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Brainstorm Health: Brainstorm Health Day 1, E-Cigarettes and Seizure Risk, Cigna Insulin Co-Pay

Good afternoon and happy hump day, readers.

The first day of our Fortune Brainstorm Health conference was jam packed with fascinating discussions on everything from how companies are fundamentally changing the way they view workers’ health to the critical role data plays across the medical spectrum to an absolute, must-watch dinner interview with the CEOs of Not Impossible Labs and Unreasonable. Spoiler alert on that last one: Helping the deaf experience music through wearables and vibration.

I’ll be sharing all my favorite moments from our confab in the coming days, including a recap of two extraordinary sessions I got to moderate on data in health care and the ethics of CRISPR and gene editing. For now, let’s go big picture—by which I mean global big picture.

Fortune CEO Alan Murray hosted a crew of worldwide do-gooders who are using technology to attack the most intractable public health crises on Tuesday. The powerhouse panel consisted of Harvard professor Dr. Caroline Buckee, Merck EVP and chief patient officer Dr. Julie Gerberding, Dr. Carla Kriwet, EVP and CEO of connected care at Royal Philips, and Peter Sands, executive director at the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

All of these individuals say innovation in both tech and fundamental strategy has shaped their businesses while helping fight infectious diseases and solve logistical health care issues on the ground.

Take, for instance, Puerto Rico after the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which made supply transport nearly impossible. “In collaboration with mobile phone operators and other companies that have data on population displacement, we combine that with epidemiological data to figure out where we place resources to contain outbreaks and also in forecasting,” said Buckee, explaining that satellite technology was critical to finding the most efficient routes for getting around the island.

Merck’s Gerberding (like several other Brainstorm Health speakers) touted the burgeoning importance of drones for medical transport, especially in the wake of climate change. New drone technologies that can keep treatments like vaccines cold are a significant advance in some of the world’s hottest (and ever-heating) areas.

Of course, innovation isn’t always rooted in new gadgetry—new forms of collaboration matter, too. “The Global Fund itself was a striking example of institutional innovation. We are involved with private sector partners in all sorts of different ways,” said Sands. That includes linking private providers in poor regions like India with NGOs in order to deliver treatment for communicable diseases like tuberculosis.

Imagine going to a remote part of Kenya only to find “fully functional community hospitals connected, data wise, with a more university hospitals around in Nairobi,” said Royal Philips’ Kriwet, whose organization has set the ambitious goal of improving the lives of three billion people by 2030.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget these kinds of innovations aren’t fever dreams—they’re happening, on the ground, at this very moment.

Much more to come. Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


The real drone tech game-changer? Health care. Drones. We’re told they’ll one day be dropping off our Amazon packages and delivering our pizza. But Zipline International CEO Keller Rinaudo has a far loftier goal for the airborne gizmos—transporting critical medical supplies. And his firm is already delivering on it, with Rwanda sending out 60% of the national blood supply outside the capital city of Kigali using Zipline’s drones, Rinaudo said during Fortune Brainstorm Health on Tuesday. (Fortune)


Roche struggles with Spark Therapeutics buyout. Swiss drug giant is facing backlash from Spark Therapeutics shareholders as it attempts to acquire the gene therapy specialist in a $4.3 billion deal. The company is sounding an optimistic note, predicting completion of the deal by June. But first, it will have to go through Federal Trade Commission (FTC) scrutiny. (CNBC)

Cigna moves to cap out-of-pocket insulin costs. Health insurer Cigna, which now owns pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts, announced Wednesday that it will cap certain diabetes patients’ out-of-pocket costs for a 30-day insulin supply at $25. The move comes in the wake of mounting drug pricing criticism, particularly for insulin; but some critics such as Sen. Chuck Grassley responded by asking, Why wasn’t this step taken years ago? (Modern Healthcare)


FDA investigating reports of seizures linked to e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking into reports of seizures that may be linked to e-cigarette use in rare cases. “Today, we’re notifying the public of another potential emerging safety issue of which the FDA has recently become aware. We have reports indicating that some people who use e-cigarettes, especially youth and young adults, are experiencing seizures following their use,” wrote FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb (who is on his way out the door) in a statement. “Seizures or convulsions are known potential side effects of nicotine poisoning and have been reported in scientific literature in relation to intentional or accidental swallowing of nicotine-containing e-liquids.” (NBC News)


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Want a Better Health System? You Need Sy Mukherjee

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
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