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FDA to decide today on a controversial Alzheimer's drug. Here's what you need to know

After years of ups and downs, the FDA today is expected to announce its highly anticipated decision on aducanumab, Biogen's controversial Alzheimer's drug. Here's the backstory: Biogen ended two Phase 3 trials early saying the drug failed. Yet, after reexamining its data, the company determined that in one of those studies, patients who got a high dose of aducanumab for an extended period of time benefited from it. If approved, the drug, which is meant for those with early-stage Alzheimer's, could have an impact on the 6 million people in the U.S. with the disease — current treatments address only symptoms. Stay tuned to STAT for coverage of the decision and stories on its implications for medicine and patients.

Prescription drug prices rising much faster than inflation rate, study finds

The retail price for brand-name prescription drugs rose twice as much in 2020 as the rate of inflation last year, according to a new AARP report. The report, which looked at data from 2006-2020, found that while inflation last year was 1.3%, the price of a group of 260 widely used prescription drugs — including some GI drugs and anticonvulsants — rose by nearly 3% overall since 2019. Over the course of the 15 years included in the study, 65 regularly used brand name drugs experienced a cumulative price increase of nearly 280%, while inflation only rose by 32%. In 2020, such increases meant that the average yearly cost for one brand-name medication that was used regularly was more than $6,600. For an older individual who likely takes four or five prescription drugs, the report estimates that the annual cost could be almost $5,000 more than the $26,000 average annual income for Medicare beneficiaries. 

Few gender diverse children get an appropriate diagnosis or affirming treatment 

As more pediatricians work to incorporate patients' gender identity into regular practice, a small survey finds that only a fraction of kids who identify as gender diverse get an official gender dysphoria diagnosis and gender-affirming care. Looking at data from nearly 960 gender diverse participants who were seen at three Kaiser Permanente health facility locations in the U.S., researchers found that around 30% received a gender dysphoria-related diagnosis. After nearly four years of follow-up, only 1 in 4 had been prescribed gender-affirming hormonal treatment. Those whose sex was assigned female at birth were more likely to get a diagnosis and initiate treatment. Kids ages 15 and older were also more likely to be diagnosed, while racial and ethnic minority groups were less likely to get the needed diagnosis or care. 

Inside STAT: Biotech and health startups bet on a strange new reality show for crowdfunding


A new show called "Unicorn Hunters" is providing a fresh avenue for biotech and other health startups to raise funds: the general public. The premise of the show is that companies pitch their ideas to a panel of seven judges, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and former NSYNC band member Lance Bass. Viewers who are accredited investors, based on what they see on the show, will then be able to get in touch with the company to invest their own funds. The result: a televised crowdfunding campaign, of sorts. One of the companies featured in the show's third episode is Starton Therapeutics, which is developing patch-based versions of an anti-cancer drug and is hoping to raise $20 million through its reality TV debut. STAT's Kate Sheridan has more here.

Marginalized groups more likely to say medical school faculty are disrespectful of diversity

A new survey of medical students' perceptions of faculty members' respect for diversity reveals marginalized groups grade their professors differently than those from overrepresented groups. Nearly 29,000 U.S. students — the majority of whom were white, male and heterosexual — who graduated from medical schools in 2016 and 2017 were asked to assess how frequently (from "almost never" to "always") faculty demonstrated respect for diversity. While 18% of students overall said faculty at their schools lacked respect for diversity, that figure jumped to nearly 37% among Black students (only 14% of white students said the same). Women were 17% more likely than men to perceive a lack of respect among faculty, while those who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual were nearly twice as likely as their straight peers to say faculty didn't respect diversity. 

Postpartum mental health visits in Ontario rose by a third during the pandemic

Postpartum mental health visits rose 30% more during the pandemic than expected, according to a new study. Researchers used pre-pandemic (January 2016-February 2020) hospital visit data in Ontario, Canada to model what the anticipated number of visits would have been for March-November 2020 had it not been for the pandemic. Visit rates were higher for diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders for the months observed, and visits were also higher for the first three months postpartum. The vast majority of postpartum visits starting in April last year were conducted virtually, which indicates increased accessibility to care and may partially explain the rise in visits, the authors suggest. 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday:5,395
Deaths yesterday: 251

Vaccine doses distributed, per CDC371,520,735
Total doses administered: 301,638,578

In case you missed it, First Opinion editor Patrick Skerrett was joined on the latest "First Opinion Podcast" episode by two members of the National Academy of Medicine’s Committee on the Future of Nursing. One topic of discussion: full practice authority, which gives advanced practice nurses the ability to diagnose, write prescriptions, and care independently for patients. Listen here.

What to read around the web today

  • A tragedy waiting to happen’: What’s behind the steep rise in opioid overdoses among Black men? The Boston Globe
  • Radioactive drug helps men with advanced prostate cancer, but survival benefit is debated. STAT+
  • What the Covid rookies saw. The New York Times
  • Opinion: A new mental health crisis is raging in Gaza. Scientific American
  • Carbon Health dives into digital diabetes care with virtual clinic acquisition. STAT+

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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