4. On the verge of something big

A universal vaccine for cancer may actually be in sight. Can we all just take a minute to process this please? YAASS.  An illness that wreaks havoc on countless lives could soon be a thing of history textbooks, due to genius efforts of a group of international researchers. The scientists have created a vaccine that essentially causes the immune system to recognize the tumor as a virus and attack it—a practice called cancer immunotherapy. The vaccine greatly reduced size of aggressive tumors in mice, and showed promising results in advanced stage patients—either reducing or halting tumor growth, and likely preventing relapse after tumor removal. The cherries atop this potential medical triumph are the relatively benign side effects and inexpensive vaccine production costs.

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5. Is Google’s biotech spinoff just science fiction?

A new report claims that Verily Life Sciences, the Google spinoff company responsible for things like glucose-monitoring contact lenses and a wristwatch-style cancer screener, may be more hype than reality. Stat, a healthcare news website owned by Boston Globe Media, published an investigative series reporting that three of Verily’s key projects are floundering. One former employee called the contact lenses “slideware,” a Silicon Valley term for something that doesn’t exist outside of a PowerPoint presentation. Verily defended its research, arguing that these projects take time because they’re “inherently difficult” and would like to remind everyone of another “slideware” project now called a self-driving car. “Science is easy,” said nobody, ever.

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1. Not all drug economic models are the same, it’s complicated

You don’t have to listen too carefully to hear the constant mantra of “lower drug prices” being shouted from the rooftops. The healthcare delivery system in the US works like most other free market environments. When profits are high (demand > supply) entities enter the market and when profit dries up (supply > demand) entities leave the market. It is no different for the manufacturing of drugs, especially for generic products not protected by a patent. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, a case can be made for increasing the prices of certain generic injectables, especially those critical to emergency room treatments. Drug pricing, drug supply, and the development of innovative products are all linked. By better understanding these linkages we can shift the conversation from drug “prices” to drug “economics” and we think that is good for all involved.

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2. Rocket Fuel Shortage in Cancer Moonshot

With so many Americans terrified of shots, the National Cancer Moonshot initiative may have trouble getting off the ground. A new study reveals only 40% of Americans hold a positive view of clinical trials, and just 4% of cancer patients enroll in a clinical trial annually. Yet, “when it comes to advancing cancer care, clinical research is the rocket fuel for better treatments, more accurate diagnoses and, ultimately, cures,” Dr. Jose Baselga, physician-in-chief and chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute said. Concerns about side-effects, safety and out-of-pocket costs combined with the fear of receiving a placebo instead of an active treatment mean the cancer community needs to do some myth busting about clinical trials before advancing towards a cure.

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3. A huge pain in the… meds?

Just five days of exposure was all it took to show that morphine treatment in rats caused chronic pain that lasted for months. The morphine triggered a cascade of pain signals from immune cells in the spinal cord, which normally are meant to clear out infection-causing microorganisms. This cascade of signals increases the activity of nerve cells, which in turn leads to a long-lasting chronic pain. If the study holds true for humans, it could be a major step in explaining the outbreak of prescription painkiller addiction in recent years. Those who have taken opioids such as morphine, oxycodone and methadone may have actually been doing more harm than good as these drugs may simply numb an issue that they concurrently make worse.   

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4. _________ is up 20% year-to-date

What’s in the blank space, you ask? Not pharma sales, not R&D expense, but rather pharma industry spending on TV ads. This comes on the heels of 2015 where spending was up 20% over 2014. According to Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne, “We continue to see pharma spending as the fastest growing major ad vertical on TV.” There are two things to note from Swinburne’s analysis, the first is that digital spending seems to be moving back to TV and pharma is a major reason why. There is no value judgement here. However, more TV exposure might bring more attention to the pharma industry (and maybe drug prices). FYI, the average ad spend for the top 20 spending products = $155M per product in 2015.

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5. DIY patient recruitment

How nice would it be for your study coordinator to sit back and receive contact details from people who want to join your trial?  Well, now there’s a smartphone app designed to do just that.  Peter Elkin, MD, a University at Buffalo researcher, has developed an app that essentially allows patients to self-recruit.  Patients can search for trials near them that cover the disease/indication that interests them and with the press of a button, send their contact information to the appropriate study coordinator.  If this takes off, not only will patients have the option to actively participate and have access to medical innovations, but the lengthy clinical trial recruitment process has the potential to be significantly reduced.

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