First Edition: January 29, 2019

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Matt Gleason had skipped getting a flu shot for more than a decade. But after suffering a nasty bout of the virus last winter, he decided to get vaccinated at his Charlotte, N.C., workplace in October. “It was super easy and free,” said Gleason, 39, a sales operations analyst. That is, until Gleason fainted five minutes after getting the shot. Though he came to quickly and had a history of fainting, his colleague called 911. And when the paramedics sat him up, he began vomiting. That symptom worried him enough to agree to go to the hospital in an ambulance. (Galewitz, 1/28)

After seven years of a vigorous fight, Jim Hart worried he was running out of options. Diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 60, Hart had undergone virtually every treatment — surgery, radiation and hormones — to eradicate it. But a blood test showed that his level of prostate-specific antigen, which should have been undetectable, kept rising ominously. And doctors couldn’t determine where the residual cancer was lurking. (Boodman, 1/29)

California Sen. Kamala Harris fully embraced "Medicare-for-all" single payer health insurance at a CNN town hall Monday and said she’s willing to end private insurance to make it happen. "We need to have Medicare-for-all," Harris told a questioner in the audience, noting it’s something she feels "very strongly" about. When pressed by CNN’s Jake Tapper if that means eliminating private insurance, the senator answered affirmatively, saying she would be OK with cutting insurers out of the mix. She also accused them of thinking only of their bottom lines and of burdening Americans with paperwork and approval processes. (Luhby and Krieg, 1/29)

Patients and family members like Frank and Marilyn [Mongiello] — a half dozen of whom spoke to STAT — described making dozens of unreturned calls to drug makers, outlining plans to pitch the companies on how right to try could be good for business, and even trolling Food and Drug Administration Twitter accounts hoping to drum up some help getting access. Their failures so far underscore just how many questions remain: Did the law change anything, or did it just give patients false hope? Were the detractors who made such critiques right all along? (Florko, 1/29)

In what is being called a novel bid to lower medicine costs, a drug maker has agreed to adjust the discounts that a Medicare Part D plan will receive for a treatment based on how patients respond — and the deal automatically lowers out-of-pocket costs for patients, as well. In this instance, the UPMC Health plan will pay less for an AstraZeneca (AZN) blood thinner known as Brilinta, which is given to patients who suffered a heart attack, if it fails to prevent another attack over 12 months. Conversely, the health plan pays more if Brilinta works. At the same time, the patient copay will drop to $10, from around $45, for a month’s supply, bringing the cost closer to a generic version of a rival medicine. (Silverman, 1/28)

Watch pharmaceutical stocks on Tuesday as the new Congress kicks off its first hearings on drug pricing this year. The two meetings, by the House Oversight and Senate Finance committees, will both focus on the impact of rising drug prices, and lawmakers are expected to make their case for more direct government involvement in pricing decisions for Medicare and allowing Americans to import certain drugs from Canada for personal use. (Darie, 1/28)

As a protracted battle between Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX) and the U.K. drags on over pricing for cystic fibrosis drugs, a coalition of families, patient advocates, academics, and physicians from more than a dozen countries are urging the company to lower its prices and widen access to “desperate patients.” In an open letter to Vertex chief executive Jeffrey Leiden, the ad hoc group praised the company for “inspirational science and dedication,” but also chastised the drug maker for not doing more to ensure its medicines reach every potential patient. (Silverman, 1/28)

Insys Therapeutics Inc. founder John Kapoor didn’t know underlings were cutting side deals with doctors who got fees for writing prescriptions of his company’s opioid-based painkiller, his lawyer told a Boston jury at the start of his racketeering trial. Alec Burlakoff, a former Insys sales executive, sought to block Kapoor from reviewing payments to doctors who wrote prescriptions for the Subsys painkiller so the manager could have “free rein’’ over the project, Beth Wilkinson, Kapoor’s lawyer, said Monday in her opening statement. (Feeley, Lawrence and Griffin, 1/28)

Kapoor, the billionaire founder of the Arizona-based company Insys Therapeutics Inc., has entered a plea of not guilty. Kapoor, along with six other Insys executives, is facing charges relating to racketeering, mail fraud and wire fraud conspiracy. (Katersky, 1/28)

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lazarus told a Boston federal jury at the trial’s start that Kapoor oversaw the bribing of doctors who were paid to act as speakers at poorly-attended sham events at restaurants ostensibly meant to educate clinicians about its product, Subsys. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved Subsys as a treatment for severe cancer pain. Yet Lazarus said doctors who took bribes often prescribed Subsys to patients without cancer, creating higher sales. “This is a case about greed, about greed and its consequences, the consequences of putting profits over people,” Lazarus said in his opening statement. (Raymond, 1/28)

Kapoor is the highest-level pharmaceutical figure to face trial amid the opioid epidemic that’s claiming thousands of lives every year. His lawyers say Insys is not responsible for the drug crisis, noting that its medication makes up a small fraction of the prescription opioid market. (1/28)

A court ruling Monday in Massachusetts will expose details about one of America’s richest families and their connection to the nation’s opioid crisis. The Sacklers and members of their company Purdue Pharma have been named in a lawsuit that accuses them of profiting from the opioid crisis by aggressively marketing OxyContin, claims denied by attorneys for the family and Purdue. The suit had been heavily redacted, but on Monday, Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders ruled that the unredacted amended complaint must be publicly released by February 1. (Marco, 1/29)

The complete document could shed light on decisions made by Purdue’s board and how much money company executives made. The decision from Judge Janet Sanders in Suffolk County Superior Court came in response to a motion filed by media organizations, including STAT and the Boston Globe, to release the full lawsuit, which was originally filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in June. (Joseph, 1/28)

Public health officials scrambling to contain a measles outbreak in the U.S. Northwest warned people to vaccinate their children Monday and worried that it could take months to contain the highly contagious viral illness due to a lower-than-normal vaccination rate at the epicenter of the crisis. The outbreak near Portland has sickened 35 people in Oregon and Washington since Jan. 1, with 11 more cases suspected. Most of the patients are children under 10, and one child has been hospitalized. (1/28)

Measles, the highly contagious and previously eliminated viral illness, has been spreading in communities across the United States in recent weeks, with Washington declaring a state of emergency last week and New York reporting in 2018 its second largest outbreak over the past two decades. As the cases increase in these communities, we sit down with Dr. Julia S. Sammons, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical director of the Department of Infection Prevention and Control at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to talk about some of the most common questions about the illness. (Bracho-Sanchez, 1/28)

A woman died at an Ohio hospital minutes after receiving not one but two excessive doses of potentially lethal medication ordered by a doctor under investigation in connection with dozens of deaths , the woman’s family alleged Monday. Their lawsuit over the May 2015 death of 85-year-old Norma Welch was one of two filed Monday against the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System and Dr. William Husel, the families’ attorneys said. (1/28)

D.C. lawmakers, public health experts, doctors and addiction treatment providers forcefully criticized the city’s efforts to address an explosion in fatal opioid overdoses, saying at a D.C. Council hearing Monday that city officials failed to heed best practices and haven’t adequately fixed their strategy. The joint hearing by the council’s health and judiciary committees served as a cathartic moment for advocates and medical professionals who bemoaned what they described as years of missed opportunities to save lives. Early in the hearing, council member and judiciary committee chairman Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) encouraged people to air their complaints. (Jamison, 1/28)

CVS Health Corp’s health insurer Aetna on Tuesday said it is working with Apple Inc on a new health app for Apple Watches that uses an individual’s medical history to set personalized health goals. Called "Attain," the Apple Watch app will reward Aetna customers for meeting activity goals and fulfilling recommended tasks, such as getting vaccinations or refilling medications, with a subsidy toward the cost of an Apple Watch or gift […]

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