Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I'm here to get you ahead of the day's health news. 

Top lawyer at Novartis steps down amid Cohen scandal

The top lawyer at Novartis is stepping down amid the growing fallout over the drug maker's $1.2 million payment to President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Novartis general counsel Felix Ehrat and former CEO Joe Jimenez signed off on the contract, which one employee told STAT was seen as a way to get ahead on key health care issues. "Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error," Ehrat said in a statement. "As a co-signatory with our former CEO, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end."

Health officials try to stir interest in drug price plan

HHS Secretary Alex Azar is continuing his efforts to drum up more interest in the Trump administration's new drug pricing blueprint after a lukewarm initial response. The details: 

  • Azar is speaking today at an American Enterprise Institute event, following a Monday speech in which he warned the administration would be “turning on the pressure” on drug companies. Drug industry investors so far seem unfazed by the plan, which was light on criticism of the drug industry.
  • Other top health officials are also trying to boost the blueprint. Yesterday, CMS Administrator Seema Verma called it “the most comprehensive plan we’ve seen." 
  • Meanwhile, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says that in a bid to foster competition, the agency will soon start naming pharma companies accused of withholding drug samples from generic manufacturers, who need to confirm their drugs are the same as brand-name medicines.

Inside STAT: Michael Eisen takes on Eric Lander and the scientific establishment

On Monday, Eric Lander — one of the nation’s most prominent scientists — apologized after toasting James Watson, the co-discoverer of the double helix who in his later years has become known for racist and misogynist views. That settled the issue for many scientists — but not for University of California, Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen, who has stirred up the science community with his tweets lambasting Lander and Watson. It’s not the first time he’s taken on people and power structures he sees as betraying the field of science itself. STAT’s Andrew Joseph has more on Eisen here.

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A growing number of adults are trying e-cigs

About 15 percent of adults have tried e-cigarettes at least once as of 2016, researchers report in JAMA. That’s a slight uptick in the number of people who’ve ever used an e-cig. But current use of e-cigs has fallen slightly — 3 percent of U.S. adults were current users of e-cigs in 2016, down from nearly 4 percent in 2014. There's conflicting evidence whether the benefits of e-cigs outweigh the risks — they’re touted as a way to help cigarette smokers quit, but also pose their own health risks. 

Lawsuit filed over Iowa's new abortion law

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa have filed a lawsuit asking an Iowa district court to block the state’s new abortion law. The law — which is set to go into effect July 1 — would ban abortions after fetal heartbeat is detected. That’s roughly six weeks into pregnancy, making the measure the most restrictive abortion law in the country. The measure includes exceptions for rape, incest, or a medical emergency. The groups behind the lawsuit say the policy is effectively an unconstitutional ban on abortion.

Acupuncture during IVF isn't linked to higher birth rates

Some women undergoing in vitro fertilization get acupuncture as a potential way to increase blood flow and, in turn, improve IVF outcomes— but a new study suggests it doesn't do so. Researchers ran a randomized trial on 848 women undergoing IVF who received either acupuncture or a sham treatment with fake needles. There wasn’t any significant difference in live birth rates between the two groups, though the authors say there’s still some evidence to suggest acupuncture is better than no treatment at all. They also analyzed the psychological impact of acupuncture among women undergoing IVF — such as feeling less stressed — and expect to publish another study on those findings.

What to read around the web today

  • Which drug makers’ medicines are racking up bigger and bigger bills for Medicare and Medicaid? STAT Plus
  • USC let a doctor accused of misconduct continue treating students for years. Los Angeles Times
  • Watch: Why do drug names sound so absurd? STAT Plus
  • Men disproportionately win NIH’s plum award for young scientists. Science

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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