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Brainstorm Health: Altria E-Cig Move, Biogen Alzheimer’s Data, Trump Drug Pricing Proposal

A weird thing happened this morning. Altria, the tobacco giant that distributes Marlboro cigarettes in the U.S., voluntarily decided to pull the refillable e-cigarette nicotine pods it sells from the market and cease sales of most of its e-cigarette and vaping products generally, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing a wave of underage use of such devices.

Ok, so “voluntarily” may be a stretch. E-cig manufacturers have been feeling the heat from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the past year. That pressure, combined with market leader Juul’s dominance in the field, may help explain Altria’s decision to stop marketing these specific products. (Of note: Altria will still sell e-cigarettes, but mostly of the menthol, mint, and plain-old variety, rather than the candy- and fruit-flavored concoctions that tend to hook kids.)

It’s also important to remember the industry dynamics at play here. Juul has a staggering 75% market share in the e-cigarette market, according to the Journal, whereas Altria rings in below 6%. Given recent FDA moves to discern whether the vape makers are irresponsibly marketing to teens, Altria’s decision may be a “get out of Dodge” moment.

Juul has yet to respond to today’s developments. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb had plenty to say, on the other hand. “Some WRONGLY presume that kids who use e-cigs might have instead used cigarettes. So they’ll say, “well at least they’re not smoking”. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Data shows most kids using e-cigs wouldn’t have smoked instead. But now, having initiated to nicotine, they’re more likely to,” he wrote in a tweet on Thursday, adding in another one that the agency “will be taking additional action very soon” on the issue.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

‘Smart breast pump’ company stops responding to its customers. My colleague Glenn Fleishman reports that Naya Health, manufacturer of a $1,000 “smart breast pump,” has both shut down its customer support site and is no longer responding to queries via its social media accounts. “Customer complaints are rampant, with buyers complaining about late shipment, no shipment at all, flaws in the product, and an inability to obtain replacement parts critical to pumping,” Glenn says. (Fortune)

Apparently, Prince Harry has a sleep tracker ring. In an instant marriage of celebrity and health care clickbait, Prince Harry apparently dons an “Oura ring,” a digital device that tracks “sleep and level of daily activity, and makes recommendations based on that data,” according to NBC. The company behind the $300 gadget is Oura Health, which is backed by the likes of Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and other Silicon Valley names. One can only hope the prince sleeps easier with it on his finger. (NBC News)

INDICATIONS

Biogen and Eisai’s mixed bag on Alzheimer’s. Biogen shares fell 1.1% in Thursday trading (despite a 3% rise in the NASDAQ composite) following a mixed update on its experimental Alzheimer’s treatment BAN2401, which is being produced alongside partner Eisai. While the companies touted that the highest doses of the drug were effective in slowing cognitive decline compared with placebo, investors and analysts continued to question the study’s design—some stating that the firms need to answer more questions about what the data actually means and clear some muddy waters. (Reuters)

THE BIG PICTURE

Trump administration wants to tie drug pricing to other countries. We’ll have a lot more on this later—but on Thursday, the Trump administration proposed some intriguing (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, MAGA-esque) changes to Medicare drug prices. The proposals take on so-called “foreign freeloaders” who ostensibly take advantage of the American biopharmaceutical innovation at the expense of patients in the U.S. “For decades other countries have rigged the system so that American patients are charged much more—and in some cases much, much more—for the exact same drug,” Trump said in a rare speech addressing health care. “In other words, Americans pay more so other countries can play less.” Whether that statement is true—and whether the proposal to launch pilot programs that would, for instance, attempt to try certain drug prices to those paid by foreign governments that set those prices unilaterally—is a more complicated question. (Politico)

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

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