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Brainstorm Health: J&J Depression Nasal Spray, Gilead Stock, Anti-Vaxxers

Hello, readers.

Drug giant Johnson & Johnson enjoyed a 1.6% stock boost on Tuesday after a crucial Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee vote recommending approval of its intriguing, if controversial, depression treatment esketamine.

The FDA isn’t required to follow the expert panel’s recommendations – but it usually does, especially when the votes are as lopsided as they were with the Johnson & Johnson drug (the vote recommending approval was 14-2-1).

It’s a significant victory for J&J given some questions of esketamine’s safety profile. The drug is a nasal formulation of ketamine, a powerful anesthetic that’s also often used as a party drug called “Special K.”

The major question facing the treatment, which has shown clinical benefit, is whether or not potential long-term harms involving its use would outweigh its benefits. The FDA advisers seem to have concluded that they would not.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Turn down that music, kids. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a message for you kids: Turn the dang music down! The agency reports that debilitating hearing loss is expected to double to 900 million by the year 2050, largely because of the proliferation of audio players that are, well, played with abandon and with little regard for ear health. (Reuters)


Keytruda finds success in kidney cancer. Shares of drug giant Merck spiked 2.3% on Monday as its superstar cancer immunotherapy drug Keytruda continued its hot streak. This time around, a study found that Keytruda could cut kidney cancer patients’ risk of death in half when combined with another drug from Pfizer. Keytruda has already dominated several cancer spaces, including lung cancer, and the latest data suggest it won’t be toppled anytime soon. (Financial Times)

Gilead slides on liver disease trial. Gilead has been on a mission to tackle one of the most difficult diseases around – NASH, or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a devastating (and surprisingly common) condition that wreaks havoc on the liver. But the biotech giant is having a tough go when it comes to the experimental selonsertib, which produced disappointing trial results compared to placebo. Gilead shares sank 3.3% on the news.


Kids are fighting back against their own parents’ anti-vax beliefs. Just how bad has the anti-vaxxer fiasco (the main driver of an unprecedented measles outbreak in Washington state) gotten? Children are now openly defying their own parents in order to get vaccinated. CNN shares a number of stories of these children and young adults, who grew up believing that being unvaccinated was normal and potentially healthy, but have now changed their views in an effort to preserve public safety. (CNN)


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President Trump’s AI Plan Is Management Consultant Fluff, by Adam Lashinsky

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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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