Friday Roundup – September 22, 2017

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy, to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

Progress Comes with Bioethical Concerns

Artificial embryo sounds like something from a Sci-Fi movie, but it’s actually what researcher Yue Shao created during an experiment with stem cells. Shao is a part of a team at the University of Michigan working on human organoids. An organoid is a group of cells that contains characteristics of a specific organ.

 

Though Shao’s initial artificial embryo did not contain the necessary cells for full development (it didn’t contain cell types for the brain or heart), the fact that it was able to progress provides scientists with great opportunity as embryonic cells use in research has been a highly politicized subject.

 

There are still ethical concerns though as these embryoids aren’t the same as an actual human embryo. Scientists are cautious, and adhering to the “14-day rule” used when studying human embryos: No human embryo is studied beyond two weeks, or past when the primitive streak forms.

“Hail-Mary” Healthcare Bill Introduced

The new measure was proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, and is being regarded as republicans’ “last chance” to repeal the ACA. There has been a significant amount of opposition from not only democrats but also healthcare organizations across the country.

 

Critics of the measure argue the widespread restructuring would wreak havoc in insurance markets and loosened regulations would undermine important patient protections, especially those with pre-existing conditions.

Biosimilars Were Approved, But Will They Be Available?

Last week, the FDA approved Mvasi, a biosimilar to Avastin, a drug used to treat multiple cancers. In the release, the FDA touted that biosimilars are a great way to improve access to life-saving drugs while reducing cost, but an article in Bloomberg points out that may not be accurate.

 

Amgen has released no price or market date for the biosimilar and some doctors are also unclear on when a biosimilar should be prescribed (and if patients already on the drug should be switched to the biosimilar). Complicating things more are patent disputes, which slow the drug’s journey to actual patients in need of treatment.

Are Insurers Partially Responsible for the Opioid Crisis?

The toll the opioid crisis has taken has everyone asking challenging questions of the structure of healthcare in the U.S. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies have been criticized for contributing to the overprescription of opioids in the past, but now insurers are taking some of the blame.

 

Almost every plan in the 35.7 million analyzed by ProPublica and the New York Times covered common opioids, and only some required approval. In contrast, only one-third covered Butrans, a skin patch with a less addictive opioid and every plan that covered a similar, more expensive patch required prior approval.

 

What do you think? Should insurers bear some of the blame? Should they modify policies to provide more access to less addictive painkillers? Tag us on Twitter (@angelMD_inc) and let us know.

Puerto Rico Devastated by Hurricane Maria

The Category 4 hurricane hit the island earlier this week with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour and knocked out the country’s power. Now experts are saying its underfunded health system might also be destroyed.

 

In addition to the surface injuries hurricanes cause, infectious diseases also spread easier because of infrastructure damage and increased human contact (via packed shelters). The power outage will also put a strain on the health system and cause reliance on backup generators.

 

If you would like to help the citizen of Puerto Rico, you can donate here.

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Friday Roundup – September 8, 2017

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy, to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

CAR-T Clinical Trial Causes Lethal Reaction

Following the approval of Novartis’ CAR-T treatment last week, CAR-T made headlines again for a much more sobering reason: Patient death. The first patient in the Cellartis clinical trial died eight days after receiving the therapy due to a toxic reaction to the treatment, resulting in cytokine release syndrome and capillary leak syndrome.

 

The trial has been halted by the FDA and the ordeal has sent the company’s stock plummeting, down 30 percent in pre-market trading.

The Other Side of Zika

The virus which can result in birth defects, including microcephaly, has been used to shrink aggressive tumors in mice. The virus targets stem cells, which is damaging in babies due to the large number of stem cells in their brains. Adult brains, however, have few stem cells, except those which are a part of glioblastomas.

 

Because of the rate at which glioblastoma cells spread and divide, the cancer is difficult to treat with conventional methods like chemotherapy. Human trials for the treatment would not begin for at least another year and a half, but the results from mice are promising enough to generate excitement.

Elementary, My Dear Watson

IBM’s Watson, the AI system touted as the next great cancer innovation, may not be as effective as IBM claims it to be according to an investigative report by STAT. One of the challenges described in the article is the labor required to “teach” Watson. With AI software, Watson must be given information like records and case studies to “learn” what kind of recommendations to make for patient care.

 

There have been no studies or clinical trials about the effectiveness of Watson, which raises a curious issue as the system could directly impact a patient. In addition, many feel the cost of Watson isn’t justified by its performance.

Pen-pointing Patient’s Tumors

A team of scientists at UT-Austin have developed a pen that can detect cancerous cells mid-surgery. The MasSpec Pen identifies cancer 150 times faster than the current method of delivering a sample to a pathologist – that’s only a 10 second wait.

 

The device works by gathering molecules, mixing them with a small amount of water, and sending it through a mass spectrometer. The pen would help ensure surgeons remove a patient’s entire tumor, leaving no pieces behind to re-grow or metastasize.

Did Alphabet Just Create a Health Incubator?

Verily, the life sciences arm of Google parent company Alphabet, opened the doors to a South San Francisco lab space this week. Named the Verily Partner Space, the location already houses two startups, including liquid biopsy company Freenome.

 

A blog published by Verily explained the company “recognizes that [it] need[s] to collaborate with both large, market-leading companies and pioneering start-ups who are working tirelessly to push the boundaries, operating on the edge of technology.”

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Friday Roundup – September 1, 2017

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy, to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

FDA Approves Novartis’ CAR-T

In what is being considered a historic and pioneering decision, the FDA approved CAR-T therapy for leukemia treatment in children and young adults. The treatment uses the patient’s own white blood cells and reprograms them to target cancer cells in the body.

 

Marketed as Kymriah, the treatment will cost $475,000, well below the $750,000 some analysts were expecting and the $700,00 price tag the UK is considering. Novartis also stated they will not charge for the treatment if a patient does not respond well to it within a month. Some, however, are critical of this approach citing that one month is not accurate measure and advocating for a period closer to 18 months.

 

The treatment had success in clinical trials, leaving 83% of patients cancer-free after a three-month cycle of the drug, but still had a relapse rate of 25% around the six month mark.

Harvey Causes Public Health Crisis in Houston

Hurricane Harvey captured the nation’s attention this past week as it devastated the Gulf Coast and left thousands displaced. Among the damages is Houston’s renowned Texas Medical Center, including the MD Anderson Cancer Treatment Center, which was forced to cancel treatments due to flooding.

 

Several other facilities had to work around the storm by transferring patients to other hospitals and having staff stay on-site to care for remaining patients.

 

If you would like to donate to help the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, please click here.

An Unusual Origin Story

The backstory of drug discoveries are sometimes a dull affair: hours in a lab, a hardworking team, blah blah blah. But that’s hardly the case for warfarin sodium. Believe it or not, the drug found its beginning in cows that became sick from eating moldy hay.

 

The cows were dying from internal bleeding, their blood wasn’t clotting properly. After several experiments, scientists eventually found that the fungus was reacting with a substance in the hay to form dicoumarol, a blood thinner.

FDA Moves to Stricter Management of Stem Cell Clinics

The FDA seized vaccine vials from a San Diego clinic this week to prevent using them in a treatment, citing that it was “potentially dangerous and unproven.”

 

The vials were full of Vaccinia Virus Vaccine, which is designated for those at high risk for smallpox. The vaccine was to be mixed with cells from patients and injected directly into malignant tumors. The treatment was marketed as stem cell therapy, but not approved as such. The FDA is now launching an investigation into several clinics including the US Stem Cell Clinic.

Hacking the Heart

In even more FDA news, the organization put out a recall notice for a variety of pacemakers over concern they were vulnerable to hacking. Fortunately, patients affected by the recall will not need to get their pacemaker removed, they merely need to update its firmware.

 

In a release from device manufacturer Abbott Medical, executive vice president of Medical Devices Robert Ford stated “All industries need to be constantly vigilant against unauthorized access … we’re working with others in the healthcare sector to ensure we’re proactively addressing common topics to further advance the security of devices and systems.”

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Startup Spotlight: Magentiq

The next generation of smart medical devices will use data analytics and machine learning to deliver more automated and effective diagnostic solutions for patients and providers.

 

Traditionally, interpreting diagnostic images or scans took a high degree of skill and expensive specialized equipment. However, big data is striving to revolutionize traditional practices by helping imaging devices learn to recognize abnormal scans through  automated screenings leading to increased diagnostic speed and accuracy. Additionally, medical imaging devices powered by data analytics could automatically alert doctors to changes from previous scans or to abnormalities that require further review.

 

Smart imaging devices would be able to connect to vast image databases and patient health records to improve diagnostic accuracy. By using machine learning, these devices would be able to make connections between image characteristics and ultimate health outcomes. Most importantly, by analyzing vast datasets, the devices would be able to find correlations that humans are likely to miss. Such techniques could also provide more individualistic diagnostics by factoring in patients’ health records and comparing them to databases of other patients.

Tomorrow’s medical devices are available today

Emerging advances in data analytics put these innovations well within reach for the next generation of medical devices. There are several developers who are ahead of the curve and already building analytics into their devices. For example, one of the companies on angelMD’s platform Magentiq based in Haifa, Israel is already putting data analytics to work.

 

Magentiq uses image/video analysis technologies to aid doctors in the difficult task of performing medical exams and procedures. Their first product The APDS- Automatic Polyp Detection System – is designed to aid physicians when performing colonoscopy examinations and to increase the Polyp Detection Rate (PDR) and the Adenoma (one of the Polyp types) Detection Rate (ADR). We had a chance to interview the CEO of Magentiq: Dror Zur, Ph.D and his responses are provided below. Check out Magentiq’s angelMD profile here.

Could you give a brief overview of your background and why started your company?

Magentiq Eye Ltd. was established in 2014 with the aim to harness the most cutting edge computer vision and deep learning techniques to aid doctors in endoscopic procedures. Doctors today spend hours during Endoscopic Procedures looking at the LCD screens in order to explore, examine and treat various conditions.

 

At Magentiq Eye we put the growing power of Deep Learning, Image and Video Processing to the help of doctors, so they can be more accurate and effective; ultimately saving lives and dollars. Our first product is APDS: Automatic Polyp Detection System, developed to be used in online and offline colonoscopies.

 

APDS can point out the suspicious locations of polyps in the videos, increasing the attentiveness of doctors during procedures, thus helping them to reduce their polyp miss-rates. Given the large population that annually undergoes colonoscopy, even a modest decrease in polyp miss rate can save a lot of lives.

 

The APDS-RT runs on the video feed from the endoscopic camera used by the physician in real time during the endoscopic procedure (currently only on colonoscopy procedures). The APDS-OFL is a software that runs in offline mode on pre-Recorded Colonoscopy Videos.

 

It is estimated that 40 million colonoscopy procedures are performed every year (almost 40% in the US alone). The ability of colonoscopy procedures to decrease the number of colon cancer cases has been proven without a doubt and their number expected to grow.

 

However, researches have shown that there is about [a] 25% [rate of ] undetected polyps in those procedures. Misses can, unfortunately, cause interval cancer. Within this context the APDS can be sold as an add-on to the colonoscopy system or as a service (license per exam), paid by the clinic or hospital.

 

The APDS system is undergoing formal testing in the next year. Once that is done, it can be sold either jointly with the endoscopic equipment providers or it can be integrated in the colonoscopy devices.

How are you trying to differentiate yourself from your competitors?

We have a PCT patent submission with precedence from 2015. Additionally, we are fully devoted 24/7 to the task of bringing Automatic Polyp Detection System to the market. We all come from leading academic institutes, worked in breakthrough medical companies, and have experience in endoscopic procedures. Lastly, we have been pioneering this technology for 4 years now and expect to fully capitalize on our first-mover advantage.

What were the biggest challenges you faced initially in working with image and video processing?

Initially it was hard to accurately detect objects in images and frames, so in order to improve that we added, as a main technology in our system, deep learning capabilities.

 

An Example of Magentiq Eye’s APDS detection highlighted on the screen:

What is your go to market strategy?

To cooperate with distributors or companies that are in the GI market, and sell our product as pay-per-use (per test) service.

What is your vision for your company in the future?

To be a significant player in helping doctors with image processing, deep learning-based diagnostics for endoscopic procedures and early cancer detection.

How would you describe your experience at the IBM Alpha Zone Accelerator?

I highly recommend companies which are getting close to market or starting to get first users to join the Alpha Zone Accelerator, and to get high level mentorship as well as high level development tools.

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Friday Roundup – August 25, 2017

The Friday Roundup is a collection of five stories that you need to know about each week. From policy, to innovations, look to us to keep you up to date on what’s happening in the healthcare industry.

Smile! You’re on Camera

For some, visiting a physician can be overwhelming. Often there is a lot of information to take in, making it difficult for patients, especially older ones, to catch it all during an appointment.

 

To help these patients, one doctor has started videotaping appointments and uploading them to a web platform to be reviewed at the patient’s convenience. The recordings are annotated to make it easier for patients to locate the information they are looking for. Studies on the practice found it led to patients being able to better “retain and understand” aspects of their condition.

 

Considering some patients already record without physician consent, normalizing this method could be beneficial to all parties.

Securing your DNA

The 21st century has brought a host of security concerns. The rise of new technology led to new data sources and new vulnerabilities for personal information. Now, even perhaps your most personal information is vulnerable: your DNA.

 

In medical testing a subject’s entire genome is often not needed. Now, the unnecessary pieces can be encrypted for your privacy. The news is timely, coming on the heels of a UW research team’s frightening accomplishment earlier this month: the ability to hack into your DNA data.

Google Tackles Mental Health

Google is implementing a new feature which will ask users who search for “depression” if they would like to take a clinically developed questionnaire to determine if they are depressed. The tool is the product of a partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

 

The short questionnaire, called the PHQ-9, is a short survey that will appear at the bottom of the “knowledge box” on mobile Google searches for depression. The new feature is not meant to replace clinician consultation, but help a user navigate to that by getting a better idea of their condition beforehand.

Human are Pitchy Creatures

A new study published in Science has determined that humans have specific neurons dedicated to decipher pitch patterns when someone is speaking.

 

They found altering the pitch pattern in a sentence often changed the meaning for the person listening. For example, if the sentence is modified to have a higher pitch at the end, the person could interpret it as a question instead of a statement.

New Pathway to Anxiety Discovered

Researchers in Utah found that when the Lef1 gene was removed from mice and zebrafish, it impacted the anxiety level of the animals.

 

The gene affects the development of neurons in the hypothalamus related to stress and anxiety. The fish and mice exhibited symptoms of anxiety like slow growth and reluctance to explore new environments. The fact that removing Lef1 impacted both mice and zebrafish indicated it may do so in other species as well despite other biologic differences.

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