Brainstorm Health: Bill Gates Keynote, Centene and Obamacare, Pharma Loves the Tax Law

January 9, 2018, 7:44 PM UTC

Hello there, readers! This is Sy.

The 36th annual JPMorgan Healthcare conference is under way in San Francisco this week. The medical confab draws from the gamut of stakeholders in health care and drug development, including executives from top pharma giants, fledgling biotechs, the investor class, and thousands of others who flock to the city to hobnob and, occasionally, make major announcements. It also comes with marquee keynote speeches—such as Monday afternoon’s talk by tech legend and philanthropist Bill Gates.

Gates, known in the health care world for his efforts through his eponymous Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, delivered the biopharmaceutical industry a reminder about the key role they play alongside charitable organizations, including the basic business case for tackling diseases that afflict emerging economies, during his keynote: “The fact is that global health needs the private sector. And, frankly, the private sector has much to gain from pursuing breakthroughs in global health,” said Gates.

The crux of Gates’ message was three-fold: 1) Emerging markets in Africa, Asia, and South America afflicted by these diseases will see booming populations in the coming decades; 2) Tackling the conditions, including infectious diseases, that disproportionately afflict these areas isn’t just the right thing to do, but a palatable business proposition; and 3) Current medical technologies being tested in fields like cancer immunotherapy may well prove effective against HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other scourges round the world.

“Even in the shorter term, impact and earnings are not mutually exclusive for the private-sector,” said Gates. “We are backing companies like CureVac and Moderna on mRNA approaches for vaccine and drug development, which have the potential to help us tackle cancer. This approach is also intriguing as a potential immunological intervention for HIV, malaria, flu, and the Zika virus,” Gates asserted.

You can read Gates’ full prepared keynote remarks, which address the Gates Foundations’ various initiatives, in greater detail here. But Gates’ larger point seems to be: It’s entirely possible for the drug industry to do well by doing good.

Read on for the day’s news.


Change Healthcare to offer a consolidated blockchain option. The very mention of Bitcoin may make some groan—and others cheer. But blockchain, the digital ledger tech at the heart of the controversial cryptocurrency, has widespread implications for multiple industries, and especially medicine. Now, Change Healthcare is offering up its own blockchain-based claims management system to enterprise health care payers and providers alike. Here's how the company lays out the stakes: "Leveraging blockchain technology, organizations can accurately track, in real time, the status of claims submission and remittance across the complete claim lifecycle." In other words: The blockchain could bring some discipline to the notoriously untidy U.S. health care framework.


Biopharma really likes the new tax law. There's at least one thing many companies out of the JPMorgan Healthcare conference seem to agree on: They love the new tax reform law. The question at this point is what, exactly, firms will use their savings to do. Some may pursue stock buybacks; others may hire more talent; and still others may pursue acquisitions, according to what life sciences executives have been saying during the conference.


Ibuprofen and male infertility. A new study links prolonged, high-dose ibuprofen use to a condition that may cause male infertility. It's been freaking some people out. But while it's worth noting (especially since it's a randomized control trial), there are some important caveats to keep in mind. (Fortune)

Centene reports an explosion in Obamacare business. Some companies have chosen to flee Obamacare's marketplaces in the wake of continued regulatory dysfunction surrounding the law. Centene is one of the few that's taken a different approach, actually expanding its presence in the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. And it's already had a tangible effect on business: The company announced that 1.4 million people had signed up and paid for Centene's Obamacare offerings through January 7 during the JPMorgan Healthcare conference. The question for analysts and investors is whether the boom will ultimately prove lucrative given all the uncertainty.


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