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Brainstorm Health: World AIDS Day, Cancer Genetic Test, American Obesity

December 1, 2017, 8:18 PM UTC

Greetings and happy Friday, readers! This is Sy.

Friday marks World AIDS Day, an occasion for recognizing the myriad struggles, successes, and work left undone—societal, political, and medical alike—in the battle against HIV infection and the immune system-compromising disease it causes, AIDS. The overall story has been one of promise over the last few decades. Consider: the arsenal of effective (and less risky) HIV medicines has ballooned, the stigma associated with the disease has declined (although, as activists note, much work remains to be done on that front), and awareness campaigns centered on HIV/AIDS have gone from what was a fringe movement just 40 years ago to a cause championed by top public figures and companies around the world.

There was a point when an HIV diagnosis meant preparing for the worst. Countless stories shared on World AIDS Day by survivors and patient family members describe Americans who, ignored by the political class and facing a dearth of treatment options, simply accepted HIV and AIDS as a death sentence several decades ago. But the rise of drugs that can keep HIV infection in check or prevent it altogether with fewer patient side effects has helped turn the scourge into a relatively manageable chronic condition for many in America (albeit not for everyone, and one that can still come with steep financial costs).

Companies like U.S. biotech giant Gilead and the U.K.’s GlaxoSmithKline (the majority stakeholder in global HIV partnership ViiV Healthcare) have developed drugs that drastically lower the chance of HIV infection—or which simply lower the number of drugs you have to take to treat it, consequently curbing the risk of toxic side effects while simplifying medical regimens. For instance, just last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ViiV’s Juluca, the first-ever treatment for HIV-1 that contains just two drugs (rather than the three or more involved in most HIV therapy cocktails). And then there’s the prevention avenue. Taking Gilead’s Truvada, a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment, has been found to reduce the chance of contracting HIV by more than 90% by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Cutting-edge companies are also working on ways to treat HIV through under-the-skin implants that ensure patients are taking their medicine or even targeting the infection through cutting-edge genetic technologies.

These medical advances have helped bring new HIV infection diagnoses in some of the most historically afflicted regions, including New York City, to record lows, according to recent CDC reports. But about 15% of the 1.2 million Americans infected with HIV in 2015 didn’t know they carried the virus, illustrating just how much work still remains to be done on the public health front. And the issue of financing—making sure that patients who need these life-changing drugs can actually afford them—will continue to be a hot button issue.

Have a great weekend, and read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


FDA clears a milestone cancer genetic test. Federal regulators at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Thursday have given their blessings to a first-of-its-kind test from Foundation Medicine that can be used to detect genetic mutations across hundreds of cancer genes. The test is also being endorsed by CMS on a financial reimbursement basis; it's meant for patients with advanced or spreading cancers in order to see how their disease has evolved (as cancer is prone to do) in order to personalize treatment to the patient's specific cancer. (CBS News)


Roche's blockbuster breast cancer drug gets a biosimilar competitor. The FDA has approved Mylan's Ogivri, the first-ever "biosimilar" treatment for Swiss drug maker Roche's best-selling breast and stomach cancer drug Herceptin. Herceptin is one of the most popular breast cancer medications in the world, and the entry of what's essentially a generic competitor could potentially help push down the price of the expensive treatment.


Most American children well be obese by the time they're 35. A troubling new report from the CDC finds that nearly 60% of current U.S. children will be obese by the time they reach age 35—exacerbating a current reality where 40% of American adults are obese. "On the basis of our simulation models, childhood obesity and overweight will continue to be a major health problem in the United States," wrote the CDC researchers. "Early development of obesity predicted obesity in adulthood, especially for children who were severely obese." (Fortune)


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Why Verizon's 5G Home Internet Service Isn't Coming to You Anytime Soonby Aaron Pressman

Google Just Bought Enough Wind Power to Run 100% On Renewable Energyby Grace Donnelly

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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