Brainstorm Health: Alex Trebek Cancer, China Gene Editing Rules, Gilead Shakeup

March 8, 2019, 12:02 AM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

Busy times around here with a magazine deadline looming, so it’ll have to be a short one from me today.

One note/mea culpa on my part—yesterday, I wrote about the Amazon/JPMorgan/Berkshire Hathaway joint health venture, now officially dubbed “Haven.” But I incorrectly referred to the venture’s CEO, Dr. Atul Gawande, as an “oncologist-journalist.” In fact, he’s not an oncologist—Gawande is a surgeon. My apologies for the error.

In sadder news, Alex Trebek, the American-Canadian host of one of the best game shows around, Jeopardy!, revealed that he is battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It’s a devastating diagnosis for one of the industry’s biggest icons. More on that below.

Read on for the day’s news.


China plans new human gene editing rules. Following the global outcry over Chinese scientist He Jiankui's claims that he'd facilitated the birth of twin girls whose genomes had been modified via CRISPR gene editing technology, China's health ministry is issuing new guidance on the practice, according to Nature. The draft regulations would largely restrict human gene editing, and require any research of the sort to receive approval from a national health commission. (Nature)


A shakeup at Gilead. Biotech giant Gilead's new CEO, Daniel O'Day, took the reins just this year. But Gilead's management structure is already facing a big shakeup; oncology chief Alessandro Riva is stepping down at the end of the month in order to take the top perch at a pharmaceutical spinoff of India's Glenmark Pharmaceuticals. It's the latest in a list of high-profile executive departures from Gilead, but perhaps an especially significant one given the company's interest in becoming a bigger player in the cancer drug space. (BioPharma Dive)


Alex Trebek's cancer. Alex Trebek has hosted Jeopardy! since 1984 (and been in the gameshow and television business for substantially longer). On Wednesday, he revealed to the world that he's grappling with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Trebek's fans (and count me definitively among them) were devastated, and understandably so. Pancreatic cancer is one of the malady's most pernicious forms. After diagnosis, the average relative survival rate is just 20%; five years out, that falls to 7%. And that's an average across all stages of pancreatic cancer. A major part of the problem is how difficult detecting pancreatic cancer is. By the time it's sussed out, the vast majority of patients can no longer be saved via surgery, as the disease has already spread.


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