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Brainstorm Health: Chinese Health Startups, Roche Stock Spikes, Americans Don’t Eat Veggies

November 20, 2017, 6:16 PM UTC

Good morning. The nations of the world now spend nearly $8 trillion on healthcare, according to a report in The Lancet. By 2040, say data scientists at three leading health research centers—Seattle’s Institute for Heath Metrics and Evaluation, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the World Bank Group—that bill will more than double, to $18 trillion.

The sheer enormity of this expense will challenge citizens and governments in ways we can’t begin to predict. But one nation seems to be getting out in front of that challenge better than most—and that’s China.

I spent much of the weekend reviewing China-based startup companies that are competing in an innovation contest that Fortune is hosting at our inaugural Brainstorm Tech International conference in Guangzhou, China, next month. More than a fifth of them are focused on solving a problem, or meeting a substantial unmet need, in the healthcare realm. And the ingenuity of these companies is incredible.

I won’t reveal yet who my favorites are, but I will say that these young scientist-founders came up with very creative solutions for preventing infections in some common surgeries, tackling resistance in targeted antibody drugs, improving gene vectors for cell therapies, helping the vision-impaired “see” faces and better read their environments, imaging hard-to-see spots in the lungs and other organs, improving genetic risk analysis, and expediting the logistical operations of hospitals. These clever startups are developing new lasers, new materials, new diagnostics, and new strategies for efficiency and cost saving.

What’s also clear is that the time from concept to market is notably shorter in China than it is in much of the rest of the world—or at least it sure seems that way. Innovation is happening there in hyperspeed—and part of that, as Time Inc. International Editor Clay Chandler explains in the Dec. 1 issue of Fortune, is due to a big, concentrated push by the Chinese government to invest in developing home-grown tech industries, from robotics to A.I. (Please subscribe here, if you don’t already—and give a subscription to a loved one for the holidays!)

As Clay reports, the sudden revelation that America’s uncontested tech prowess, after generations of global leadership, may be under threat in the next couple of decades has raised alarm bells in some quarters of Washington. And judging from my introduction to Chinese innovators in the health sector—which, as I said, could be an $18 trillion market in just 20 or so years—that’s one area where the competition’s clearly heating up.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE


A simple spit test could help determine concussion severity. A study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics finds that a spit test may be able to predict how serious a concussion is in a child—including whether or not symptoms of the traumatic head injury will last for days or weeks. The experimental test measures genetic material in the saliva and actually proved to be about 90% accurate in a study—significantly more precise than the common concussion survey used by doctors. (NPR)


Roche spikes on hemophilia, cancer drug results. A pair of positive clinical trials for cancer and hemophilia drugs developed by Swiss drug giant Roche sent the company's stock price soaring. Investors are especially upbeat over the possibility that a cancer drug cocktail containing the immunotherapy Tecentriq with another treatment called Avastin could challenge next-generation cancer therapies from companies like Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb in advanced lung cancer patients.

A Parkinson's disease drug gets scrapped after patient deaths. Acorda Therapeutics is ditching an experimental treatment called tozadenant for Parkinson's disease after reporting five patient deaths in key clinical trials for the drug last week. The company's shares are up modestly Monday but tumbled about 40% over the course of the past week after the deaths were revealed.


CDC: Just 1 in 10 Americans eats enough fruits and veggies. Just how bad are Americans at eating their veggies? Really, really bad, according to a new Centers for Disease Control report. In fact, just 10% of adults eat enough fruits or vegetables. The recommended daily servings for adults are: 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables.


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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