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Brainstorm Health: JPM Updates, Right to Try Patient, State Health Care Reform

Hello and happy hump day, readers.

I finished up the last of my JPMorgan Healthcare conference interviews this morning and am off on my way back to New York. It’s safe to say that the dozens of conversations I’ve had with investors, analysts, digital health and biopharmaceutitcal executives, and others throughout these past three days could easily fill several weeks’ worth of newsletters (and, heck, JPM isn’t actually even over yet).

Take, for example, my conversation with United Neuroscience co-founders Mei Mei Hu and Lou Reese. Their company has set out on an ambitious journey to actually protect against neurological disorders before such conditions have progressed beyond the point of return. That includes work on an Alzheimer’s vaccine, and other treatments for conditions such as Parkinson’s. Hu and Reese are quite the pair, too, an enthusiastic duo willing to challenge the conventional wisdom at every turn. (When I asked Hu what got a JD such as herself interested in something as convoluted as biotech, she turned the tables on me and asked, “Have you ever talked to anyone who gets into medicine because they want to discover some random molecule or biomarker?”)

Other notable chats in a spoil of riches included an on-the-record press dinner hosted by the rock star health care VC Venrock; a talk with physician-billionaire and biotech executive Patrick Soon-Shiong, whose firms are attempting to develop a cancer vaccine; Axel Hoos, who heads up oncology R&D at GlaxoSmithKline and had plenty to share on the British drug giant’s plans in the space; and a panel on digital health trends that I had the opportunity to moderate, which included the likes of Novartis chief digital officer Bertrand Bodson and Pear Therapeutics CEO Corey McCann. And that’s just scraping the surface.

I look forward to sharing all these stories, and more, in the coming days. Stay tuned. And in the meantime, read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Are we less than 10 years away from a cancer blood test? Another fascinating conversation I had just this morning was with Helmy Eltoukhy, the co-founder and CEO of Guardant Health. This week, Guardant, which is in the “liquid biopsy” business – i.e., developing blood tests that could one day supplant invasive tissue biopsies – announced a new kind of test for detection of early-stage cancers. Eltoukhy tells me he’s confident that this kind of technology can become a regular part of an annual checkup to screen for cancer in, not 12 or 15 years, but in less than ten.

INDICATIONS

Glaxo’s game plan. What’s ahead for GlaxoSmithKline? CEO Emma Walmsley, who has moved aggressively to restructure the drug giant’s executive roster and overall organizational structure during her still-young tenure as chief executive, says that acquisitions of early-stage experimental assets are in the future. But that doesn’t mean that late-stage and already-on-the-market products will get short shrift; at this point, it’s a multi-pronged approach to snapping up promising novel drugs to give Glaxo’s pipeline an adrenaline shot. (Reuters)

Controversial “Right to Try” law gets its first test case. The “Right to Try” law signed by President Donald Trump last year, which gives terminally ill patients the option to bypass the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when seeking unapproved medical treatments, has had its first test case. A patient with a form of brain cancer was given the investigational treatment ERC-1671 by ERC-USA and the University of California, Irvine. Right to Try has been controversial among patient groups and the medical community, with critics often noting that the FDA overwhelmingly (and quickly) approves compassionate use requests for unapproved drugs. (RAPS)

THE BIG PICTURE

States, cities lead the way on aggressive new health reforms. As the Trump administration remains antagonistic toward the Affordable Care Act, a number of states and cities have taken matters into their own hands, proposing massive expansions of the health care safety net. For instance, New York City just launched a $100 million universal health insurance program to cover some 600,000 uninsured residents, including undocumented immigrants; in California, newly sworn-in Governor Gavin Newsom took steps to move the state toward a single payer health system; and Washington Governor Jay Inslee proposed a statewide public insurance option to complement Obamacare’s private health exchanges.

REQUIRED READING

How the Government Shutdown Is Hurting Business, by David Meyer

America’s Disastrous New Normal: A Booming Economy and Soaring Deficits, by Shawn Tully

After Divorce, Jeff Bezos May No Longer Be the World’s Richest Man, by Chris Morris

Bill Gates-Led VC Fund Invests in Carbon Free Steel Manufacturing, by Renae Reints

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

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