fluctuations of medication in the blood,” said Titan executive vice president and chief development officer Kate Beebe in a statement. “Our ropinirole implant is designed to provide continuous, non-fluctuating therapeutic levels of medication for up to three months, potentially offering patients and clinicians a more effective treatment option.”

The business strategy is an interesting one. Rather than focusing on the costly and risk-fraught endeavor of new drug development, Titan is essentially looking to make existing treatments more effective—in essence, building a better medical mousetrap.

Read on for the day’s news, and enjoy your weekend!

Sy Mukherjee


Novartis appoints a new "digital chief." Continuing an ongoing trend of pharmaceutical companies expanding into the digital health space, Swiss drug maker Novartis has appointed Bertrand Bodson, the chief digital and marketing officer for a retail chain, to the newly-formed position of "chief digital officer." Rival biopharma GlaxoSmithKline made a similar appointment last month. (Reuters)


FDA approves Novo Nordisk diabetes drug as first to reduce risk of cardiovascular ailments. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded the label of Novo Nordisk's widely-used type 2 diabetes treatment, Victoza, to include reducing the risk for major adverse cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke in patients who have both diabetes and established cardiovascular disease. "This approval marks an important milestone for millions of Americans living with type 2 diabetes, as cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in this patient population," explained Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, executive vice president and chief science officer of Novo Nordisk, in a statement.


HIV status of thousands revealed on envelopes sent by insurer Aetna. The HIV statuses of thousands of Americans may have been revealed on envelopes sent by insurance giant Aetna. The letters, which were intended to inform customers of pharmacy benefits changes, were sent to 12,000 people according to Aetna and contained a small window through which it was possible to see changes in how people were supposed to fill their HIV-related prescriptions. "We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members," said an Aetna spokesperson in a statement. "This type of mistake is unacceptable, and we are undertaking a full review of our processes to ensure something like this never happens again." (Fortune)

The Powerball winner is, er, was a hospital worker. Mavis L. Wanczyk claimed the $758.7 million Powerball prize—the largest single lottery winnings in U.S. history—on Thursday. She had been working as a cleric in Massachusetts' Mercy Medical Center nursing unit. She promptly informed her employer she would not be coming back. She will probably be having a good weekend. (Fortune)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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