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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

First death from China pneumonia outbreak reported

Health authorities in Wuhan, China, over the weekend reported the first death from the ongoing outbreak of a mysterious pneumonia-like illness in the city. A 61-year-old man died Thursday after he had been admitted to the hospital with respiratory failure and severe pneumonia, according to Wuhan health authorities. The city’s Municipal Health Committee also noted that he had other health issues, including abdominal tumors and chronic liver disease. Overall, officials have identified 41 cases where people have become sick with the new illness, which was recently linked to a new type of coronavirus. At the same time, scientists also released the genomic sequence of the new virus, which could offer clues about the nature of the illness and how to treat it. 

Companies agree to $8.75 million payment to Oklahoma ahead of opioid trial

Two drug companies agreed late last week to pay Oklahoma $8.75 million to avoid going to court over their alleged role in fueling the state’s opioid crisis. The state had accused the companies of deceptively marketing opioids and understating their risks. As part of Friday’s agreement, the companies — Endo Pharmaceuticals and Par Pharmaceutical, both subsidiaries of Endo International — denied the allegations and didn’t admit to any wrongdoing. Endo International withdrew its opioids Opana and Opana ER from the market in 2016, and suspended any research programs with the drugs. Oklahoma has reached pretrial agreements with other opioid companies, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals. A judge last summer ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $465 million to help address its opioid crisis. 

Vaccination mandates tied to higher immunization rates in Europe 

As public health experts continue to grapple with ongoing measles outbreaks in many countries and the spread of anti-vaccination sentiments, a new study reveals that vaccination mandates in Europe may have worked to increase immunization rates against measles and pertussis. Researchers looked at vaccination coverage data from 29 European countries, and those with vaccination mandates had measles immunization rates that were nearly four percentage points higher than countries without requirements. Countries with mandates for pertussis vaccinations had immunization rates that were more than two percentage points higher. In those countries that didn’t have nonmedical exemptions (such as religious or personal beliefs), increased measles vaccination rates were also associated with a decreased incidence of measles, although the authors didn’t find such a similar link for pertussis. 

Inside STAT: A health care veteran tries to upend the system and bring drug prices down

Alexis Borisy, 47, co-founded Foundation Medicine and Blueprint Medicines. (HYACINTH EMPINADO/STAT)

New government policies or nonprofits are the usual sources of proposals to help bring drug prices down, but in an unlikely move, a Boston-based venture capitalist is launching a new company today to do just that. Alex Borisy, the co-founder of such genetics-focused companies as Foundation Medicine and Blueprint Medicines, is now CEO and chairman of EQRx, whose mission will be to create new medicines that mimic the effects of blockbuster drugs, but to sell these versions to insurers and hospital systems at lower prices. This “radical proposition,” as Borisy calls his new idea, “is not [a] fantasy world,” he tells STAT’s Matthew Herper. “This is something that can be done.” Read more here

Volume of sugar sold in soft drinks drops by 29% in the U.K. 

New research finds that the volume of sugar in soft drinks sold in the U.K. has dropped nearly 30% in recent years.The new study looked at data between 2015-2018, and researchers observed that the total sales of high-sugar drinks dropped from 66 million liters in 2015 to 39 million liters last year. Conversely, the sales of drinks with zero sugar increased during this time, from 52 million liters to 74 million liters. At the same time, the overall sales of soft drinks increased by 5%. It remains to be seen how a new U.K. law — which taxes drinks based on the amount of sugar per volume they contain — will influence the sale of sugary beverages. 

Use of robotics in surgeries has risen eightfold in recent years

The use of robotics in common surgical procedures has increased more than eightfold in the U.S. in recent years, according to a new study. Looking at data between January 2012 and June 2018, researchers found that robotic surgeries made up less than 2% of surgeries in 2012, but rose to around 15% six years later. Among surgeons, 9% used robotics in 2012, whereas that rose to 35% in 2018. Hernia repairs — in the groin and in abdominal muscles — saw a more than fortyfold increase in robotic surgeries, while gall bladder removals experienced a threefold increase in the use of robotics. At the same time, the analysis found that with the increased implementation of robotics in surgeries, rates of other common methods, such as laparoscopic surgery and open surgery, declined. 

What to read around the web today

  • For families of ALS patients, providing home care can be an infinite challenge. The Boston Globe
  • Judge blocks NY ban on flavored vaping products. The Associated Press
  • Not so fast: 5 reasons to view declining cancer death rates with a dash of skepticism. STAT Plus
  • Geneticists call on Myriad to share proprietary data to aid gene tests. The Wall Street Journal
  • Facebook’s new tool promotes preventive health. But the company can’t tell if it’s working. STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Monday, January 13, 2020


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