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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Hello and happy Thursday. STAT's Andrew Joseph here filling in for the day.

Biden celebrates Covid-19 vaccinations, calls for investments in cancer research and health care

In his first major address before Congress, President Biden on Wednesday night took a victory lap on Covid-19 vaccinations, asked lawmakers to take the lead on drug pricing reform, and said health care should be a “right, not a privilege in America.” Biden trumpeted that senior deaths from Covid-19 are down 80% since January. On drug pricing, the president called for lawmakers to pass aggressive Medicare price negotiation provisions — but left the policy out of the major legislative proposal he unveiled, leaving its future uncertain. And in one of the speech's most emotional moments, Biden urged Congress to help "end cancer as we know it" via the creation of ARPA-H, a proposed $6.5 billion research agency aimed at developing "breakthrough" cures for conditions including cancer, Alzheimer's, and diabetes.

Today: Lander's Senate nomination hearing 

Eric Lander, President Biden's nominee to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy, today faces questioning from senators on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Biden has elevated the position to the Cabinet level for the first time and has tapped Lander, who's headed the genetics powerhouse the Broad Institute, to "reinvigorate" American science. But Lander's also likely to be asked about his two meetings with Jeffrey Epstein. Though there's no evidence that Lander had any substantive relationship with Epstein, Politico reported last week that Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the committee chair, has raised concerns about the meetings that slowed Lander's nomination. 

How targeting the brain's drainage system could improve Alzheimer's drug development

3c3c03eb-ead2-4257-b1a7-8430ed411081.pngSANDRO DA MESQUITA

Researchers have uncovered a potential way to boost the power of experimental Alzheimer’s therapies: helping the brain’s internal drainage system clear out fluid and debris. In a study in mice, scientists found that delivering a drug that bolsters the function of that drainage network — called the lymphatic system — improved the performance of therapies that target the protein beta amyloid, which builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and which some experts think contributes to the condition. The hypothesis is that if a drug breaks up the protein, the lymphatic system needs some additional aid clearing it out. We’ll add the usual disclaimers: the study was just in mice, and the history of Alzheimer’s is littered with therapies that looked promising early on and later failed. 

Inside STAT: An Operation Warp Speed for addiction

The success of Operation Warp Speed and related efforts in developing and distributing Covid-19 vaccines has become a model for the power of uniting government agencies, private companies, and others around a common goal. And in a new First Opinion piece, two experts write that such an initiative is needed to address the country’s worsening addiction crisis. “Industry leaders and legislators should use the lessons learned from the public-private coalitions forged in Operation Warp Speed to solve the decades-long overdose epidemic,” Thomas McLellan and Jacob Crothers write, outlining plans to expand access to treatment. More here.

Gender-affirming surgery associated with improved mental health outcomes

A new study adds to the evidence that gender-affirming medical care results in an array of positive outcomes. The report, based on a survey of more than 27,000 transgender and gender diverse adults, found that those who chose to undergo gender-affirming surgery had lower rates of psychological distress and suicidal thoughts than those who wanted such surgery but hadn't received it. In an editorial, outside researchers noted that survey results are not as rigorous as other forms of data, but that “there is a growing body of literature supporting the positive outcomes" of the procedures. The study also comes as conservative lawmakers in some states seek to prohibit gender-affirming medical care — including hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and surgery — for transgender youth.

Suicide prediction models may feature biases

Experts are crafting models to predict who might be at high risk of suicide, but a new study cautions that developers of such models need to consider how they’ll work for different racial and ethnic groups. In the study, researchers tested two models on years of patient data from different health systems and looked at suicide deaths within 90 days of patients' mental health visits. The models, which rely on such factors as patient history and questionnaires, “performed well at the population level, [but] prediction was poor" for Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native people, the researchers wrote. They also note that as providers increasingly rely on prediction models, there is a concern that such tools could exacerbate disparities.

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 54,026
Deaths yesterday: 948

What to read around the web today

  • After 40 years, medical schools are admitting fewer Black male or Native American students. STAT
  • Inequality's deadly toll: Can Covid push science to finally address how poverty and discrimination drive disease? Nature
  • Glowing tumor-munching cells, captured on video, show the promise of a new approach to CAR-T cancer therapy. STAT+
  • Analysis: The expected Covid baby boom may be a baby bust. AP
  • Biden administration expected to announce plan to ban menthol cigarettes. Washington Post

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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