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A.M. Vitals: Pfizer Likely to Spin Off, Not Sell, Animal-Health Business PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 August 2011 01:18

Choosing a Spinoff: Pfizer is more likely to spin off its animal health division than to sell it, the WSJ reports, citing people familiar with the matter. The pharma company is still likely to entertain offers for the business, which could be worth as much as $15 billion, but tax and antitrust considerations make it unlikely it will opt for a sale and will instead prepare to spin it off, the paper says.

Preemptive Strike: An Institute of Medicine report on the medical-device approval pathway known as 510K isn’t due out until tomorrow, but already industry supporters are gearing up to challenge the report and the panel that authored it, the New York Times reports.

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McDonald’s Plans to Make Happy Meals Nutritionally Happier PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 01 August 2011 20:41

McDonald’s has ignored calls to give Ronald McDonald the boot. But today it said it will take steps to improve the nutritional quality of its Happy Meals. (Here’s the WSJ story.)

Starting in September, McDonald’s will roll out Happy Meals that package a smaller serving of French fries along with that burger or order of McNuggets.

Apple slices — previously a rarely chosen option to replace fries — will now be included automatically. (If you skip the fries, you get two servings of apples.) And the choice of beverages will include a new fat-free chocolate milk, as well as 1%-fat regular milk. The changes will cut the calories in the most popular Happy Meals by about 20%.

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A.M. Vitals: HCA’s Results Show Sluggish Economy’s Effects on Hospitals PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 01 August 2011 20:37

Boding Ill?: For-profit hospital company HCA Holdings reported a 22% decline in second-quarter profit, in part because of fewer surgical admissions, the WSJ reports. An analyst tells the paper that doesn’t bode well for the results from other hospital companies; shares in Tenet Healthcare and Health Management Associates, among others, fell yesterday, though not as much as HCA shares.

Reviewing a Review: Starting in September, the federal government will begin to scrutinize proposed health-insurance premium increases of 10% or more in states it says don’t have sufficient oversight of rates, the New York Times reports.

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How Does Chickenpox Kill? PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 30 July 2011 07:00

For the Health Blog, the major trauma of the chickenpox was breaking out in itchy blisters mere weeks before the senior prom. But in rare cases, chicken pox can actually kill people, and new research shows how vaccination has helped curb the number of annual deaths from the disease.

Writing online in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track the number of annual deaths with varicella — the scientific name for chickenpox — since a vaccine was introduced in 1995. They report that between 1990 and 1994, an average of 105 people died each year directly due to varicella, and for an additional 40, it was listed as a contributing cause.

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The Latest on the $29 Billion Express Scripts/Medco Deal PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 30 July 2011 06:56

All day we’ll be tracking the latest and greatest on Express Scripts’ plans to buy Medco Home Solutions for about $29 billion in cash and stock.

Here’s what our colleagues at the WSJ have been reporting:

Deal Journal reports that investors love the deal. Shares in Express Scripts were up 4.7% to $55.00 in recent trading, while Medco shares rose 12.9% to $63.00.

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A.M. Vitals: FDA Panel Votes Against Diabetes Drug From Bristol, Astra PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 July 2011 19:18

Drug Vote: An FDA advisory panel voted 9-6 against approving dapagliflozin, a new type of diabetes drug from Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca, saying more information is needed on possible risks including breast and bladder cancers, the WSJ reports. Some panel members, however, said teasing out those possible safety problems would be best accomplished not by requiring more studies before approval, but by using post-marketing studies and patient registries. The FDA often, but not always, follows the advice of its outside panels.

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Neonatologists Protest Quality-Improvement Requirements PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 July 2011 19:13

Neonatal intensive care units around the country are participating in quality programs to improve care for the most vulnerable babies, today’s Informed Patient column reports.

But the quality-improvement movement is at the center of a dispute between some neonatologists and the American Board of Pediatrics, with the doctors protesting requirements that they demonstrate “meaningful participation” in quality-improvement activities as part of the board’s certification maintenance process. The rule applies to doctors who are to be newly certified, or were due to be re-certified anytime after 2010.

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The Operating Room Could Use a Stitch of Civility. PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 July 2011 19:08

Stressful situations are a breeding ground for uncivil behavior. So it’s no surprise that operating rooms — where life and death themselves are at stake — see their fair share of colleague-on-colleague rudeness and even abuse.

A commentary published in the Archives of Surgery says that a general increase in societal rudeness combined with the top-down nature of surgical training have produced some sobering results. It cites one survey of more than 1,500 nurses and physicians found that 86% of the nurses had witnessed disruptive behavior by physicians, while 47% of physicians said the same about nurses.

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AAIC: Antidepressants May Help Reduce Levels of Alzheimer’s Marker PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 25 July 2011 19:47

Depression is thought to be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. And antidepressants appear to decrease the amount of a substance thought to be a contributor to the disease, according to new animal research presented yesterday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

In two studies, Yvette Sheline, a professor at Washington University, and colleagues found that mice who were given doses of antidepressants in the short term — over 24 hours — showed a 25% reduction in brain levels of amyloid, the sticky substance thought to be a contributor to the disease, compared to mice who didn’t get the medicine.

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Google on the Brain: How the Internet Has Changed What We Remember PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 25 July 2011 19:44

Not so long ago, if you woke up in the middle of the night, driven crazy by not being able to remember the name of the shortstop on the 1986 Mets, or the title of Kevin Bacon’s first movie or the year Toni Basil’s “Mickey” hit the Billboard charts, you were out of luck until you could call a friend or hit the library.

But thanks to Google, IMDB and other search engines and databases, most people can now access that information very quickly — without even getting out of bed, if you keep your smartphone on your night table. (In case your own phone is out of reach: Rafael Santana, “Animal House,” and 1982.)

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NYC Menu Calorie-Labeling Law Not Prompting Big Changes PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 August 2011 01:12

The Health Blog has heard lots of anecdotal evidence about the effects of the kind of menu-labeling law that took effect in New York a few years back (and will go national under the health-care overhaul law). People tell us they never realized how many calories were in their daily Starbucks scone or Cosi sandwich until they saw the number posted in black and white.

But in practice, research hasn’t backed up the notion that putting calorie counts on menus actually produces big changes in people’s purchasing habits. A new study published in BMJ, looking specifically at lunchtime food purchases in NYC before and after the law took effect, doesn’t buck that trend.

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Should All Newborns Be Screened For Pompe Disease? PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 01 August 2011 20:39

Nine diseases have been nominated to an HHS advisory committee as possible additions to newborn screening programs. Only two have won the committee’s approval.

But R. Rodney Howell, the chair of the committee, tells the Health Blog that he’d like to see at least one of the conditions that was initially turned down be re-nominated: Pompe disease, a rare genetic disorder involving a missing or insufficient enzyme. Pompe can lead to severe heart and muscle damage and in some cases is fatal.

The disease “should be on the (newborn screening) panel,” Howell says, adding that his opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire committee.

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Brand-Name and Generic Drug Firms Converging, Not Without Risks PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 01 August 2011 20:34

The dividing line between the big generic and brand-name drug makers is increasingly fuzzy. Let’s hope each industry knows what it’s getting into.

It used to be that the sides were clear. Big Pharma developed new drugs, while generic companies like Teva copied these medicines once their patent protection expired. Each industry had its own trade group, lawyers and PR teams. Disputes were common.

Yet as today’s WSJ reports, the industries are converging. Teva is defending a brand-name multiple-sclerosis drug, Copaxone, from rivals seeking to sell a generic version.

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A.M. Vitals: J&J Latest to See Drug Shortage PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 30 July 2011 06:59

In Short Supply: Johnson & Johnson is experiencing a shortage of its cancer drug Doxil due to production delays at a contract manufacturer, the WSJ reports. The company is advising doctors not to start new patients on the drug and to consult national treatment guidelines for alternatives. A recent survey found 99.5% of hospitals have experienced a shortage of at least one drug in the past six months.

Uh Oh: Researchers at Boston University retracted a study published online last year in Science that claimed to pinpoint a set of genetic markers linked to living past 100, the Boston Globe reports.

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Combined Express Scripts/Medco May Face Off Against UnitedHealth Unit PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 30 July 2011 06:52

The married-up Express Scripts/Medco will face off not only against incumbent CVS Caremark, but, it appears, against an emerging new rival: the pharmacy operation of UnitedHealth Group’s Optum health-services unit.

With Medco’s announcement today that it will lose its UnitedHealth contract at the start of 2013, the rationale for selling itself to Express may also become a bit clearer. The UnitedHealth contract was its biggest, representing 17% of its 2010 revenues, or roughly 164 million claims, and a “mid- to high-single-digit percentage” of its earnings per share, according to J.P. Morgan analyst Lisa Gill.

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AAIC: Cognitive Impact From Lilly’s Semagacestat Didn’t Reverse PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 July 2011 19:16

The worsening of cognitive symptoms in patients taking  a now-shelved Eli Lilly experimental Alzheimer’s compound wasn’t reversed even seven months after the end of treatment, according to new data presented today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Paris. The data raise questions about the efficacy and safety of the many others in the same class of drug that are still being developed.

Semagacestat aimed to slow or reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by inhibiting an enzyme called gamma secretase, which is important to building a sticky substance called amyloid that can clump in the brain.

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A.M. Vitals: Eye Care Helps Novartis See 12% Increase in 2Q Net Profit PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 July 2011 19:11

Profits Up: The recently acquired Alcon eye-care business, growth in new drugs and cost-cutting helped Novartis boost second-quarter profit 12% to $2.7 billion, with sales up 27% to $14.92 billion, the WSJ reports. As the WSJ’s The Source blog notes, sales of new products, including MS pill Gilenya, grew 46%, helping to compensate for drugs set to lose patent protection and for European austerity measures that are pushing down the price of drugs there.

Label Changes: The label for AstraZeneca’s Seroquel will now advise against combining the antipsychotic with at least a dozen other drugs due to a higher risk of a potentially dangerous heart arrhythmia, the New York Times reports.

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The Flu Vaccine is On its Way PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 25 July 2011 19:49

No, summer isn’t over yet. But preparations for the next flu season, which typically begins in October, have already started.

The FDA said today it’s approved the formulation for the 2011-12 vaccine. As we reported last month, the new vaccine looks a lot like it did last year — it will protect against the type of influenza A virus that caused the H1N1/swine flu pandemic, another type of influenza A virus (H3N2) and a type of influenza B virus. But you can’t skip the shot even if you had it last year, since the immunity it confers isn’t particularly long-lived.

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A.M. Vitals: Alzheimer’s Association Meeting Underway PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 25 July 2011 19:46

Alzheimer’s Data: The annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease kicked off over the weekend, the WSJ reports. Alzheimer’s disease is a hot field, with Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Eli Lilly investing in R&D, the paper says. Yesterday researchers reported progress in finding the disease earlier, the paper says. Meanwhile, research presented today involving military veterans and former pro football players suggests concussions and other traumatic brain injuries are associated with subsequent dementia, the paper says.

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A.M. Vitals: FDA Panel Endorses Seattle Genetics Lymphoma Drug PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 22 July 2011 22:49

Thumbs-Up, Conditionally: An FDA advisory panel unanimously recommended the accelerated approval of brentuximab vodotin, an experimental lymphoma drug that Seattle Genetics wants to market under the brand name Adcetris, the WSJ reports. Accelerated approval requires further studies to be conducted after the drug is on the market; Seattle Genetics would prefer regular approval, which isn’t conditional. The FDA often, but not always, follows the advice of its outside committees.

Fewer Butts: A report published by the CDC finds that Time Warner, Comcast and the Walt Disney Co. cut the number of tobacco scenes in movies rated G, PG or PG-13 by 96% between 2005 and 2010, the Associated Press reports.

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