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Brainstorm Health: Genetically Modified Viruses, Drug Prices in TV Ads, RFK Jr and Vaccines

May 8, 2019, 9:27 PM UTC
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Hello and happy hump day, readers!

This battle of the microorganisms (one modified by humans directly, one modified via evolution over the course of decades in response to, well, human activity) played out in a teenage patient named Isabelle Carnell-Holdaway. She suffers from the rare lung disease cystic fibrosis and caught her antibiotic-resistant infection following a lung transplant necessitated by her condition.

As a last resort, she was given a genetically modified cocktail of three viruses that, while not curing her completely, has significantly improved her quality of life, according to her physicians.

Only time will tell if the treatment is effective over the long term or if the offending bacteria will adapt to those viruses as it has to more traditional therapies. And, of course, this is the case of just one patient.

But the ever-growing threat of drug-resistant superbugs makes innovative approaches like this an absolute necessity when fighting what global health experts have called a ticking time bomb in human disease.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Stunning progress, at a stunning price, for SMA gene therapy. There has been legitimately amazing progress against spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), once a death sentence for children, in the past few years with the advent of drugs like Biogen's Spinraza. But with great innovation comes staggering list prices in biopharma, and SMA is no different. Novartis' own gene therapy take on SMA treatment, Zolgensma, is expected to be approved this month - and may carry a list price of $2 million, according to analyst estimates. (Wall Street Journal)


Pfizer snatches up rare disease biotech in $340 million deal. Drug giant Pfizer will purchase Therachon Holding, a clinical stage biotech company focused on rare diseases, in a deal worth $340 million, the company announced Wednesday. The acquisition comes on the heels of a new, rare heart disease drug approval for Pfizer, which looking to smaller-scale bolt-on deals to build out its pipeline.

The trouble with drug prices in TV ads. A Trump administration rule that would require drug companies to include list prices in television commercials (sidenote: DTC drug advertising is a practice that's almost entirely unique to the United States) has been finalized. And it's already drawn the ire of PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry's main lobbying front. (It would be shocking if lawsuits aren't around the corner over 1st Amendment grounds.) But, while the move would inject some transparency into the notoriously opaque medical pricing system in the U.S., critics note that list prices aren't actually the prices paid by most American consumers - and the rule may wind up having adverse events, such as funneling even more emphasis on rebates actually normalizing high list prices. For the drug industry professionals out there - what are your thoughts?


Buying cigs at Walmart? You'll need to be 21. Beginning this July, Walmart will require customers attempting to buy cigarettes and tobacco products to prove that they're 21. The move follows growing pressure against tobacco makers and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise to introduce federal legislation to hike the nationwide smoking age to 21.  (Reuters)

RFK Jr.'s family slams his vaccine skepticism. Here's something you don't see every day: The family of Robert Kennedy, Jr., has written a blistering op-ed in Politico slamming his positions on vaccination (RFK Jr. is a well-know vaccine skeptic). The authors include his own siblings and nephews/nieces. (Politico)


It Is Time to Think Differently About Healthby Sandro Galea

Amazon Gave Jobs to DOD Staff Working on Cloud Bid, Lawsuit Claimsby Bloomberg

In Silicon Valley, It (Still) Ain't Easy Being Greenby Clay Chandler

The Prize for Winning Energy's Biggest Takeover Battleby Katherine Dunn

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
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