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Brainstorm Health: Kaiser CEO on Homelessness, Opdivo Lung Cancer Nod, CDC Graphic Novel

Happy Friday, readers! This is Sy.

On Thursday, Bernard Tyson, CEO of not-for-profit, integrated health care system extraordinaire Kaiser Permanente, sat down with Fortune for a wide-ranging conversation. But Tyson’s laser-like focus on the “social determinants of health”—especially the pernicious, and oft-ignored, scourge of homelessness—truly stood out.

“It’s just unacceptable that people are going to bed at night and their bed is the streets of the city. We think we can do something about that,” said Tyson, emphatically rapping his knuckles on the table. “The narrative that it’s okay to keep stepping over the homeless and going about our business in the richest country in the world is something we just cannot accept.”

In May, Kaiser announced a $200 million fund meant to deal with these very issues. The so-called “Thriving Communities Fund” will, the hope goes, help prevent homelessness in lower-income households while also assisting those who are already homeless gain access to housing; there will also be a focus on making affordable housing locations more environmentally sound, which Kaiser believes could also boost overall health.

It’s an ambitious set of projects that are still in their preliminary stages. But Tyson tells Fortune that, at the end of the day, they could reap a significant return on investment—from both a business and societal standpoint. “Our homeless initiative is not a giveaway program,” says Tyson. “That’s a direct contribution of our board. You need to think about the return on the investment. But the difference is, the return is not to make shareholders richer—the return is to put it back to use.”

For instance, Tyson points to pilot programs in cities like Oakland and Baltimore meant to both assist the homeless while also gleaning more information about them, all in an effort to bolster their long-term health. In one project, he says, Kaiser, in collaboration with the city, identified more than 500 elderly individuals with a list of health challenges (including mental health issues) living on the streets. Such background and real-time information could ultimately inform, the thinking goes, a smarter, more nuanced way of treating some of America’s most vulnerable and forgotten patients.

Have a wonderful weekend, and read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Marshaling AI against pancreatic cancer. Healthcare IT News reports that Johns Hopkins researchers have produced an AI-driven technique to better suss out possible pancreatic cancer at early stages of the disease. The scientists make some bold claims—they say that the AI-enabled methods can ID cases four to 12 months sooner than usual, which (if true) could be a boon for people suffering from one of the deadliest cancers. (Healthcare IT News)


Bristol-Myers gets FDA green light in a rare lung cancer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Bristol-Myers Squibb’s rock star cancer immunotherapy drug Opdivo for a very specific type of lung cancer, namely small cell lung cancer. BMS has been duking it out with Merck’s rival treatment Keytruda in the immuno-oncology market. The two are nearly neck-and-neck as far as sales go, especially following Merck’s success in a broader swath of lung cancer patients. (Reuters)


The CDC has a graphic novel and it is terrifying. Happy Friday! The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a new graphic novel out following a group of plunky kids and their efforts to map a disease outbreak (it is literally called The Junior Disease Detectives: Operation Outbreak). But, as my colleague Chris Morris notes, some of the content is, uh, disturbing. (Fortune)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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