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Brainstorm Health: Super Gonorrhea, Trump’s New VA Pick, April Fool’s Prank and 23andMe

Good afternoon, readers! This is Sy.

Public health officials have been sounding the alarm on increasingly difficult-to-treat strains of gonorrhea for years now. This week, health officials in the U.K. pointed to a tangible human case of “super gonorrhea,” drawing widespread concern among medical and infectious disease experts.

Public Health England succinctly sums up why this case is so alarming: “This is the first global report of N. gonorrhoeae with high-level resistance to azithromycin and resistance to ceftriaxone,” wrote the organization in a report.

“We are investigating a case who has gonorrhea which was acquired abroad and is very resistant to the recommended first line treatment. First line treatment for gonorrhea is a combination of 2 antibiotics (azithromycin and ceftriaxone). This is the first time a case has displayed such high-level resistance to both of these drugs and to most other commonly used antibiotics,” added Dr. Gwenda Hughes, head of the Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) section at Public Health England, in a statement.

The case highlights the need to—and challenges of—developing new antibiotics as bacteria learn to survive the treatments. Gonorrhea is a particularly difficult infection because the bacteria that cause it “are particularly smart,” as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Dr. Teodora Wi stated last July, when the agency warned of the rise of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. “Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them.”

At that time, there were just three new drug candidates for gonorrhea treatment in various stages of clinical development.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


That joke ad about Lexus partnering with 23andMe may wind up fooling some folks. In a possible instance of “jokes-that-may-seem-more-believable-than-you-think,” Lexus has a new spoof ad about a program called “Genetic Select”—a (fake) service that would match up customers to their most “genetically compatible car” after taking a consumer DNA test from 23andMe. While the advertisement itself has enough warning signs that most discerning viewers should be able to figure out it’s all in jest, the press release version reads a little more dry (unless you catch the tidbit where it consciously mentions April 1, or April Fool’s Day). The ad is set to play during NBC’s Saturday Night Live this weekend on April 1 on Comedy Central. (Forbes)

Is there a genetic culprit for SIDS? A new study published in the journal Lancet suggests that certain gene variants may be associated with the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the mysterious leading cause of post-neonatal infant death in high-income countries. “Four (1·4%) of the 278 infants in the SIDS cohort had a rare functionally disruptive SCN4A variant compared with none (0%) of 729 ethnically matched controls,” write the study authors. (The Lancet)


Teva wins reversal of $235 million IP verdict. Hobbled generic drug giant Teva finally got a bit of good news: A federal judge on Wednesday reversed a $235 million jury decision against the company stemming from alleged patent infringement. Teva wold have had to pay that sum to competitor GlaxoSmithKline for allegedly stepping on its IP protection for Coreg, a blood pressure medication. The judge disagreed with the jury’s finding and ruled there was insufficient evidence to support the claims against Teva; GSK said it was “disappointed” and is reviewing its options moving forward. Teva stock was flat in Thursday trading. (Reuters)


Trump surprises with unorthodox pick for VA Secretary. President Donald Trump, in a long-expected move, has fired Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Shulkin is an Obama administration holdover leading a notoriously disorganized and beleaguered agency; allegations of improper travel expenditures also likely didn’t help his case. What’s turned some heads in Washington is Trump’s choice to succeed Shulkin: Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician who famously gave the press corps a glowing review of Trump’s physical and mental health earlier this year. Jackson is well liked on both sides of the aisle and a charismatic speaker. But veterans’ groups and some lawmakers questioned his credentials. Jackson has never been tasked with overseeing a sprawling government bureaucracy or run any kind of major organization. (Politico)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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