Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's health news. 

Orrin Hatch's legacy in pharma policy

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah just announced he’s retiring, which means drug makers are losing a key ally on Capitol Hill. Here’s how Hatch has advanced some of the drug industry’s major policy priorities in his four decades in Congress:

  • Generic drugs: Hatch co-sponsored a 1984 law that helped foster generic drug development while also giving brand name drug makers new ways to protect their patents.

  • Orphan drugs: The senator helped to pen the 1983 Orphan Drug Act, which worked to spur research and drug development around rare diseases.

  • Drug exclusivity: Hatch pushed to expand the exclusivity window for biologic drugs, a provision which was ultimately included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Drug makers have rewarded Hatch with $2.8 million in campaign donations since 1989, according to the website Open Secrets. Stephen Ubl, the CEO of the industry group PhRMA, tweeted to thank Hatch for improving "access to health care and innovative treatments for all Americans." 

More for STAT Plus subscribers from STAT’s Erin Mershon here.

There's a wide racial gap in living kidney donations — and it's getting worse

Black and Hispanic patients are less likely than white patients to receive a kidney transplant from a living donor within two years — and that disparity is growing bigger. A new analysis of live donor transplants in 2014 finds that while 11 percent of white patients have received a living donor transplant two years after joining a waiting list, just 3 percent of black patients, 6 percent of Hispanic patients, and 6 percent of Asian patients had received a transplant in the same time frame. That gap has grown wider since 1995, and the discrepancy can have a lasting impact on patients. Transplants from a live donor are tied to better health outcomes than dialysis or transplants from a deceased donor for patients with severe kidney disease. The takeaway for policymakers: The strategies in place to reduce those disparities aren’t cutting it.

Medical groups watch for action on DACA

Top congressional leaders from both parties are gathering today to talk about taking action on immigration policies including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The Trump administration announced last year it would wind down the program, which has given hundreds of thousands of young immigrants a path to live and work legally in the U.S. The nation’s leading medical groups have called on Congress to make sure that health care workers and students who were protected by DACA can keep working, studying, and researching.

In a letter to congressional leaders last month, the American Medical Association and other groups argued a legal path to permanent residency would “help our country produce a diverse and culturally responsive health care workforce to meet the needs of underserved populations, promote health equity, and avoid unnecessary disruption in our education and training systems.”

Inside STAT: In Israel, Teva's future is in question

The world’s largest generic drug manufacturer is at a crossroads. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which is headquartered in Israel, has had three CEOs since 2012. Last month, tens of billions of dollars in debt, the company announced it would lay off a quarter of its workforce and close plants all over the world. Faced with the prospect of 1,750 job cuts in Israel, protesters across the country took to the streets. Word of Teva’s restructuring came as an unpleasant surprise to many in Kiryat Shmona, a small Israeli town home to a Teva plant. Hundreds of the town’s 23,000 people work at the plant, and it impacts the lives of many more. STAT’s Ike Swetlitz visited Kiryat Shmona to understand Teva’s role and how the company’s challenges are playing out — more here.

These tiny skin organoids come complete with hair follicles



Indiana University scientists have grown a new type of skin tissue in the lab that can actually form hair follicles, which the researchers say offers a better model for studying skin and hair. They started by coaching mouse stem cells to form tiny skin organoids that contained several types of dermal cells, which are found in the deeper layers of the skin, and several types of epidermal cells, which are found closer to the surface. The epidermal cells grew into a rounded shape, which the dermal cells then wrapped themselves around. Hair follicles sprouted up in all directions. There’s still a big hurdle — the round shape of the skin organoid gives the hair follicles nowhere to shed, which means the follicles don’t mimic what happens with a natural hair cycle. But with some more work, the researchers say their model could one day be used to study skin cancer or topical drugs. 

What's next in biotech? Ask our reporters

STAT reporters Adam Feuerstein and Damian Garde are hosting a free webinar tomorrow at 1 p.m. to chat about what the year ahead will look like in biotech, from trends to trial readouts. Sign up here.

Special baby formula doesn't prevent type 1 diabetes

Modified baby formula doesn’t prevent type 1 diabetes in kids like doctors hoped it might, according to new results from a large clinical trial. There’s been research that suggests early exposure to complex foreign proteins, like those found in cow’s milk, might raise the risk of type 1 diabetes in kids who already have an increased genetic risk. So researchers studied a group of children, half of whom were weaned onto standard formula and the other half of whom received a specially designed formula in which those complex proteins had been broken up. After 10 years, there wasn’t any difference in type 1 diabetes prevalence between those two groups, which suggests the formula won't work as a prevention tool. 

What to read around the web today

  • Most big public colleges don't track suicides. AP
  • The rehab giant, under attack. New York Times
  • Dementia patients often need hospitals, which are often ill-prepared. Boston Globe

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

  • Scott Gottlieb issues a lot of statements. Quite a lot. So we counted his words
  • Several drug makers just raised their prices by nearly 10 percent, and buyers expect more price hikes. 

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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