Brainstorm Health: Icahn Backs Down, Alphabet’s Oscar Health Investment, Big Tech and AI

Hello, readers. This is Sy.

Google’s parent umbrella corporation, Alphabet, has never been shy about pronouncing its digital health ambitions. The company has made its intentions clear through projects such as life sciences upstart Verily, its anti-aging unit Calico, and a collaboration with Johnson & Johnson to create a new breed of robot surgeons, among others.

On Tuesday, the tech titan continued down the path by expanding its existing interest in six-year-old digital health startup Oscar Health, investing a cool $375 million in the firm co-founded by CEO Mario Schlosser and Josh Kushner (the brother of President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared).

That brings Alphabet’s total stake in Oscar to a considerable high. Just months ago, a pair of other company subsidiaries (Capital G and Verily) were participants in a $165 million funding round for Oscar, and Alphabet reportedly now owns 10% of the company.

Oscar has been on a bit of a roller coaster in its mission to offer a savvier, more efficient health insurance experience through its technology and partnerships with doctors and health systems. The company, originally inspired by the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, has been branching out into more states and markets beyond Obamacare’s individual insurance exchanges. With this latest jolt of cash, CEO Schlosser says Oscar will be able to expand into more cities and even elbow its way into the lucrative (and massive) Medicare Advantage segment for seniors.

Read on for the day’s news.


Big Tech's new health AI alliance. What do Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce have in common (other than being, uh, some of the biggest names in tech)? They want to free your darn health care data. On Monday, the firms signed on to an agreement to use a common set of standards meant to facilitate "frictionless data exchange"—i.e., making it less of a pain to actually share health care information in between systems. The convenience aspect aside, such standards would ostensibly play a critical role in these companies' health care ambitions: Accessible, exchangeable data under a unified standard makes the mission of harnessing artificial intelligence and machine learning in medicine easier and, hopefully, more effective. (Fortune)


New York joins avalanche of Purdue Pharma opioid suits. The state of New York on Tuesday sued the privately-held Purdue Pharma, maker of the controversial opioid OxyContin. "The opioid epidemic was manufactured by unscrupulous distributors who developed a $400 billion industry pumping human misery into our communities," said NY Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement, alleging that Purdue misled doctors and patients in a deliberate marketing effort that prioritized profits over public health (Purdue denies those allegations). (Reuters)

Biogen spinal atrophy drug spurned by U.K.'s NICE. The U.K.'s drug pricing watchdog is digging in its heels—well, at least for now—against Biogen's landmark spinal muscular atrophy treatment Spinraza over its price. The therapy's list price rings in at $750,000 for the first year of treatment, which the agency, NICE, doesn't feel is cost-effective given the benefit. Biogen will be sure to continue negotiations seeing as Spinraza has brought in a head-spinning number of sales for a relatively new rare disease drug. (BioPharma Dive)


Carl Icahn abandons his Cigna-Express Scripts war. Icahn giveth, Icahn taketh away, and...sometimes Icahn backtrack-eth? The activist investor had some brutal (and, I mean, brutal) things to say about the proposed Cigna-Express Scripts merger just a few weeks ago. He literally compared the potential corporate marriage to the infamous AOL/Time Warner merger, citing a variety of theories about the state of the pharmacy benefits manager industry and the specter of Amazon in drug distribution. But following two prominent shareholder advisory firms' support of the deal, Icahn has decidedly changed his tune: "In light of the ISS and Glass Lewis recommendations in favor of the Cigna/Express Scripts transaction and the significant stockholder overlap between the companies, we have informed the SEC we no longer intend to solicit proxies to vote against the transaction," the billionaire said Monday in a statement. (Fortune)


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