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Brainstorm Health: Male Birth Control, GSK Novartis Deal, VA Secretary Shulkin

March 27, 2018, 7:41 PM UTC

Hello, readers! This is Sy.

There are many important caveats about this early research—including the likelihood of significant possible side effects, and the fact that far larger and more detailed, peer-reviewed studies will be required to establish efficacy—and it’s opened up complex conversations about how such a prophylactic measure would work out in practicality. Would men be open to such a hormone-changing therapy, which may entail side effects including weight gain, libido loss, and mood changes (the kinds of adverse events that have long accompanied female hormonal birth control)? If they were, would they take the medication as prescribed?

Prominent experts have been probing those precise issues in the wake of the University of Washington’s research. But the science and policies affecting birth control overwhelmingly affect women. And digital health is one new kind of medical technology some women are turning to as states crack down on family planning services, NPR outlines in a new report.

For instance, digital birth control apps—such as those that allow women to purchase hormonal birth control without having to go to a doctor or another health provider—are on the rise, according to NPR, especially in so-called “contraception deserts.” These are regions where it may be particularly difficult to get to a family planning facility, whether because of local policies or socioeconomic road bumps; lower prices and privacy are also big draws.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Grindr launches anti-HIV effort. Grindr, the major social and dating network for the LGBTQ community, will begin sending users reminders to get tested for HIV. It's part of an ongoing public health policy shift toward encouraging testing and prevention in a way that de-stigmatizes the issue; Grindr says it has 3.3 million daily users, and the reminders will be sent out to participants every three to six months (while alerting them to the nearest testing site). (New York Times)


Glaxo shares spike on Novartis consumer health stake buyout. Shares of British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline jumped more than 2.6% on Tuesday after the company announced it would buy out Novartis' stake in the two companies' consumer health business joint venture for $13 billion. The move comes after Glaxo, under new CEO Emma Walmsley, decided to bow out of a bidding for Pfizer's consumer health care unit. Here's what GSK had to say about its move: “For the [GSK] Group, the transaction is expected to benefit adjusted earnings and cash flows, helping us accelerate efforts to improve performance,” Walmsley said. “Most importantly it also removes uncertainty and allows us to plan use of our capital for other priorities, especially pharmaceuticals R&D.” Walmsley has been trying to free up money for R&D investment in very specific therapeutic areas (including cancer), including through a slew of management and budgetary shakeups. (Fortune)

Gilead CEO gets big pay bump despite falling revenues. Gilead chief John Milligan is getting an 11% pay bump. That equates to a cool $15 million-plus pay package for a CEO whose company's revenues dropped 14% in 2017 as competitors continued to cut into sales of the landmark, blockbuster hepatitis C franchise at Gilead. What remains to be seen is if Gilead's fortunes will change in the coming years, especially after its purchase of cancer drug developer Kite Pharma. (FiercePharma)


Drama mounts at VA over Shulkin's future. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is reportedly on shaky ground, with rumors of a potential ouster of the former Obama administration official. For now, the Trump administration says it has no plans "at this point in time" to replace Shulkin; but an internal IG report from last month suggested improper gifts and expenses (an issue that has dogged several administration officials). (Associated Press)


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