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Brainstorm Health: Stock Market Drop, Uncured Diseases, Flint Water Crisis

February 6, 2018, 5:59 PM UTC

Good morning, Dailies. Yesterday’s historic stock sell-off had many people wondering if the great bull market had at long last sputtered to an end. Over the past (nearly) nine years, the S&P 500 stock index rose some 325% from its bottom (March 9, 2009) to its top (January 26, 2018)—before beginning its recent heart-pounding swoon.

Then came the free fall—a collapse that sucked out 8.6% of the broad market’s value in a 10-day gasp (as of the writing of this note). I have yet to find a really good stock index for the pubic companies leading the digital health revolution, but for comparison’s sake, my ever-resourceful colleague Scott DeCarlo alit upon the S&P 1500 Supercomposite Health Care Technology Index—which includes an assortment of medtech companies valued between $400 million and $21 billion—and which dropped 8.5% over the same period. That suggests the carnage hit healthcare just as it did most everything else.

So is this the end? Well, from a technical standpoint, we still have a ways to go before this bear turn qualifies as a “correction.” But the broader question in my mind is, Are we measuring the right bull to begin with?

I would argue that the horned creature that matters most is the investment bull—no, not the public’s piling money (often without much thought) into corporate stocks, but rather the companies themselves investing in their own growth: generating new businesses, doubling down on R&D, fostering their home-grown talent, and making smart, strategic investments in technology.

And here, I’m still pretty optimistic. This fall PwC released a report showing that, in the past year, the top 1,000 R&D spenders worldwide spent more than $700 billion on their in-house research efforts for the first time, a total figure that was up 3% from the 2016 level. (The No. 1 spender? Amazon, not surprisingly.) At Fortune, a few months back, we highlighted 50 companies (including Amazon) that have that same driving spirit to invest in the future. We call the list our “Future 50,” fittingly. And I hope you’ll check it out here.

That tells me that, despite the recent downturn in stocks, the market for innovation is still running strong. Hopefully, corporate leaders won’t let the wrong market metrics shift their focus from what really matters.


On a separate note, I urge you all to read Sy’s enlightening story that just went live on “The Diseases We Aren’t Curing—And Why.” It’s a very fine piece of analysis—shedding new light on why some diseases get the lion’s share of industry’s attention as others are virtually ignored.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE


Another health care super-collaboration on the heels of Amazon-Berkshire-JPM. There's another bold health care initiative bringing together a who's who of experts and businesspeople—besides the Amazon-Berkshire-JP Morgan super group. Former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Andy Slavitt is leading a new nonpartisan collaboration called United States of Care. The project includes everyone from hospital executives like Kaiser Permanente chief Bernard Tyson to former lawmakers to Mark Cuban and Atul Gawande, and its purpose will be to pursue policy changes on the state and federal level to make health care more accessible and efficient. (Bloomberg)


Allergan boosts hopes for potential blockbuster migraine drug. Drug giant Allergan flew past analyst expectations in its fourth quarter 2017 earnings report. Revenue was up 12% year-over-year (helped by booming sales of Botox); on a forward-looking note, the company also announced that its key experimental migraine drug hit its goals in a clinical trial. Allergan hopes the treatment can become a blockbuster therapy in its portfolio. (CNBC)

The diseases we aren't curing. As Cliff so kindly noted, I have a piece up partially exploring the scientific and financial trends that help shape which diseases are being cured faster than others and receiving more industry attention/VC funding. I hope you'll give it a read. (Fortune)


The Flint water crisis and childhood literacy. A stunning report in the Detroit Free Press claims that third grade reading proficiency in Flint, Michigan "dropped from 41.8% in 2013, the first year of the [Flint lead water] poisoning, to 10.7% last year." That amounts to a 75% drop in the reading proficiency rate. The water crisis alone isn't the only cause, as Flint school board vice president Harold Woodson explained; poverty and a lack of education investment are also important, long-standing factors. (Detroit Free Press)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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