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Brainstorm Health: The Promise of the ‘Crapsule,’ OTC Viagra, Optum’s Digital Health Venture Fund

November 28, 2017, 5:00 PM UTC

Good morning, readers!

It’s busy times around here, so a quick one for you all today. Some notable headlines: “Crapsules” continue to show promise in treating infections; Pfizer notches a milestone approval for over-the-counter Viagra in the U.K.; President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services is about stare down Congress in a hearing; and UnitedHealth Group’s health services unit, Optum, is launching a $250 million venture fund for digital health startups.

Read on for the details and some more news.


Should doctors be denied licenses if they can't use computers? A judge in New Hampshire has ruled that 84-year-old Dr. Anna Konopka should not be given back her medical license, which she ceded in part because she can't use a computer (Konopka claims she was forced to give up the license before a disciplinary hearing). One legal factor affecting the judge's decision was Konopka's inability to properly keep mandated electronic medical records for purposes such as opioid prescription monitoring (a public health issue that's particularly important in New Hampshire). (ABC News)

Optum launches venture fund for digital health. Health care giant UnitedHealth Group's Optum health services arm announced the creation of Optum Ventures on Tuesday. The company says the $250 million venture fund will be invested in digital health startups that "help improve consumers’ access to health care services and how care is delivered and paid for, and that make the health care system more reliable and easier to navigate."


Viagra gets the OTC treatment in the UK. Pfizer's best-selling erectile dysfunction drug Viagra has been given the green light for over-the-counter sales without a prescription in the U.K. beginning in spring 2018. That's the first time that the popular treatment will be available OTC, although pharmacists will make the ultimate decision about whether it's suitable for patients who want to buy it. (Reuters)

"Crapsules" notch another victory. Some more good news for "crapsules," little oral tablets which contain, well, microorganisms located in feces and are used to treat certain types of gut infections: patients in a randomized clinical trial suffering from recurrent Clostridium difficile infection responded just as well to the oral treatment as they did to a more invasive colonoscopy  procedure to deliver the biological matter to where it needs to go. There were also fewer minor side effects in the group of participants given the crapsules. (JAMA)


Alex Azar to get Senate grilling on Wednesday. Alex Azar, a former Bush administration official and longtime drug industry veteran, is Donald Trump's pick to lead the sprawling Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). And he's about to stare down the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions in a hearing Wednesday. Although Azar may not have a particularly hard time getting confirmed, he is likely to face some tough questions on his close relationship to the pharmaceutical industry (he was a top executive at drug giant Eli Lilly until earlier this year).


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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