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Brainstorm Health: Ex-GSK Chief Witty to Optum, AliveCor Potassium Levels, PCSK9 Pricing

Good morning, Dailies. No big-picture essay today. We’re closing the April 1 issue and preparing for our two-day LIVE edition of Brainstorm Health at Laguna Niguel next week.

But one thing worth a quick note today is that Sir Andrew Witty—whom I’ve always viewed as one of the more thoughtful and forward-thinking drug-company execs when he ran GlaxoSmithKline—has been tapped to run Optum, the pharmacy benefits management division of UnitedHealth Group (see John Carroll’s write-up in his daily-must-read “Endpoints News”).

As Carroll points out—and as I wrote about in the introduction to 2016 “Change the World” list—Witty devoted much of his focus at GSK to a worthy endeavor: creating a good business model that, at the same time, improved access to essential drugs around the globe. Witty, in my opinion, is someone who understood the power of doing well by doing good—which, of course, is the theme of Fortune’s “Change the World” effort and our CEO Initiative. (Carroll also notes that GSK was no saint when it came to jacking up prices on older drugs—an ongoing industry-wide problem.)

It will be interesting to see how Witty takes on this new role on the opposite end of the drug price war. His new job, after all, will be to fight back against pharma’s fondness for ’cause-we-can price gouging.

That should be a battle worth watching.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE


AliveCor Apple Watch sensor may be used to detect high potassium levels. The AliveCor KardiaBand sensor, which works with the Apple Watch and other wearables, can detect high blood salt levels with 94% accuracy, according to new research presented at the American College of Cardiology conference in Florida. The KardiaBand has already shown promise in detecting abnormal heart rhythms and other warning signs of a serious health problem. (The Verge)


The drug price war’s collateral damage. Forbes‘ Matt Herper has a thought-provoking essay up on the tragic human costs that often fly under the radar when we discuss drug pricing. Herper homes in on a relatively new class of super-powerful (and super expensive) cholesterol-busting drugs called PCSK9 inhibitors (which were just shown to reduce death from any cause, and particularly heart-related conditions), and how patients with staggeringly high cholesterol who would benefit from the treatments had to wrangle with insurance companies that refused to cover them over their high prices. (Forbes)


Judge rejects challenge to Trump birth control rules. A federal judge has rejected Massachusetts’ challenge to new Trump administration rules that would allow more companies to not provide insurance plans that cover birth control; previous decisions by other judges in California and Pennsylvania went the other way, issuing injunctions against the new birth control rules. (Reuters)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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