U.S. Markets closed

Brainstorm Health: Sanders Medicare for All Bill, Genomics and Pharma, Insulin Costs

Sy Mukherjee

Hello and happy hump day, readers.

It’s somewhat of an open secret that big pharma’s ROI has been plunging over the past decade. Historically, drug development is a risky business, with about 90% of treatment candidates never actually reaching the market.

In the face of those dire realities, biopharma companies have increasingly resorted to a combination of “evergreening” patents (i.e., blocking competitors to best-selling products from the market through a combination of lawsuits and aggressive IP tactics) and hiking prices.

But the industry is one that ostensibly prides itself on innovation. To that end, could a revolution in genomics be the savior that drug makers need?

That’s the theory proposed by the legendary Hal Barron, who currently serves as pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline’s chief R&D officer. “Functional” genomics, according to Barron, “can help link the genetic variant to function, solve the genetic mysteries that have piled up in recent years (why 30% of individuals with a certain mutation get Parkinson’s Disease, but the other 70% does not, for example), and pinpoint drug targets,” he said during an interview at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Health conference last week. “Barron says data shows drug development is twice as likely to succeed when the drug target is genetically validated,” writes my colleague Erika Fry.

Unlike the grandiose (and, admittedly, important) work of the Human Genome Project from decades past, Barron says that the new generation of sequencing has far more practical uses from a drug development standpoint. Part of that is attributable to the ever-cheaper process of sequencing, which has helped democratize research; another is the advent of new programming technologies that require far less labor by the grunt workers in the research war.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee @the_sy_guy sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

  • DIGITAL HEALTH

    Feds charge dozens in telemarketing fraud scheme. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other government agencies have charged at least 24 people in a widespread Medicare fraud scheme the feds say cost taxpayers $1 billion. The alleged perpetrators from foreign nations reportedly used telemarketing scams to bilk elderly Americans who rely on the government’s Medicare program, including by promising free braces to treat certain kinds of pain that patients didn’t actually need. (ABC News)

  • INDICATIONS

    Sanofi follows Eli Lilly’s insulin price cut. Following a similar move by Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly—and prior to a highly anticipated Congressional hearing on Wednesday—French drug maker Sanofi announced that it would limit certain diabetes patients’ out of pocket costs for insulin to $99 per month. Insulin costs have been under increasing scrutiny as the treatments’ prices have skyrocketed over the past decade, and often in tandem among would-be competitors. (CNBC)

  • THE BIG PICTURE

    Bernie Sanders updates his Medicare for All legislation. Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders has released an updated version of his universal health care legislation. The new iteration of Sanders’ Medicare for All bill would, like previous versions, more or less eliminate the role of private health insurance in the U.S. by barring competition between insurers and a new, generous government plan. For a brief on what that could mean, check out my story from the most recent issue of Fortune. (Reuters)

  • REQUIRED READING

    The Deficit Is Growing Far Faster Than Predictedby Erik Sherman

    Amazon, Microsoft Go Head-to-Head in Battle for $10 Billion Pentagon Cloud Services Contractby Bloomberg

    The ‘Divorce Capital of the World’ May Not Have That Name for Longby Katherine Dunn

    Congress Learns a Lesson About Internet Hate in Real Timeby Ellen McGirt

    Produced by Sy Mukherjee @the_sy_guy sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com Find past coverage. Sign up for other Fortune newsletters.