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Coronavirus data and a dearth of trust

July 17, 2020, 9:05 PM UTC

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Happy Friday, readers.

I had a fascinating conversation this morning with Doug Merritt, the CEO of data integrity and cybersecurity firm Splunk, about an issue that’s fundamental to health care in general and medical data specifically: Trust.

Health care systems can’t function without trust. That’s especially true during a pandemic when you have all sorts of contradictory information flying around.

Which is why the White House’s recent decision to begin re-routing local hospital data about COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) raised concerns about data integrity and that fundamental trust.

Merritt, whose company counts the CDC and HHS among its clients, thinks the move could make sense. But only if a new centralized database about COVID meets four critical criteria.

“After 16 years of being in business at Splunk, we’ve got four data leadership principles,” Merritt says. Those include: diversity of data; transparency of data, (perhaps the most important for trust); openness; and collaboration around data.

The White House has tapped Peter Thiel co-founded Palantir and the more obscure private firm TeleTracking to lead the new data aggregation project.

“My worry would be, are they going to follow those principles? Because if you manipulate source information or restrict access, you’re going to run into problems,” says Merritt. “It’s going to be so crucial for trust on a national and global basis that they manage this properly.”

Sounds like they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Read on for the day’s news, and have a great weekend.

Sy Mukherjee


Teva releases new digitally connected inhaler in the U.S. Generic drug giant Teva Pharmaceuticals has begun selling its ProAir Digihaler, a digitally connected product meant for patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the U.S. This particular inhaler comes with a sensor that can connect to a smartphone app in order to measure metrics such as medication inhalation, and should a patient choose, be shared with health care professionals who can share tips on the best way to use their inhalers. Basically, it sounds a bit like a glucose monitoring device for the lungs. (MobiHealthNews)


A new enzyme for CRISPR gene-editing. CRISPR gene-editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna and her team at UC Berkeley continue to make waves in the field. A new study published in the journal Science finds that the team has discovered a new enzyme that can be used in the DNA slicing-and-dicing which makes CRISPR so promising. The difference is this enzyme is small enough to theoretically be targeted towards more specific genetic regions for editing compared to other CRISPR enzymes. (FierceBiotech)


Drug overdose deaths jumped in 2019. Preliminary CDC data suggests that drug overdose deaths spiked 4.8% in 2019 after seeing a slight decline in the previous year. The record 70,980 deaths were driven by powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, among others, although cocaine and methamphetamine overdoses also rose last year. (CNN)


The Q3 quarterly investment guideby Fortune Staff

What Starbucks learned about COVID-19 from its China storesby Beth Kowitt

Fauci expresses optimism on the COVID vaccine frontby Bloomberg

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