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Brainstorm Health: China Vaccine Scandal, Parkinson’s Stem Cells, ‘Medicare for All’

Good morning, readers! This is Sy.

The market for health care stocks in China, touted by numerous industry watchers as a red-hot sector just a few months ago, is in the midst of a major sell-off. The motivating factor? A widespread vaccine scandal that’s swept across the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people and catalyzed doubt and recriminations about the country’s biopharmaceutical sector.

On Tuesday, China’s main drug industry watchdog published new findings on its investigations into the matter, which center on two firms that have allegedly been manufacturing inferior vaccines and lying to regulators. The authorities are vowing tough penalties on the perpetrators (one of which, Changsheng Bio-technology Co Ltd, has publicly copped to and apologized for the debacle, which includes falsified data and the sale of more than a quarter million ineffective diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus vaccinations).

In fact, the Chinese government has already ordered the arrest of 18 individuals named in the probe. One of them is Gao Junfang, Changsheng’s chairwoman. And officials are pledging an even broader sweep to assess whether or not more individuals are liable for criminal wrongdoing.

The scandal is the latest chapter in an ongoing evolution in China’s drug market, which is seeking to break out as a major world biopharma player but still grappling with the realities of regulatory setbacks in a sprawling and still-developing nation.

But while the anger over this specific incident is palpable, luckily, it may not wind up discouraging vaccination rates in the country over the long term—as Nature points out, childhood vaccinations are mandatory in China for anyone starting school, and support for the shots (and overall immunization compliance) is extraordinarily high.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Scientists tout ‘reprogrammed’ stem cells to treat Parkinson’s. Scientists from Japan’s Kyoto University are hailing the potential of “reprogrammed” stem cells (i.e., the “pluripotent” variety) to treat Parkinson’s disease. The researchers announced Monday that they will begin human clinical trials of the treatment—which involves inserting these reprogrammed stem cells into the brain—next month. (Reuters)


FDA warns of the dangers of certain ‘vaginal rejuvenation’ procedures. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a scathing report detailing the dangers of certain vaginal rejuvenation procedures that use laser therapies, urging doctors to stay clear of prescribing such techniques to treat sexual dysfunction in women. “The deceptive marketing of unproven treatments may not only cause injuries but may also keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat severe medical conditions,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement. “These products have serious risks and don’t have adequate evidence to support their use for these purposes. We are deeply concerned women are being harmed.” (CNBC)


Is a lack of water draining your brain? Not drinking enough water is a well-known culprit for physical exhaustion. But a new study suggests that it takes a significant toll on your mental capacities, too. In fact, even mild dehydration may slow down your thought process, according to the research by the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technology. (NPR)

House Democrats plot ‘Medicare for All’ plan. The left wing of the Democratic party is planning votes on “Medicare for All” universal health care plans should it retake the House of Representatives following the 2018 midterm elections, The Hill reports. That’s a major goal of figures like Bernie Sanders that’s been increasingly embraced by mainstream Democrats. Of course, such a bill would have little chance of becoming law given that Republicans will still likely control the Senate and Donald Trump will remain in the Oval Office—but such a vote has the potential to shift the political calculus of a major party’s stance in one of the country’s most pressing issues. (The Hill)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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