No celebs here

While some drug brands are turning to celebrity endorsers to give their advertising efforts a boost, Merck has gone the other way in an advertisement for their new immuno-oncology drug, Keytruda. Meet Donna, a patient in Merck’s Keynote-024 drug trial that ultimately led to the drug’s approval. Why might celebs be more appropriate for some conditions than others? Maybe the extraordinarily personal and serious nature of a late-stage cancer diagnosis lends itself to not faking it? It’s probably smarter—and more effective—to have a real patient talking about her actual experiences with advanced non-small cell lung cancer and her treatment than, say, Tiger Woods, who once tried to convince us he drove a super ugly Buick.

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Man, you fractured the council

Last week, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier was among the first of many business leaders who left the White House’s American Manufacturing Council. The manufacturing heads cited President Trump’s comments following the protests and violence in Charlottesville, VA as the reason for their departure… and it snowballed from there with more CEOs resigning until Trump just dissolved it. Frazier’s presence on the council demonstrated the importance of drug manufacturing to the larger US manufacturing economy, and some lauded him for generating Positive Pharma Press™ by giving up his seat at that table. What’s Frazier up to next? Well according to the president, “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” Ouch, Mr. President.

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Alexa, manage my disease

Amazon Echo users can use voice commands to do all sorts of things. “Alexa, order granola bars.” “Alexa, turn on the lights.” “Alexa, clean the house.” (Just kidding…hey, one can dream, right?) Now Merck & Co. is sponsoring the Alexa Diabetes Challenge in which contestants submitted concepts for using Alexa’s technology for diabetes management. The ideas from the five finalists span from a smart foot scanner, to a coach that responds to patients’ moods, to a nutrition assistant that utilizes machine learning to provide meal recommendations. The winner gets $125k and a whole lot of bragging rights.

This makes InsightCity want jump on the contest bandwagon. Email us ([email protected]) a funny testimonial about why you love (or hate?) our newsletter—130 words or less, just like our writers have to do. The knee-slappingest, ROFLMAO-iest testimonial will win a $50 prepaid gift card. And we’ll send your write-up out in one of our newsletters—without your name, of course. You’ll be kinda famous, but in an anonymous sort of way. May the odds be ever in your favor. We’ll let this contest run for two weeks. Go!

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Merck receives go-ahead with lung cancer treatment

The FDA has approved the “chemo combo” of Merck & Co.’s Keytruda with Eli Lilly’s Alimta for treatment for patients with non-squamos non-small cell lung cancer who have not been previously treated. That’s great news for the patients, but not the best news for Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca who have their own combo and are attempting to get it approved. The announcement brings “the first true endorsement of the general ‘chemo combo’ approach,” according to Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson. Anderson says it is “not yet clear” how BMS and AZ’s product will perform. What is clear? Merck is trying to pull far, far away from the competition.

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A real kick in the femur

One high profile lawsuit is a crisis for a drug manufacturer but 5,000 is a catastrophe! Three years after a federal judge dismissed lawsuits against Fosamax, an osteoporosis prevention drug from Merck, (apparently 5,000 fractured femurs didn’t constitute ‘clear evidence’ of a negative side effect) an appeals court has ruled that Merck will indeed be back in the courtroom. Ouch. It’s not like Merck hasn’t been here before, settling for more than $27 million with 1,200 patients who endured jawbone necrosis while taking Fosamax. Instead of the “cure,” perhaps a pound of prevention—in the form of these foods—is in order?

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5. Alexa, what’s my blood sugar?

Alexa could be preparing to handle that question and many more from people with diabetes following a partnership between Merck and Amazon Web Services. The two companies will work alongside Luminary Labs to run a challenge focused on using Amazon Echo’s voice-enabled software to assist those with diabetes, with the long-term hope of expanding to other chronic illnesses. The Echo, which is set to sell around 110 million devices over the next four years, may have utility in the future that’s beyond playing your favorite song or telling you the weather. With the help of developers, it could morph into a tool used to remind people of their nutrition plans or schedule their upcoming insulin dosages.

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3. A test to get rid of the c-word

Cancer…the c-word is cancer. Grail, a Silicon Valley startup, is developing a blood test similar to a liquid biopsy that works proactively to spot cancer. According to Business Insider, the goal is to “identify the tiny bits of cancer DNA that are hanging out in our blood but are now undetectable.” A test like that will take time, massive clinical trials and, of course, money. Lucky for them, Grail just raised more than $900M in funding from big names like Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, McKesson Ventures, Merck, Tencent Holdings Limited, Varian Medical Systems, and even Amazon. Who knows, maybe Prime members can get test results delivered to their front door in less than two business days.

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