Brainstorm Health: New Alzheimer’s Theory, Walmart and CVS, Novartis Big Data Project

January 18, 2019, 9:02 PM UTC

Happy Friday, readers!

As we head into MLK weekend, I wanted to highlight an absolute must-read feature in the latest Fortune magazine issue: Rick Tetzeli’s fascinating foray into Paul Cox’s radical new theory for tackling Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s no secret that Alzheimer’s drug development has been rife with failure for more than 15 years (my own mini-summary of that debacle also appears in our latest issue).

Cox and company’s gamble contends that a simple protein building could be the key to preventing serious neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and ALS. Here’s a little peek into Tetzeli’s piece:

When it comes to the study of neurons—the critical cells of the central nervous system that degenerate and die in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and ALS—Cox describes himself as something of a piker. “One colleague says I know about as much neurology as a neurologist’s spouse,” he added with a grin.

Nonetheless, neurons are precisely what you’ll find Cox and a covey of researchers studying at his nonprofit Brain Chemistry Labs. If you happen to be visiting Jackson this winter, you’ll recognize the lab by the cartoonish wood carving of a bespectacled bear (holding a beaker, naturally) just above the front portico. You might even spot a wealthy local patron wearing one of the lab’s “Serine Dipity” sweatshirts. That’s a wordplay on L‑serine, an amino acid that serves critical functions in the central nervous system, among other things. That’s the second strange part of this story: How extraordinarily unlikely and yet wonderful would it be if Cox and his colleagues were right—and the best prevention for some of these terrifying diseases turns out to be a naturally occurring protein building block rather than a high-priced drug.

We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday, January 22nd after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Enjoy your weekend and read on for the day’s news.


Novartis to link  up with Oxford researchers on big data project. Swiss drug giant Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has long been a digital health evangelist. Now, his firm is doubling down on its big data strategy for clinical research, teaming up with the University of Oxford's Big Data Institute on a pair of 5-year projects. The initiatives will focus on multiple sclerosis and psoriasis and other conditions treated by the firm's big-selling Cosentyx (Endpoints News)

Verily has an EKG of its own. You may have heard that Apple is definitely interested in the health care space (a partnership with Johnson & Johnson centering on atrial fibrillation from just this week proved the point, with the Apple Watch's EKG reader featuring a central role in the collaboration). But Alphabet's Verily arm has its own aspirations in the space, the company reminded everyone on Friday. "[T]he Verily Study Watch has received 510(k) clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a Class II medical device for its on-demand ECG feature. Specifically, the FDA-cleared Study Watch is a prescription-only device intended to record, store, transfer and display single-channel ECG rhythms, and is indicated for use by healthcare professionals, adult patients with known or suspected heart conditions and health conscious individuals," wrote the company in a blog post.


Lilly shares fall on failed cancer drug trial. Shares of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly sank more than 2% in Friday trading on news that its cancer treatment Lartruvo failed a long-term trial in soft tissue sarcoma, and will no longer be prescribed after being approved on an accelerated FDA track in 2016. That's a dark spot for both the accelerated approval process and Lilly's thin record in the space - a space which led to the acquisition of Loxo Oncology ahead of the JPMorgan Healthcare conference and may very well facilitate further deal-making. (Reuters)


Walmart backtracks on its CVS breakup. America's biggest retailers made waves earlier this week, indicating it would ditch its partnership with the sprawling CVS Caremark pharmacy unit over pricing disagreements. The threat appears to have worked. “We are pleased to have reached fair and equitable terms with CVS Caremark that are in the best interest of our customers, and we are glad our CVS Caremark customers will be able to continue saving money and living better,” said Sean Slovenski, senior vice president of Walmart Health and Wellness in a statement. (Fortune)


Commentary: These Are the Challenges Tech Giants Will Face in 2019, by Bill George

Tesla to Cut 7% of Its Workforce, by David Meyer

You'll Soon Be Able to Buy Bitcoin at the Grocery Store, by Chris Morris

The 2019 Government Shutdown: How It Stacks Up, and What It Really Costs, by Nicolas Rapp & Matt Heimer

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