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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Trump set to nominate Stephen Hahn as FDA commissioner

President Trump is set to nominate Dr. Stephen Hahn, the chief medical executive at MD Anderson Cancer Center, as the next FDA commissioner pending a vetting process, according to two people familiar with the matter. The news was first reported by BioCentury. Trump interviewed Hahn, an oncologist, for the job a month ago. The post has been open since April this year, when former Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stepped down. Since then, Ned Sharpless has served as acting commissioner. Hahn's nomination could be controversial: Several advocacy organizations — and four former commissioners — encouraged the administration to keep Sharpless on permanently. Hahn's record has also been scrutinized: For instance, regulators found this year that MD Anderson had run afoul of federal rules with transgressions that “substantially limit [the] hospital’s capacity to render adequate care.”

Despite popularity, gene therapy isn’t available everywhere — or is it? 

Four gene therapy products have been approved by the FDA, and according to a new report, only five areas in the country offer all four. But what struck me looking at the above map is that even though 13 states don’t have treatment facilities that offer gene therapy, the technology has come a long way in a relatively short time. After all, the first gene therapy to be approved by the FDA — the leukemia drug Kymriah — was only approved in 2017. And many states lacking gene therapy treatment, like North Dakota, also lack other health services — such as psychiatry — and so the problem may not lie with gene therapy alone. Still, the FDA expects more than 200 applications for gene and cell therapies per year starting next year, so it remains to be seen how the above map will look as more therapies are approved. 

Rural patients face long drives to opioid treatment facilities

A new survey of drive times to federally approved opioid treatment centers offering methadone finds that the average trip takes almost 40 minutes. Researchers looked at nearly 500 counties in five U.S. states disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis: The drive time among urban areas could be as short as eight minutes, but nearly 50 minutes in rural areas. In contrast, average drive times to dialysis centers and primary care centers were only about 15 minutes. Patients who need dialysis need the procedure three times a week, whereas those getting methadone treatment need to drive to a health center six times a week, and the authors advocate for approving primary care centers to offer methadone to increase treatment access. 

Inside STAT: What's in the cards for this year's Nobel Prizes? Scientists are placing their bets


This year’s Nobel Prizes are being announced next week, and STAT asked scientists to peer into the crystal ball to give us their best predictions for which names — and what research — are likely to be lauded. What’s unlikely? Anything in the field of immuno-oncology, since the field won in a big way last year. And even though most such predictions are rarely true, David Pendlebury of Clarivate Analytics has had some success, with 50 correct predictions (although often not in the right year) since 2002. His read for the chemistry Nobel this year is the three inventors of DNA sequencing techniques in the 1980s, without which “there would be no map of the human genome," Pendlebury tells STAT’s Sharon Begley. Read more here

Top Obama officials stopped FDA’s previous attempt to ban flavors for e-cigarettes

A new Los Angeles Times investigation has found that the FDA began working toward a ban on flavorings for e-cigarettes four years ago, but that senior Obama administration officials put a stop to the plan following meetings with lobbyists. The Times reviewed memos and presentations from lobbyists and found that the FDA, in October 2015, had sent to the White House the draft of a new tobacco rule, which included a ban on flavored vaping products. Even then, the federal agency had surveyed many young people and learned that these flavorings were a main reason they liked to vape. White House officials met with more than 100 tobacco industry and small business advocates over the next 46 days, and when the final rule was published in May 2016, it didn’t include the proposed ban on flavors. 

Preventive medication has slashed parasitic worm infections around the world

Health experts have drastically reduced certain parasitic worm infections, according to new research. For at least five years, 15 countries — in Africa, Asia, and North America — undertook wide-scale administration of drugs to eliminate worms such as roundworm and hookworm. At the end of the five years, the prevalence of parasitic worm infections fell from nearly 50% to about 14%. Even hookworm infections, which affect more than 500 million people worldwide, were reduced in these countries from 18% down to 8% as a result of preventive medicine. Still, even though some 102 countries implemented preventive strategies, only the 15 included in the study had data to demonstrate progress, which the study authors write highlights the importance of collecting data on how these measures are panning out more regularly. 

What to read around the web today

  • Dissent splits authors of provocative transgenic mosquito study. Science
  • Verbal autopsies used in push to better track global deaths. The Associated Press
  • Report: DEA did too little to constrain opioid supply even as crisis escalated. STAT
  • India pushes for alternatives to animals in biomedical research. Nature
  • Novartis partners with Microsoft to use AI in drug development. STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Wednesday, October 2, 2019


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