Brainstorm Health: New Approach to Alzheimer’s, Johnson & Johnson Verdict, NY Vaping Ban

October 24, 2017, 5:57 PM UTC

Greetings, readers! This is Sy.

The story of experimental Alzheimer’s treatments has been a grim one in the last several years. High profile drug candidates from Eli Lilly, Merck, and others have fallen flat, some after showing initial promise in a field that hasn’t had a true breakthrough in well over a decade. But what if an entirely different kind of approach could prove successful—like a dementia-focused treatment mechanism akin to the kinds of popular, new next-generation cancer therapies that use the body’s immune system to fight disease?

That’s the question biotech giant AbbVie will try to answer as part of its new partnership with the smaller drug maker Alector. The firms have struck a $200 million-plus research deal to find out if immunotherapy can be effective in fighting Alzheimer’s.

“We seek to advance the field of immuno-neurology as a new therapeutic modality for dementia and neurodegeneration. We anticipate that immuno-neurology therapies will have as much of an impact on brain disorders as immuno-oncology is having on cancer,” said Alector CEO Arnon Rosenthal in a statement.

Immunotherapy has been one of the hottest fields in recent cancer drug development and driven billions in new sales for companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, and others. Drug makers are rushing into the space even though it often applies to very specific segments of cancer patients because of its promise in some of the hardest-to-treat cancers and potential to be combined with other therapies.

The AbbVie-Alector deal is based on the premise that neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s are, like cancer, also linked to the immune system, and that boosting it could change the course of dementia. The studies are still in their earliest stages.

There’s a far later-stage Alzheimer’s drug currently in the works, too: Biogen’s aducanumab, which Goldman Sachs recently identified as one of the first “disease-modifying” (rather than just symptom-treating) therapies for the condition which could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If so, it would be a breakthrough that could change patients’ lives and bring in billions to the company; but the sobering reality of Alzheimer’s failures may give even the optimists pause.

Read on for the day’s news.


Virtual reality in health care. Jay Samit, independent vice chairman of Deloitte’s Digital Reality practice, has a piece in Fortune today outlining the potential for virtual reality technologies in health care. Samit points to a number of major fields where the tech can revolutionize how patients, doctors, and the medical system at large interact with each other, including: Major boosts to personal health monitoring; a tectonic shift in treatment strategies for things like pain management; and the ability to bring medical care to isolated patients. (Fortune)


A second straight victory for Johnson & Johnson as record $417 million verdict reversed. A federal judge has negated a record $417 million fine pharma giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay by a jury over its ongoing talc powder-alleged ovarian cancer link lawsuits. It's the second straight victory for J&J (another $72 million verdict was also reversed); but the suits, which number in the thousands, will continue to dog the company, and plaintiffs are expected to appeal. (CNN)


Centene reports profits beat despite Obamacare turmoil. Insurer Centene has been bucking the doomsday narrative of how Obamacare has affected insurance companies for a while now; it continued to do so with upbeat third quarter 2017 financials Tuesday, including a 10% rise in revenues and 22% rise in profits year-over-year. Centene has been experiencing growth in both its individual market and Medicaid managed care units. (Forbes)

New York joins the anti-vaping wagon with indoor ban. New York has become the 11th state to ban e-cigarette smoking indoors (behind California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, and others) in a law which will go into effect in 30 days. Vaping will no longer be allowed inside restaurants, bars, offices, parks, and certain other common areas. (Fortune)


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