May - August 2019
Measles Outbreak Now at 880 Cases, With Fastest Growth Still in New York
There have now been 880 measles cases reported in this year’s outbreak, already the largest since 1994, federal health officials said on May 20. An additional 41 cases were reported last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 30 were in New York State, which is having the country’s most intense outbreak, largely in Orthodox Jewish communities. Measles transmission tends to fade when warm summer weather arrives, other experts said. It is not clear whether that is because children are no longer gathered close together in school, because families spend less time indoors or because virus-laden droplets — like those containing influenza virus — stay airborne longer in cold, dry air than in warm, humid air.
To Fight Deadly Candida Auris, New York State Proposes New Tactics
New York State health officials are considering rigorous new requirements for hospitals and nursing homes to prevent the spread of a deadly drug-resistant fungus called Candida auris. The requirements could include mandatory pre-admission screening of patients believed to be at-risk and placing in isolation those patients who are infected, or even those just carrying the fungus on their skin. Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, and a fungal expert from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met on May 17 in Manhattan with nearly 60 hospital officials from across the state to discuss the proposed guidelines.
US Crackdown on Foreign Biotech Investment Makes Us Poorer, Not Safer
A new US law intended primarily to curb Chinese investment is threatening the US biotechnology industry and the jobs and health benefits it brings. After passing Congress 400 to 2, the updated version of this little known law, administered by a government committee called CFIUS, immediately triggered layoffs and reduced international fund flows into biotech companies. Because of its overly broad implementation and lack of an appeal mechanism, CFIUS is not only drastically reducing Chinese investment into US biotech. It is also threatening our country’s drug discovery engine.
Warning of ‘Pig Zero’: One Drugmarker’s Push to Sell More Antibiotic
Facing a surge in drug-resistant infections, the World Health Organization issued a plea to farmers two years ago: “Stop using antibiotics in healthy animals.” But at last year’s big swine industry trade show, the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, one of the largest manufacturers of drugs for livestock was pushing the opposite message. “Don’t wait for Pig Zero,” warned a poster featuring a giant picture of a pig peeking through an enormous blue zero, at a booth run by the drugmaker Elanco. The company’s Pig Zero brochures encouraged farmers to give antibiotics to every pig in their herds rather than waiting to treat a disease outbreak caused by an unknown Patient Zero.
Gilead Taps Nurix’s Protein Degradation Tech in $45M Cancer Pact
Gilead Sciences is enlisting Nurix and its drug development technology to create new cancer medicines that break down disease-causing proteins. The Big Pharma is handing over $45 million upfront in a deal that could reach $2.3 billion in value if all milestones are met and royalties realized. Nurix’s drug discovery platform focuses on manipulating the ubiquitin system, which breaks down damaged or unneeded proteins. Gilead will have the option to license programs against up to five targets from the deal, and Nurix could choose to co-develop up to two of those programs in the U.S. In the latter case, the pair will split development costs, profits and losses down the middle.
Sanofi to Ax 466 Jobs, Step up Focus on Cancer, Gene Therapy R&D
Sanofi is to cut 466 jobs in France and Germany as part of the reorganization of its R&D group. The job losses are part of a pivot away from cardiovascular diseases and toward immune-oncology drugs and gene therapies. In recent years, Sanofi has sought to revitalize its R&D group, making changes intended to lessen its reliance on external partners and hiring ex-Roche executive John Reed to lead the operation. The changes have seen Sanofi prioritize programs in oncology, immunology, rare diseases and vaccines and jettison several R&D projects that no longer fit with its focus.
Dassault Systemeseyes Life Science Boost with $5.7B Medidata Buy
Clinical trial specialist Medidata Solutions is being bought out by France’s Dassault Systemes in a $5.7 billion deal designed to help the tech firm diversify deeper into the biopharma services world. The cash deal sees the New York-based company subsumed into Dassault, which has specialized in design software but now wants in on the lucrative CRO and clinical trial space that has seen a bunch of high-end deals and buyouts in recent years. Medidata, which had sales of $636 million last year, has been making its own deals over the years, including pacts with biotechs such as Forty Seven.
FDA Proposes Tighter Opioid Rules That Would Make New Drugs Less Addictive
The Food and Drug Administration is proposing to tighten the rules for opioid manufacturers by requiring new drugs to be less addictive. Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless withdrew the agency’s previous guidance June 20, laying out a tougher new regulatory framework for evaluating applications for new opioids coming to the U.S. market. Under the proposal, drugmakers would have to say whether their drug has “any characteristics that would mitigate the risks of overdose, abuse or the development of addiction.” The FDA is taking public comments on its proposal through Aug. 20 and has scheduled a public meeting Sept. 17 to discuss it.
Trump Issues Executive Order Increasing Transparency in Hospital Prices, Doctor Fees
President Donald Trump on June 24 issued an executive order designed to pressure insurers, doctors and other health-care providers to disclose more information about their prices. High health costs have become a rare bipartisan issue with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle demanding changes. Trump has made lowering prices one of the key issues of his administration as health care remains a top issue for voters in the 2020 elections. Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced it would require pharmaceutical companies to disclose the price of their prescription medicines in television commercials starting in July, sparking a lawsuit from Amgen, Merck and Eli Lilly.
WHO Study Finds ‘Strong Evidence’ HPV Vaccine Can Prevent Cervical Cancer
International researchers say there’s “strong evidence” the HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer and should be expanded to boys and adults, according to a World Health Organization study published Wednesday in The Lancet. HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers analyzed data from 14 high-income countries, covering more than 60 million people over eight years. They found cases of HPV infections, two types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers, anogenital warts and precancerous cervical lesions — possible precursors to cervical cancer — all declined since the vaccine was introduced.
Apple Continues Expanding into Health Care by Selling a Consumer-focused Diabetes Monitor in Stores
Some Apple retail locations now sell a glucose monitor that integrates with the iPhone to give people with diabetes a way to track their blood sugar through Apple’s Health app. One Drop is an aesthetically designed blood glucose monitor with an associated iPhone app that integrates with Apple’s Health app, as well as a separate Apple Watch app. It’s the only diabetes product that Apple is currently selling in its physical stores, although it previously carried One Drop online and carried a Sanofi monitor in 2012. The introduction of One Drop is a prime example of how Apple is breaking into the health space by selling consumer-oriented products and integrating the data from them in its Health app, making the iPhone and Apple Watch hubs for people’s personal health.
Google’s Next Battleground as It Gets into Health Care Will Be Privacy, Lawsuit Shows
A new lawsuit against Google and the University of Chicago Medical Center alleges that researchers did not strip out date stamps or doctor’s notes buried within hundreds of thousands of patient medical records, and that this information could be used to identify a patient. A new lawsuit alleges that the companies did not take the proper steps to protect patient health information. The lawsuit specifically calls out Google’s massive data collection as a reason it could use seemingly harmless information to identify patients — a sign of deep mistrust, and a problem for Google’s ambitions in the space.
Digital Health Company Livongo Files for an IPO
In a much anticipated move, Livongo which uses a combination of devices, AI-driven data and specialized coaches to help people manage chronic conditions, filed today to go public. Livongo is part of a crop of companies operating at the intersection of healthcare and technology going public this year. Digital health companies have raised billions in venture funding but produced zero IPOs since 2016, falling short of the excitement they’ve
generated and raising questions about their growth potential. Livongo’s revenues grew 122% to $68.4 million from 2017 to 2018, and in the first quarter of this year they increased 157% to $32 million compared to the same period last year, but losses have widened as well.
Researchers Say They’re Closer to Finding Cure for HIV After Using CRISPR Technology to Eliminate Disease in Live Mice for the First Time
Researchers say they’re one step closer to finding a potential cure for HIV after successfully eliminating the virus in living mice for the first time. Using a combination of CRISPR gene-editing technology and a therapeutic treatment called LASER ART, scientists at Temple University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center said they erased HIV DNA from the genomes of animals in what they call an unprecedented study that was published July 2 in the journal Nature Communications. The CRISPR-LASER ART method is now being tested in primates.
Ebola Outbreak in Congo Is Declared a Global Health Emergency
The year-old Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now considered a global health emergency, the World Health Organization said on July 17, in a formal declaration that many public health experts called long overdue. the panel was persuaded by several factors that have made combating the epidemic more urgent in recent weeks: The disease reached Goma, a city of nearly two million people; the outbreak has raged for a year; the virus has flared again in spots where it had once been contained; and the epidemic hot zone has geographically expanded in northeastern Congo near Rwanda and into Uganda.
Drug Overdose Deaths Drop in U.S. for First Time Since 1990
Three decades of ever-escalating deaths from drug overdoses in the United States may have come to an end, according to preliminary government data made public July 17. Total drug overdose deaths in America declined by around 5 percent last year, the first drop since 1990. The decline was due almost entirely to a dip in deaths from prescription opioid painkillers, the medicines that set off the epidemic of addiction that has lasted nearly two decades. Fatal overdoses involving other drugs, particularly fentanyl and methamphetamine, continued to rise. The overall reduction, reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggests some possible relief from an epidemic so severe that it has reduced life expectancy.
How Drug Companies Are Using Your DNA to Make New Medicine
Genetic test-kit company 23andMe Inc. has for years used saliva to tell millions of consumers how closely related they are to Neanderthals or whether they are likely to develop diseases like diabetes or Alzheimer’s. Now, it’s fulfilling a bigger ambition: drug development. For 23andMe, using genetic data for drug research “was always part of the vision,” according to Emily Drabant Conley, head of business development. Since its founding in 2006, the company has amassed a huge collection of data from the millions of people who have submitted spit samples—and up to $199 each—in return for insights on their genes.
Lyndra Bags $13M Gates Grant for Long-Acting Contraceptive Pill
Lyndra Therapeutics, the MIT spinout, picked up $13 million grant from the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation to work on a contraceptive pill that only needs to be taken once a month. One of the things that the Gates Foundation’s Family Planning program aims at is bringing contraceptive information, services and supplies to women in low- and middle-income countries. Lyndra plans to use the funds to create a pill that delivers a continuous dose of the hormones such as estrogen and progestin with a focus on proving the pill can stay in body for a whole month.
3D Tissue Printer Prellis Biologics Raises $8.7M to Build Replacement Arteries, Vascular Blanks for Cell Cultures
Prellis Biologics, a San Francisco-based 3D tissue printing startup, has gathered $8.7 million in new funding alongside positive news from the first transplantation of its vascular tissue scaffolds into animals. The company’s series A round brought its total capital funding to $10.5 million, which was led by Khosla Ventures with additional backing from its previous seed round investors, True Ventures and SOSV’s Indie Bio accelerator. Prellis uses laser and holographic printing techniques that build 3D hydrogel structures for R&D or transplantation. Several promising study results, including the animal studies showed the spontaneous growth of additional blood vessels into the transplanted structure over an eight-week period, including branched vasculature which was about five times larger than a typical capillary, to connect the graft with the animals’ circulatory system. The first 3D printed human organ transplantation of replacing arteries is planned for later this year.