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Brainstorm Health: Melanoma Blood Test, When Milk Isn’t Milk, Brexit Drug Stockpiling

Australian scientists say that, in a “world first,” they’ve developed a blood test for melanoma that can catch the deadly skin cancer at its earliest stages. A melanoma blood test would be a significant advance in the public health fight against cancer for a number of reasons—especially since earlier diagnosis of the disease is associated with a significantly higher chance of surviving it.

The researchers from Australia’s Edith Cowan University say their test was about 80% accurate in correctly diagnosing people with melanoma in a small, early stage trial. The test, which detects a certain mix of antibodies in the blood associated with people who have melanoma, was used on about 100 healthy individuals and 100 people with the cancer. Eventually, the scientists hope they can get the test’s accuracy up to 90% in later trials as they seek regulatory clearance for it.

Lead researcher Pauline Zaenker hailed the test as a potential breakthrough for patients. “Patients who have their melanoma detected in its early stage have a five-year survival rate between 90 and 99 percent,” said Zaenker in a statement.

Public health data from groups like the National Cancer Data Base and other data compiled by major treatment facilities like the Moffitt Cancer Center bear out those numbers. More than 90% of patients tend to still be alive five years after their melanoma diagnoses if it’s caught at Stage 1; for those whose disease isn’t diagnosed until Stage 3, the number dwindles down to 60% or lower.

Moffitt Cancer Center
Moffitt Cancer Center

What makes melanoma more dangerous than far more common skin cancers such as squamous cell and basal cell cancer is its ability to spread much more quickly to other parts of the body unless promptly diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Right now, melanoma is usually diagnosed through a biopsy of a mole or suspicious skin lesion—a procedure that can be expensive and potentially painful.

Cancer blood tests, also called “liquid biopsies,” have long been an aspirational goal for biotechnology and diagnostics firms, including upstarts like Guardant Health and Grail.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Walmart. Microsoft. Amazon. Walmart and Microsoft are joining forces in a battle galvanized by a singular opponent: Amazon. On Tuesday, the former pair announced a five-year agreement that would give Walmart access to Microsoft’s cloud computing systems. In case you’re wondering why that may have a downstream effect in digital health: Microsoft has been trying to optimize its cloud platforms, including Azure and Microsoft 365, for use by health care outfits. (Fortune)

INDICATIONS

Brexit prompts AstraZeneca to stockpile medicines. British drug giant AstraZeneca is taking precautionary measures against potential drug shortages in the wake of Brexit, specifically if the U.K. cannot secure a deal that would prevent such shortfalls. The company says this is a “safety net” measure that would boost the availability of certain medicines 20% above the level that’s already maintained. (Reuters)

THE BIG PICTURE

The FDA’s war on “milk.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is coming after your almond milk. Or, at least, companies’ ability to label something made out of almonds as “milk.” “An almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb during a Politico conference. (Politico)

Bill Gates’ latest Alzheimer’s investment. Bill Gates is deepening his involvement in the Alzheimer’s research space—this time, with an eye on diagnostics. “I’m excited to share that my next investment in Alzheimer’s research is in a new fund from @TheADDF called Diagnostics Accelerator. I’m joining Leonard Lauder and other philanthropists in committing over $30M to develop a new way to diagnose Alzheimer’s,” the tech legend and philanthropist said in a tweet. Gates and an assorted crew will be investing $30 million into the fund; that’s on top of previous Gates forays into Alzheimer’s and dementia, including more than $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund. (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

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Netflix CEO: Net Neutrality Is a ‘Consumer Expectation’by Sarah Gray

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

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