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Brainstorm Health: JPM-Amazon-Berkshire Leaders, CRISPR and Cancer, Soon-Shiong IPO

Happy Monday, Dailies. As readers of this column know, there has been much speculation about what exactly the joint health venture by JPMorgan Chase, Berkshire Hathaway, and Amazon will be—and ultimately do. That curiosity, no surprise, has extended to the question of who will lead the venture—with the naming of various candidates turning into a public parlor game.

Late last week, CNBC thought it had broken the story, with a hoped-for scoop that Geisinger Health CEO David Feinberg—who was featured in FORTUNE’s April 1 cover story—would oversee the mysterious new entity. It would have been a smart pick. (Feinberg had been reportedly advising JPM’s CEO Jamie Dimon and Berkshire boss Warren Buffett on the process, as it was.) But Feinberg later announced that he would remain at the celebrated Pennsylvania health system—pushing the outside guessing game into overdrive.

Candidate names that have been bandied about include former acting Medicare administrator Andy Slavitt and former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park—both of whom served in the Obama administration—as well as a number of health startup entrepreneurs, according to CNBC and others. (Buffett, Dimon, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have settled on a pick, they’ve said, but have yet to announce who it is.)

So far the speculation has centered on whether the trio has chosen a doer or a thinker. But I’m hoping that they’ve picked a pusher—um, as in envelope pusher. There is simply no point in setting up this enterprise unless the new leader is (a) determined as all heck to shake up the companies’ healthcare incentive system and (b) absolutely committed to integrating long-horizon prevention services, robust wellness coverage, and new consumer-focused technology into the plan(s). And to accomplish all, the venture CEO will need the unbridled support of her or his three corporate patrons.

I’m pleased to say that FORTUNE will actually get a chance to model out some of this thinking in our second annual gathering of the CEO Initiative, in San Francisco on June 25th and 26th. Three extremely thoughtful corporate leaders—Cathy Engelbert, Chief Executive Officer of Deloitte US; Chip Bergh, President and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co.; and Mark Hoplamazian, President and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation—will lead a long, deep discussion on “Building a New Model for Workplace Health.” They’ll be joined by Lloyd Minor, Dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine—who, as Brainstorm Health readers know, is particularly insightful when it comes to the potential of smart data and technology in healthcare delivery—and several other like-minded CEOs.

I’m truly excited for that. I’m also thrilled to get the chance to sit down for a one-on-one conversation with legendary venture capitalist and startup management guru John Doerr, whose wonderful new book, Measure What Matters, is now a New York Times best seller. Doerr, it’s worth noting, has also been advising the triumvirate of Buffett, Dimon, and Bezos on their candidate search.

Also participating in this event—which has been designed, along with FORTUNE’s “Change the World” list, to explore how companies can do well by doing good—are Apple’s Tim Cook, Delta’s Ed Bastian, Intel’s Brian Krzanich, Synchrony’s Margaret Keane, and Genpact CEO Tiger Tyagarajan, among many other leaders and thinkers.

I’ll be back in these pages with more on our discussions soon.

Until then, here are some health stories of the day worth highlighting.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE


Deconstructing the CRISPR-cancer question. A pair of recently released studies are, once again, shining a light on potential problems with the groundbreaking (but still very experimental) CRISPR gene-editing technology, including whether or not the tech could cause devastating adverse events. But, as with many such pioneering methods, there’s still a substantial number of unanswered questions over safety (not to mention efficacy). And on that critical former front, these new studies (one from drug giant Novartis and the other from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute) suggest a problem might exist involving a critical gene called “p53.” But experts on Twitter are pushing back on the narrative that this means CRISPR tech itself may exacerbate the chance of cancer; rather, the papers may be more of an indictment on that gene’s ability to make CRISPR gene editing less effective. This is an issue that’s sure to keep getting plenty of attention.


Soon-Shiong on the hunt for another biotech IPO. Reuters reports that controversial biotech entrepreneur (and LA’s richest doctor, and the man who’s trying to buy the Los Angeles Times), Patrick Soon-Shiong, is lining up yet another IPO—this time, for a company simply called “Nant” that would be used to develop experimental cancer drugs. Soon-Shiong’s launched a number of public companies whose shares have more or less universally plunged since their IPOs in the wake of lackluster sales and media reports questioning whether his charitable cancer foundation has been used to prop up his own for-profit companies (claims Soon-Shiong has consistently denied). (Reuters)

The limits of generic drug approvals on pricing pressure. PricewaterhouseCoopers is out with a wide-ranging new analysis of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent efforts to significantly ramp up generic drug approvals. This has been one of FDA chief Scott Gottlieb’s main missions; but the PwC report explores just how much this tactic can and can’t help lower drug prices. One key takeaway: “But even as the FDA is likely to succeed in some areas, there are limits to this approach. Not all drug products are susceptible to generic competition, including biological medicines which will require biosimilar competition.” (PwC)


KKR to snap up Envision Healthcare for $5.5 billion. Private equity firm KKR is making a big acquisition—in fact, one of the biggest PE buyouts since the financial crisis, as my colleague Polina Marinova notes, snatching physician services provider Envision Healthcare for a cool $5.57 billion. It could prove a great deal for KKR; but Envision isn’t without its controversies. The firm has come under scrutiny for its emergency room billing services, and going private could stymie transparency efforts, Axios points out(Fortune)

Retail health clinics and medical mega-mergers. Hal Rosenbluth and Peter Miller are out with a new op-ed in STAT News exploring the ways that the retail health clinics of yesteryear helped set the stage for the mega-mergers (a la CVS-Aetna and others) that we’ve been seeing proposed in recent months. “Looking back, the retail health clinics touched everything we hold dear in health care today. They helped launch the era of patient-centric care; brought price transparency to the industry; made care for most — if not care for all — a possibility by introducing prices that were affordable and accessible; and spotlighted the value of right provider, right place, and right time,” they write. Rosenbluth, chairman and CEO of New Ocean Health, and Miller, CEO of Optinose, co-founded the firm that eventually became Clinics at Walgreens. (STAT)


Female Libido Drug Founder Is Back as CEO After Valeant Gave the Billion-Dollar Drug Back for Freeby Polina Marinova

Net Neutrality Is Officially Dead in the U.S.—Here’s What Happens Nextby David Meyer

Uber Is Trying toFind Out When You’ve Had One Too Manyby Don Reisinger

Will Trump Flip Flop on Marijuana Legalization? by David Z. Morris

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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