Oversight is over it

Taking direction from the White House’s recent and ongoing actions towards drug pricing, Congress has begun its latest investigation into prescription drug pricing. It starts with letters sent to 12 companies with products Congress views as either too costly or too price-hiked. As you might expect, that list is filled with blockbusters. Like America used to be. While the list is filled with pharma household names, three names you won’t see on the list—Amgen, Merck, and Gilead—were recently lauded by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for curbing drug prices. So maybe some progress is being made? The House Oversight Committee will hold hearings on Jan. 29 for experts and patients to weigh in, but no word on whether execs will be expected to make an appearance.

JP Morgan Healthcare Conference Recap

Well, one of the most important and well-attended healthcare conferences of the year wrapped up last week in San Francisco. The annual JP Morgan Healthcare conference is “the largest and most informative healthcare investment symposium in the industry, bringing together industry leaders, emerging fast-growth companies, innovative technology creators, and members of the investment community.” ~9,000 attendees show up and ~450 public and private companies attend where people like Joe Biden and Bill Gates speak. For some of the better recaps go here for Day 1, here for Day 2, and here for day 3. The highlight? A contender would be Sage Therapeutics, as it saw its stock surge 43% on positive clinical trial news regarding their Sage 217 compound as it appeared to relieve symptoms of post-partum depression. Not bad. The opportunity to treat PPD is huge with 1 in 9 women experiencing the condition.

Did you check with Trump first?

“Our eventual goal is to add about 50 additional clinical reviewers to the group charged with overseeing the clinical investigation, development, and review of (cell and gene therapy) products” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement this week (the statement is a really good read). Sounds dandy and we assume that means there will be a wall too. The thing is, the FDA is hurting from the shutdown, but don’t worry, “the FDA will resume its inspections of high-risk food processing plants, using unpaid inspectors” – because all the good inspectors work for free. Back to gene therapy. In his statement, Gottlieb says “we anticipate by 2020 we will be receiving more than 200 INDs per year and by 2025 we predict the FDA will be approving 10 to 20 cell and gene therapy products a year.” Stay tuned.

Stay physical, stay sharp

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago conducted a 20+ year study of 454 volunteers who were all followed (not in a creepy way) until death. Researchers were interested in the association between physical activity, cognitive abilities, and brain pathology. Participants wore activity trackers, took frequent tests of mental ability, and consented to have their brains examined after death. There’s good news and bad news. The good news: like many studies before, they found a clear association between physical activity—even light physical activity—and cognitive ability. And this remained true whether the volunteer had dementia or not. The bad news: the research failed to identify the underlying mechanism for this outcome. According to one study author, “There must be other proteins or molecular mechanisms that we didn’t check or new pathologies that are waiting to be discovered.” Time to get smarter, y’all!

Now streaming: Hep C drugs

Louisiana is considering a new payment model which could increase the number of patients treated for Hepatitis C. The “Netflix Model” was recently published in JAMA as a way for state Medicaid programs to increase patient access to expensive Hep C antivirals. Essentially, Louisiana would pay a set amount for a “subscription” of as many antivirals it can use—allowing innovators to maintain revenue and the state government to cap spending. Given Hep C’s nature as a transmissible disease, it makes the most sense from a healthcare spending standpoint to treat as many as people as possible, as quickly as possible. This model could do so, especially if the contract incentivizes the drugmaker to maximize public health benefit. Expect other states to follow suit if this succeeds. Like how everyone is following the Saints’ cheeky moves this weekend.

A chemo sponge

Everyone knows cancer sucks. And most are aware that chemo sucks only slightly less than cancer because of the toxic effects it has on the body beyond the intended tumor target(s). Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have found promising outcomes from a “sponge” of sorts that absorbs leftover chemicals from chemotherapy treatments in cancer patients. A 3-D printed sponge-like device is inserted into the artery on the opposite side of the tumor from where the chemo injection is given. The chemicals do their job on the tumor and the leftovers are immediately absorbed into the sponge before they’re able to travel into other parts of the body, damaging healthy cells and causing nausea. Findings in pigs show that 60-70% of the leftovers are absorbed prior to the removal of the sponge. That’s a big deal.