Brainstorm Health: Abortion Rates Plunge, Novartis Pear Therapeutics Collaboration, 3D Body Scanner

Happy Wednesday, readers. A bit of digital health news going into the Thanksgiving holiday.

Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Swiss drug giant Novartis, has long telegraphed his interest in digital medicine. In one conversation I had with him a few years back (before he was elevated to his chief executive perch), Narasimhan waxed enthusiastic about the possibilities that artificial intelligence, remote monitoring tech, and other such innovations hold for the life sciences.

This week, Novartis (through its Sandoz unit) continued its steady march into the space by officially launching its reSET treatment program for patients who suffer from drug addiction. “We all have a role to play in helping find solutions that work for patients, families and communities as we fight the substance abuse epidemic,” said Sandoz chief Richard Francis in a statement. “Adding reSET to outpatient therapy enhances behaviors associated with recovery. It leverages new technology to help patients improve abstinence in substances of abuse and stay in treatment programs longer than outpatient therapy alone.”

Novartis says that the reSET program is the first fully “digital therapeutic” to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In essence, it’s a tracking tool meant to be used alongside the traditional outpatient care pursued by people with substance use disorders; this can help their doctors track the day-to-day, subjective biometrics that can then inform caregiving, such as what triggers a recovering addict’s cravings.

And the product is far from the only digital tech Novartis has invested in as a down payment on the future. The company has doubled down on the use of machine learning and AI for drug discovery, among other initiatives.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your families and friends. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday.


U.C. Davis previews its total body scanner. UC Davis scientists are unveiling the first images from the university's total, 3D body scanner device. Dubbed EXPLORER, the tech combines both a PET and CT scan that can capture the body's inner workings in close to real time. Just what could that mean? "Because the machine captures radiation far more efficiently than other scanners, EXPLORER can produce an image in as little as 1 second and, over time, produce movies that can track specially tagged drugs as they move around the entire body," according to UC Davis.


Sage's postpartum drug approval timeline pushed back. The FDA is giving itself another three months to assess whether or not Sage Therapeutics' pioneering postpartum depression drug should be cleared for the market. The approval was originally expected in December but now may not occur until March. The reason isn't related to efficacy, per se—rather, the agency wants more time to come up with a post-marketing surveillance program for the drug, which is widely expected to receive approval but also must be administered in a hospital via IV infusion and may come with some serious side effects among certain patients. (FierceBiotech)


Abortion rates plunged through 2015. A new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report finds that abortion rates in America plummeted to an all time low in the decade between 2006 and 2015. In 2015, there were just 11.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44—or a 26% decline from 2006. The shift was even more notable in teenage girls aged 15 to 19, who saw a 54% drop over that time period. (Reuters)


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