Morning Rounds

FDA revises its recommendation for testing donated blood for Zika

The FDA has updated its guidance for testing donated blood for Zika virus. The new guidance says that testing batches of donated blood — rather than each unit, as previously recommended — is an adequate way to effectively reduce the risk of Zika transmission. An FDA advisory panel recommended the shift back in December. The revised recommendation could save blood centers considerable time and money. A study published in May found that a screening program designed to keep Zika out of the Red Cross’ blood supply — which costs roughly $137 million a year to operate — turned up only a handful of units that tested positive for Zika between June 2016 and September 2017.

U.S. unexpectedly opposed breastfeeding resolution at World Health Assembly

Health officials expected to easily pass a resolution to promote breastfeeding at the World Health Assembly in May — until the U.S. threw a wrench into the deliberations, the New York Times reports. U.S. officials lobbied to get rid of language urging governments to "protect, promote and support breastfeeding." When that didn't work, officials involved said the U.S. threatened to pull back military aid and implement damaging trade measures in Ecuador, which was slated to introduce the measure. 

Health officials were shocked by the Trump administration's intense opposition to the measure, which was ultimately sponsored by Russia. The resolution remained mostly intact, though U.S. representatives did get a portion removed that asked the WHO to support nations seeking to prevent “inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children.”

Atul Gawande's biggest challenges as he starts his new job

Today is Atul Gawande's first day at the helm of the new health venture funded by Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway. It's the riskiest move of his career, and STAT's Casey Ross has pinpointed the biggest challenges he'll face in his new role. Here's a look at three:

  • Cutting out the middlemen: Amazon has built an empire by simplifying the supply chain. Gawande needs to do the same thing in health care. That'll be complicated to navigate, but Amazon’s recent acquisition of PillPack could point to a path forward.

  • Tackling chronic disease: A big part of Gawande’s new gig is addressing the crushing burden of chronic disease, which accounts for a significant chunk of health costs. 

  • Lowering hospital prices: “The quickest way to get a bang for your buck in cost control in health care is for purchasers of care to negotiate better prices, and that’s what limits them in local markets — they don’t have enough purchasing power,” said Dr. David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund.

Read more on the challenges — and how they could be handled — here.

Opioid use and contact with criminal justice system often overlap


The researchers defined recent involvement as contact within the past 12 months. (Jama network open)

People who misuse prescription opioids or heroin are much more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system than people who don't use the drugs, according to a new analysis in JAMA Network Open. Nearly 20 percent of people with prescription opioid use disorder and 43 percent of those using heroin in the past year had been involved with the criminal justice system in the past year, compared to 3 percent of people who weren't using any opioids. “The overlap we found … suggests that access to opioid treatment within the criminal justice system is a critical public health issue,” the authors say.

By and large, treatment for addiction remains scarce in jails and prisons. But some correctional systems are rethinking their approach — in Rhode Island, a first-in-the-nation program that gives inmates addicted to opioids a range of treatment options appears to have lowered overdose deaths among people recently released from jail or prison.

Inside STAT: Biotech looks to T cells to attack solid tumors


A scanning electron micrograph of a T lymphocyte. (NIAID)

Researchers hunting for potential next-generation immunotherapies have zeroed in on several targets, including T cell receptor, or TCR therapies. The experimental treatments are designed to supercharge the immune system’s T cells and teach them to find and attack difficult-to-treat cancers. The idea is attracting serious attention from investors, and there are more than a dozen early-stage clinical trials underway. But TCRs face plenty of challenges and, if approved, would likely come with a hefty price tag. Like CAR-T, patients must have their cells removed, re-engineered, and re-infused. STAT’s Andrew Joseph has more on the work happening with TCRs for STAT Plus subscribers — read here.

Errors crop up in medical notes, even after editing

A new study points to the importance of a good editor — in this case, for medical notes. Researchers analyzed 217 clinical notes transcribed by speech recognition software and found an error rate of more than 7 percent. That fell to 0.4 percent after a transcriptionist reviewed the notes and 0.3 percent after a doctor signed off. But still, more than 6 percent of errors that made it through the final edits were clinically significant mistakes, a nod to the need for manual editing and review.

What to read around the web today

  • Most nursing homes overstated staffing for years. Kaiser Health News / New York Times
  • 4 burning questions after Biogen’s $12 billion Alzheimer’s surprise. STAT Plus
  • Purdue Pharma pushed opioids as 'hope in a bottle,' records show. Knoxville News Sentinel
  • The one big winner of the Obamacare wars. Politico
  • A new messaging tactic on the left: Drug prices rise, as pharma prospers from tax law. STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Monday, July 9, 2018


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