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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to the Morning Rounds, where I get you ahead of the news driving the science and medicine worlds today. Here we go!

A blockbuster Pfizer-Allergan merger could be coming

This could be big — drug manufacturers Pfizer and Allergan might be joining forces, the Wall Street Journal reported late last night. Pfizer reportedly approached Allergan about a merger that'd top all other announced mergers so far this year (and there have been plenty). Allergan, which has a market capitalization of more than $110 billion, brings to the table blockbusters like Botox and chronic dry-eye drug Restasis. And it's based in Dublin, where tax rates are lower — another plus for Pfizer, which has a market value of more than $215 billion and has been riding high lately with strong growth. 

Inside Stat: Cholesterol meds may undermine flu vaccine

The widely used class of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins may undermine the effectiveness of flu shots, according to studies published today in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The findings could complicate care for millions, particularly seniors — many of whom take statins and also need strong protection against infectious diseases such as flu. “It’s new information that really wasn’t on our radar,” said Dr. Edward Belongia, an influenza vaccine expert at Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation. Stat infectious disease reporter Helen Branswell has the details here.

Drug pricing makes an appearance at GOP debate

The GOP presidential candidates took on drug pricing — sort of. Iowa front-runner Ben Carson said "there's no question that some people go overboard when it comes to trying to make profits," but then pivoted to a vow to cut regulations. That's what's most important, he said, "instead of picking on this group or this group." New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was feistier on the topic, saying that prosecutors should go after wayward pharma execs for price gouging.

Hoping to whip up grassroots anger about drug prices — and force more substantive debate — the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing holds a panel for voters today in Iowa. "We're trying to take this issue directly to the presidential candidates," John Rother, the executive director of the campaign, told Stat DC reporter Dylan Scott.

Watch a new drug-device combo in action

(Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering)
It’s a one-two punch for stroke patients with blood clots — a nanotherapeutic drug that busts up blood clots and a device that restores blood flow to obstructed vessels. The research will appear in the December issue of Stroke Journal, but you can read about it now from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

A.M. eye-opener: Stunning new herpes numbers

A shocking statistic from a new WHO report: 67 percent of the world’s population is infected with type 1 of the herpes simplex virus, HSV-1. It’s the version of the virus that often shows up as a cold sore and is passed mouth-to-mouth, but it can be sexually transmitted, too. More than half a billion people worldwide have genital herpes from one of the two virus types. “These infections are lifelong and incurable, and many people don’t know that they’re infected,”  WHO reproductive health researcher Dr. Sami Gottlieb told me. “We need new prevention strategies, and an effective new vaccine or microbicides. That’s a major priority.”

FDA nominee gets an endorsement from top medical journal

Dr. Robert Califf, the Obama administration's nominee to head the FDA, received a rousing endorsement yesterday from the New England Journal of Medicine. The journal is a well-known crusader for transparency about potential conflicts of interest. But in its endorsement, it brushed aside concerns about Califf's extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, the journal's editor, wrote that those ties don't matter as much as "Califf's experience, his proven leadership abilities, his record of robust research to guide clinical practice, and his unwavering dedication to improving patient outcomes." 

Why a journal just retracted a decades-old study on baby formula

The BMJ announced last night the retraction of a study on the immune benefits of baby formula. The surprise: It’s from 1989. The retraction is part of an effort by the journal to revisit questionable studies from the past to make sure scientists and the public have accurate information, even if it means issuing corrections or retractions decades later. The researcher behind the baby formula study, Ranjit Chandra, had been discredited years ago. Current and former BMJ editors didn’t pull any punches, calling the situation “a major failure of scientific governance."

What to read around the web today

  • Parents honor their 5-year-old daughter's end-of-life wishes. USA Today
  • Is your job killing you? Sigh — research says yes. Washington Post
  • The mail-order pharmacy used by Valeant employed very aggressive sales tactics. Wall Street Journal

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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