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Morning Rounds Megan Thielking

House lawmakers launch drug pricing investigation

The House Oversight Committee is launching an investigation into the pricing practices of a dozen drug makers, including many of the pharmaceutical industry's most prominent names. Here’s the rundown:

  • The details: Drug companies including AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer received requests for information about the pricing of specific drugs. Many of those drugs are among the most commonly cited examples of alleged price-gouging.

  • The goal: “The goals of this investigation are to determine why drug companies are increasing prices so dramatically, how drug companies are using the proceeds, and what steps can be taken to reduce prescription drug prices," committee chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement. The committee will hold a hearing on the issue on Jan. 29.

  • On a related note: HHS Secretary Alex Azar is headed to a Council for Affordable Health Coverage event today to talk about the Trump administration's efforts to bring down drug prices.

Investigation continues into assault against comatose patient who gave birth

The investigation into how a comatose patient in an Arizona health care facility was raped and impregnated is widening. The woman gave birth last month. Hacienda Healthcare has hired Rick Romley — a former Maricopa County Attorney — to conduct an “exhaustive review’ of the assault and determine what the facility needs to do to improve patient safety. "As an organization, our top priority is to quickly identify the perpetrator and to make sure that person is brought to justice," Hacienda said in a statement. The police are also investigating the assault and have already enforced a search warrant seeking DNA from male staff to find the perpetrator.

If the shutdown lasts, it could put drug approval decisions in jeopardy

The government shutdown is stretching on — and the uncertainty about when it might end has the drug industry, among many others, anxious for answers. The FDA has been able to retain more than half its workforce thanks to application fees paid by drug and medical device makers, but the agency can’t accept new fees during the shutdown. Yesterday, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the FDA has about five more weeks of money left. Meanwhile, 10 drug makers are expecting the FDA to make a decision on their products in March, and it’s not clear what will happen to that timeline if the shutdown lasts. Senate Democrats have demanded more details from Gottlieb about the plan if funding runs out. More here

Inside STAT: Anti-abortion leaders are rebranding as "pro-science." Are they?



When tens of thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators join the March for Life this Friday, many will tout signs bearing a new slogan: “Pro-life is pro-science.” But some researchers say that anti-abortion advocates’ steadfast — and increasingly vocal — opposition to fetal tissue research doesn’t support their “pro-science” slogan. And moreover, they’re concerned that that opposition might derail the U.S. government’s support for important science. "I’m worried that the federal government will be hijacked by a vocal minority to cease supporting a valuable area,” said Lawrence Goldstein, a University of California, San Diego neuroscientist.  STAT's Lev Facher and I have the story here

Ads for unhealthy foods often target black and Hispanic consumers

Food and drink companies spend millions each year on ads that target black and Hispanic kids and teens — and those ads are frequently for sugary drinks, candy, and fast food, according to a new analysis. Here’s a quick look at the takeaways:

  • Fast food, candy, soda, and unhealthy snacks accounted for 86 percent of food ad spending on TV programs where the majority of viewers are black and 82 percent of ads on Spanish-language TV.

  • On average, black children and teens saw more than 16 food-related ads twice as many food-related ads each day as white children.

  • Advertising for healthier options — like 100 percent juice, nuts, water, and fruit — accounted for only 3 percent of all spending on TV food ads in 2017. Those ads were even less likely to appear during TV programming that targeted black and Spanish-speaking audiences.

Be careful with antibiotics in space, scientists say

Scientists are cautioning that antibiotics should be used sparingly in space out of concern they could rapidly fuel drug resistance in bacteria. In a new study published this morning in mBio, researchers report that E. coli treated with antibiotics in a simulated microgravity environment quickly developed resistance to antibiotics. Even when they were no longer exposed to an antibiotic, the bacteria remained resistant to the drugs over time. Cells grown under the same conditions that didn't get hit with antibiotics, on the other hand, didn't develop resistance. That finding is of particular concern for astronauts, who might have a suppressed immune systems due to microgravity, sleep deprivation, isolation, and other factors.

What to read around the web today

  • St. Luke’s replaces its president, other top leaders after series of care lapses. Houston Chronicle / ProPublica
  • As the world prepares to fight Lassa fever, the interests of pregnant women must be part of the planning. STAT
  • A mother fought her heroin addiction. Now she's fighting to be with her son. New York Times
  • CVS CEO: Anything Amazon does, we will do better — including, maybe, delivery by drone. STAT Plus
  • Nation's largest mental health organization urges supported housing reforms. ProPublica

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Tuesday, January 15, 2019


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