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Brainstorm Health: Lightweight Brain Scanner, AbbVie Stock, Congressional Spending Deal and Health Care

March 22, 2018, 8:06 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers! This is Sy.

The entirety of the conference was filled with thought provoking debates and conversations about issues across the health care spectrum, from mental health to gun violence to big data to the reshaping of the American medical enterprise. We’ll have more on all of this in the coming days. In the meantime, here are just a few of the highlights:

  • A big way to control health care costs? Listen to patients. “Dr. Toby Cosgrove, the former president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, talked about how the hospital engaged both its doctors and patients to cut costs across the medical system. Doctors were educated on the costs of the therapies they prescribe and instruments they use in order to help them make financially prudent decisions, and the patient community was asked to share any cost-cutting suggestions they had,” writes TIME‘s Alexandra Sifferlin.
  • The most innovative ways to use health data. Martine Rothblatt, founder and chairwoman of United Therapeutics, and Fitbit CEO James Park—two health care industry outsiders—sat down to chat about how data is changing medicine (a major and recurring topic at this year’s conference). Park explained that making money off of selling the swaths of data collected through trackers isn’t actually in the company’s interest; rather, “managing data flows between entities or by gleaning insights from the data which it can sell in the form of algorithms, to say, help diagnose sleep apnea or other conditions” is a smarter, more lucrative long-term avenue, writes my colleague Erika Fry (who is also my partner-in-crime on our big Fortune feature on big data and health care).
  • The desperate need for a universal flu vaccine. Fortune‘s Andrew Nusca reports on Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Bruce Gellin’s talk on the need for more effective vaccines, including for influenza in light of the severe recent flu season. “Seventy years from now, we better be doing something differently,” said Gellin, noting that one evolving strain in China may have a 40% fatality rate—and that the process of identifying emerging flu strains and creating vaccines to tackle them hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past 100 years.

Mosey on over to more of our conference coverage here. And read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


A brain scanner on a diet. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) systems are, frankly, beasts - not just because of their ability to record brain function second-to-second, but also thanks to their sheer mass. An MEG device can weigh up to half a metric ton. But British scientists have reportedly created a new kind of brain imaging device that works more like a helmet with the use of quantum sensors, according to new research published in the journal Nature. Strikingly, the device can also work in room temperature and allows subjects to move around without ruining brain images, unlike current MEG technology. (Reuters)


AbbVie shares slammed on lung cancer drug setback. Shares of biotech giant AbbVie, maker of the world's best-selling drug Humira, sank 13% (or more than $20 billion of its market cap) in Thursday trading following a tough setback for the company's experimental cancer drug Rova-T. AbbVie will no longer be seeking an accelerated FDA approval for the treatment after disappointing mid-stage clinical trial results. That could be especially problematic for the company given that it purchased the asset through a $5.8 billion acquisition of Stemcentrx and projected huge blockbuster sales of the drug in the coming years that would, theoretically, make up for declining Humira revenue as that treatment loses patent protection. (Barron's)


Health care and the spending deal. The House of Representatives has cleared a $1.3 trillion spending deal negotiated by Congressional leaders that is also expected to (eventually) pass the U.S. Senate. As with all such deals, there's a hodgepodge of special initiatives and pet projects tucked into the legislation. But it may wind up being a significant win for public health and science agencies. For instance, it invests millions into fighting the opioid crisis and would boost National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to an historic high after initial proposed cuts by the Trump administration. (New York Times)


Commentary: How the New Fitbit for Kids Could Backfireby Joanna Imse

Why Thousands of Human Moderators Won't Fix Toxic Content on Social Mediaby Michal Lev-Ram

MIT's Robotic Fish Could Change the Way We Study Marine Lifeby Grace Donnelly

How Venture Capital Mega-Funds Are Widening the Funding Gapby Polina Marinova

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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