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Reporting from the frontiers of health and medicine
Updated: 28 min 41 sec ago

What explains Covid-19’s lethality for the elderly? Scientists look to ‘twilight’ of the immune system

3 hours 42 min ago

Researchers on Monday announced the most comprehensive estimates to date of elderly people’s elevated risk of serious illness and death from the new coronavirus: Covid-19 kills an estimated 13.4% of patients 80 and older, compared to 1.25% of those in their 50s and 0.3% of those in their 40s.

The sharpest divide came at age 70. Although 4% of patients in their 60s died, more than twice that, or 8.6%, of those in their 70s did, Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London and his colleagues estimated in their paper, published in Lancet Infectious Diseases.

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Amarin loses legal fight over heart drug patent; shares sink

5 hours 4 min ago

Amarin shares fell sharply Monday evening after a federal judge ruled that key patents covering its heart drug Vascepa were invalid.

The decision is a victory for two drug makers, Hikma Pharmaceuticals and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, seeking to make and sell generic versions of Vascepa.

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Opinion: It’s past time to fully deploy the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to fight Covid-19

11 hours 31 min ago

Controlling a pandemic like Covid-19 requires both the intervention of government agencies and changes in the lives of ordinary Americans.

One thing the federal government should do, but hasn’t, is fully deploy the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS). Not only can the Corps support health systems in rapidly scaling medical care, it can also advise state governments on the judicious use of state police powers to help slow the spread of the virus and limit economic damage.

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Biotech VC Bob Nelsen called it right on the coronavirus. Now he has thoughts on therapeutics — and masks

12 hours 30 min ago

Bob Nelsen was right.

The co-founder and managing partner of Arch Venture Partners is one of biotech’s most successful venture capitalists. He’s also deeply wary of unchecked viruses, a fear he shares regularly with friends, family, and his Twitter followers. “Flu. Get shot. Get antivirals. Don’t die,” Nelsen tweeted right before Christmas.

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STAT Plus: Pharmalittle: Drug pricing legislation is on the back burner; FDA issues emergency use for old malaria drugs

12 hours 41 min ago

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to another working week, although it may not quite seem that way, if only because you most likely have not moved very much since waking this morning. Nonetheless, we hope the weekend respite provided some sort of respite from the deluge of headlines and anxieties afflicting our world. In any event, the time has come to assume what resembles the usual routine of online meetings and deadlines. So grab a cup of stimulation and get started. On that note, here are a few tidbits to help you along. Stay safe and stay in touch.

A recent $2 trillion relief package that lawmakers passed on Friday could mean drug pricing advocates might be waiting a long while for legislation, possibly until November, weeks after Election Day, STAT reports. Until now, late May was widely viewed as a final 2020 deadline for lawmakers to take action on key health policy issues, including legislation to lower the price of prescription drugs. “I think Nov. 30 is the new May 22,” says Ben Wakana, the executive director of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs Now.

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CRISPR pioneer Doudna opens lab to run Covid-19 tests

13 hours 13 min ago

A team of academic and industry researchers led by Jennifer Doudna, the researcher best known for her role in the discovery of the gene editing technology called CRISPR, has turned a 2,500-square-foot scientific laboratory into a facility for running medical tests to detect the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The laboratory, which plans to serve hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area, says it will be able to process more than 1,000 patient samples a day with a 24-hour turnaround, Doudna announced Monday. The lab will ramp up to processing 3,000 samples a day if necessary.

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STAT Plus: AC Immune bets that its Alzheimer’s trial design could provide a cleaner test of the amyloid hypothesis

17 hours 17 min ago

The fate of aducanumab, a potential Alzheimer’s treatment from Biogen, is widely seen as the last hope for an aging idea: that targeting toxic brain plaques can arrest the progress of the disease.

But there’s a similar, less-discussed Alzheimer’s treatment working through a pivotal trial. And its outcome, positive or negative, could shift the yearslong debate over how best to target Alzheimer’s. The drug is crenezumab, and like Biogen’s treatment, it’s meant to bind to beta-amyloid plaques in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s. But AC Immune, the company behind crenezumab, is taking a novel approach to testing its worth. Instead of casting a wide clinical net for people with Alzheimer’s symptoms, the company has recruited only patients with a rare genetic mutation that almost guarantees they will develop the disease — and will treat them before any signs of dementia emerge. The study, conducted in Colombia, is expected to generate data in early 2022.

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STAT Plus: Lawmakers’ coronavirus response means delays for drug pricing legislation

17 hours 27 min ago

WASHINGTON — Before the coronavirus pandemic became Congress’ sole focus, late May was widely viewed as a final 2020 deadline for lawmakers to take action on key health policy issues, including legislation to lower the price of prescription drugs.

But with the Covid-19 crisis dominating every aspect of American politics, such legislation will have to wait. A recent $2 trillion relief package that lawmakers passed on Friday could mean drug pricing advocates might be waiting a long while — likely until November, weeks after Election Day.

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Watch: Ventilators are in high demand for Covid-19 patients. How do they work?

17 hours 32 min ago

Ventilators are one of the most important tools hospitals have for keeping Covid-19 patients in the most critical condition alive. 

Between 21% and 31% of Covid-19 patients in the U.S. have required hospitalization, and 5% to 11% have required intensive care. Officials have not reported how many of these patients developed respiratory distress so severe they needed to be put on a ventilator, but among one group of patients in China, 12% did

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Debate flares over using AI to detect Covid-19 in lung scans

17 hours 37 min ago

A series of studies, starting as a steady drip and quickening to a deluge, has reported the same core finding amid the global spread of Covid-19: Artificial intelligence could analyze chest images to accurately detect the disease in legions of untested patients.

The results promised a ready solution to the shortage of diagnostic testing in the U.S. and some other countries and triggered splashy press releases and a cascade of hopeful headlines. But in recent days, the initial burst of optimism has given way to an intensifying debate over the plausibility of building AI systems during an unprecedented public health emergency.

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Two new roadmaps lay out possible paths to end coronavirus lockdowns

Sun, 03/29/2020 - 13:47

With Covid-19 racing through the country, the United States is virtually locked down. At the same time, the yearning among Americans to reopen their communities grows, as does their desire to return to some semblance of normality.

In an effort to chart a path toward that goal, public health experts laid out two new roadmaps over the weekend.

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Opinion: Hospitalized adults need their caregivers — they aren’t visitors

Sun, 03/29/2020 - 06:04

Social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine: These are among the essential public health interventions for the Covid-19 pandemic. As we use these strategies, we must also minimize their harms to the people they’re intended to protect. One such person is my uncle.

If he’s infected with Covid-19 and requires hospitalization, he’s in big trouble. Smothering pneumonia can be deadly, but so can be care in the hospital. One problem I can see right away is that his hospital will deny him a critical intervention: me.

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STAT Plus: New drug from Merck, Bayer reduces hospitalizations for heart failure patients

Sat, 03/28/2020 - 11:18

An experimental drug from Merck and Bayer cut hospitalizations for heart failure by 10% in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented virtually by the American College of Cardiology on Sunday.

“I think we need to sit back and acknowledge that we have another win in the treatment of heart failure,” Clyde Yancy, chief of cardiology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said on the ACC’s webcast, speaking about the drug, vericiguat.

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Opinion: Community health workers will be the main defense in rural Uganda against coronavirus

Sat, 03/28/2020 - 04:30

It is a cool, still morning in Seeta Nazigo Village, Central Uganda. The heavy seasonal rains have ceased and the sun begins to glint through the cracked windowpanes of the local health center’s Anti-Retroviral Clinic. Fourteen community health workers are packed into the small room.

Community health workers, who have formed the bedrock of Uganda’s primary health system since 2001, are lay persons acting in a voluntary capacity to deliver vital health services in their respective villages. These services range from recognizing and treating common childhood illnesses, such as malaria and pneumonia, to providing maternal health services where otherwise none would be available. Now they’ll be facing Covid-19, a disease that has countries with highly developed health care systems scrambling to keep up.

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In a time of distancing due to coronavirus, the health threat of loneliness looms

Sat, 03/28/2020 - 04:00

Dan Blazer and his wife were sheltering at home in North Carolina when their neighbors, a couple in their 50s, reached out by email last week to reassure the 76-year-old and his wife that they weren’t alone. Another couple phoned to check in.

“We’re older and we’re perfectly healthy and perfectly independent,” Blazer said. Still, he’s been a bit lonely of late, and appreciated the effort.

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Roche backpedals and agrees to provide a solution for Covid-19 tests in the Netherlands

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 12:20

In a startling about-face, Roche (RHHBY) has agreed to release the recipe for a liquid solution that Dutch laboratories need to run a coronavirus test, after initially refusing to do so and causing an outcry among lawmakers and the media in the Netherlands.

A fracas erupted earlier this week due to a shortage of Roche tests, which are used on equipment made by the company. However, testing facilities lack enough of a solution —lysis buffer, which is used to break open calls — but the company balked at making the formula available so that others could produce the solution and run tests.

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Opinion: Our best defense against Covid-19? Science

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 11:33

The United States gained a grim distinction in the world this week when it officially overtook Italy and China as the country with the most confirmed cases of Covid-19. Time is not on our side in the fight against this sweeping pandemic. As physicians, nurses, and the entire health care community work courageously to turn the tide against Covid-19, our singular goal is to save as many lives as possible.

In suggesting that people could begin returning to their normal routines around Easter, President Trump has set up a false choice by pitting the health and safety of the American people against the economy.

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Pressure mounts to widen access to medical products that may combat Covid-19

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 11:18

As more companies gear up to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, a growing number of government officials, lawmakers, academics, and advocacy groups are seeking to ensure widespread access to medical products for combating Covid-19.

Over the past two days, more than 30 members of the European Parliament and dozens of advocacy groups separately urged the European Commission to avoid granting monopolies that might allow manufacturers to eventually charge prices for medicines, vaccines, or diagnostics that would be out of reach for poorer populations around the world.

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STAT Plus: Up and down the ladder: The latest comings and goings

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 07:46

Hired someone new and exciting? Promoted a rising star? Finally solved that hard-to-fill spot? Share the news with us, and we’ll share it with others. That’s right. Send us your changes, and we’ll find a home for them. Don’t be shy. Everyone wants to know who is coming and going.

And here is our regular feature in which we highlight a different person each week. This time around, we note that Eli Lilly (LLY) hired Kathryn Beiser as vice president, global communications. Previously, she worked at Kaiser Permanente, where she was senior vice president and chief communications officer.

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STAT Plus: Biotech in the time of the coronavirus: With China returning to work, preclinical companies ramping back up

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 07:45

Do Fridays even exist when working from home is mandatory? I feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” Greetings and welcome to another semi-regular column on the Covid-19 pandemic. In this edition: Chinese labs returning to work; a look at prescription drug data; more corporate updates; and another super-cute dog pic.

For Bruce Booth, partner at Cambridge, Mass.-based Atlas Venture, data are the “ultimate currency of progress and market value” for the biotech startups that he creates and funds.

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