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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Azar: China should let U.S. health team help respond to coronavirus

U.S. health officials are asking the Chinese government to let an American team help with the response to the novel coronavirus outbreak in China. At a press conference yesterday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said that a group of U.S. public health workers and researchers is ready to travel to China, and shared that the American government has offered twice to send help. “We’re urging China: More cooperation and transparency are the most important steps you can take for a more effective response,” said Azar, who also mentioned U.S. authorities were expanding coronavirus screenings of travelers arriving from China at 20 airports. The outbreak continues to spread beyond mainland China: At least 17 other places have reported cases. To date, there have been almost 6,000 cases in China — more than 80 outside the country — and 132 people have died. 

Top Harvard chemist charged with lying about China ties 

Charles Lieber, head of Harvard’s chemistry department, was arrested yesterday on charges of attempting to conceal his ties to a Chinese government program that brings scientists to China. The charges were brought as part of the FBI’s larger crackdown on what it perceives as attempts by the Chinese government to steal ideas from American universities and medical centers. The complaint against Lieber alleges that he made false statements to the NIH about his involvement with China’s Thousand Talents program, a recruitment effort that offers payments and perks in exchange for foreign-trained scientists to work in China. Two other Boston-based scientists — a researcher at Boston University and a cancer researcher at Beth Israel Medical Deaconess Medical Center — were also separately charged yesterday. STAT's emailed requests for comment to Lieber, his attorney, and a government prosecutor were not immediately returned.

Tobacco report praises new minimum age for sales, but outlines other failures

The American Lung Association’s newest “State of Tobacco Control” report gives the federal government an equal number of low and top grades for steps limiting access to tobacco. Here’s more:

  • Top grades: The ALA awarded the government an “A” for passing legislation that raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. 

  • Room for improvement: The government earned an “F” for failing to significantly raise taxes on tobacco products, a measure that’s been shown to be a use deterrent. There are still barriers — such as copays and lack of Medicaid coverage — for those wishing to access cessation treatment. 

  • State-level grades: California, Washington, D.C., Maine, New York, and Vermont earned the best grades overall. Most states and D.C. received a failing grade for inadequate funding for tobacco prevention programs.

Inside STAT: Scientists' plan aims to solve biotech's 'missing women' problem 


For the past year, three prominent female scientists at MIT have been studying the reasons behind the glaring absence of women in the top echelons of biotech. They’ve learned, among other things, that if women faculty spun off companies at the same rate as their male peers, there would be 40 to 50 more startups. With this and more data in hand, the trio’s new Boston Biotech Working Group thinks it may have one way to narrow the gender gap. Women now hold 14% of board seats in venture capital firms, but five venture capital firms have now pledged “to do all in our power to ensure the boards of directors for companies where we hold positions of power are 25% female by the end of 2022.” STAT’s Sharon Begley has more here

Most innovative cancer drugs don’t get to U.K. patients in a timely manner

A new analysis finds that the newest drugs approved by the European Medicines Agency are not quickly reaching patients. Looking at data from 2000-2016, researchers found that “high innovation” drugs — because they targeted a new molecule or formed a new class of medicines — took around 14 years from when they were first patented to when the U.K.’s National Health Service approved them for patient use. This was more than three years longer than the time it took for new medicines approved within an existing class of drugs. Some, like the bone cancer drug Mepact, took almost 20 years to get to patients. Still, the NHS approved only 38% of the most novel drugs for patient use, since others may have shown limited benefits or limited cost-effectiveness. Drug companies may need to be incentivized to do more — such as experiment with more targets or new clinical trial designs — to better ensure that drugs reach patients, the authors suggest. 

Winners of ‘Andy Biotic’ kids’ art contest announced

The third place winner among 5th graders. (Miles, Nassau, N.Y.)

Back in November, I told you about the New York Department of Health’s “Superbug Superheroes Art Contest,” which was to help children across the state better understand antibiotic resistance. The winners — nine kids in grades 3-5 — were just announced, chosen based on how best their artwork featured “Andy Biotic,” an antibiotic superhero who needs to maintain his strength against the threat of superbugs. For instance, the winning entry among third graders features Andy Biotic being confronted with “Jeremy the virus,” but Andy says not to use him as he can’t fight viruses. The third-place winner among fifth graders reimagined Andy as a superhero equipped with fancy germ-fighting gadgets, including an “antibiotic gauntlet” and a “pill shooter.” Check out the rest of the winning drawings here

What to read around the web today

  • Was Purdue the unnamed opioid maker in alleged kickback case? STAT Plus
  • An ER doctor was charged with abusing his baby. But 15 medical experts say there's no proof. NBC News
  • FDA warns Purell to stop claiming it can prevent Ebola or flu. The New York Times
  • New Barbie dolls feature vitiligo and hairless models in bid to boost diversity. CNN
  • The FDA wants to know how Instagram influencers sway patient views on medicines. STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Wednesday, January 29, 2020


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