Welcome to a preview of the new Health:Further digest, called Future Focus! Every couple of weeks, Future Focus will highlight a few key themes that the team thinks are driving the world of health forward. It’ll typically be sent out as an email newsletter that you can receive by heading to the Health:Further site here.


Who Needs Disney for “Fun and Exciting” in Orlando?

Patient engagement through digital means was one of the primary themes at this year’s Healthcare and Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) meeting in Orlando. Underpinning that topic, as well as everything else, according to Fierce Healthcare, was the role of data. Which is worth a mention, perhaps, but in 2017 kind of like saying that tax law is fundamental to accounting. Regardless, crunching the data to find novel insights, better engage patients, develop new therapies, and build out the Internet of Things, is both big business and good policy, and there was plenty of that on offer at HIMSS.

As far as patient engagement goes, it seems that the promise of telehealth and digital tools is finally being realized. For example, patients are starting to actually use the digital health services that startups and existing health systems provide. According to a survey by Healthcare Dive, “70% of patients say that they have become more engaged with their healthcare during the past two years, an increase from 57% in 2016.” Much of that improvement is due to better access to patient portals, allowing people to take a more active role in their own health. Discussions at the conference revolved around making healthcare technology “intuitive and fun and exciting and easy for everybody to use it.”

Despite the progress and excitement around data, artificial intelligence, and other cool tech, the current political climate put somewhat of a damper on things, according to Modern Healthcare.


Clash of The Genomic Titans

On February 14, The US Patent Office showed the Broad Institute a lot of love when it handed down a massive decision on IP surrounding CRISPR gene editing technology. The decision stated that the Broad’s patents were different enough that they didn’t interfere with patents held by the University of California, where the CRISPR-Cas9 system was first discovered in bacteria.

CRISPR is an efficient way to cut out sections of DNA and replace them with new sequences. Companies have been adapting the technology, originally evolved by bacteria as a sort of immune system, to do everything from developing better crop strains to fixing genetic disorders in human cells. Gene editing will change the face of medicine, and in the not too distant future.

Knowing that, over the past couple of years, VCs and the public have taken notice. Money has been pouring into CRISPR-based companies over the past couple of years. With the patent dispute, there was concern about the future of startups using IP licensed from the Broad. For now at least, the way is clear for everyone to keep turning the crank.

Oh, and the two main players in the dispute — scientists from the Broad and UC Berkeley, hung out on stage a couple of weeks ago and got along just fine. Despite the legal acrimony and the billions at stake, their focus was on the future of genetic medicine. Good to see.

Read more:

A brief discussion of both the corporate and academic consequences of the decision

The scientific and medical community is taking a hard look at the ethics of genome editing

Even Jennifer Lopez is looking for a piece of the CRISPR frenzy


When Pain Leads to Death

The problem isn’t new, nor is the discussion. But the horrifying increase in drug deaths over the past fifteen years combined with the increase in opioid abuse has brought new life to the problem with pain meds. Roughly 33,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2015 (that includes both prescription meds and street drugs like heroin). On his way out of DC, Michael Botticelli, who ran President Obama’s Office of National Drug Policy, encouraged (begged?) the new administration to keep working to find solutions. Policy and funding for drug programs are one part of the equation, prevention is another. STAT News noted that some doctors are far likelier to prescribe opioids under the same circumstances than their colleagues, potentially increasing the risk of addiction. Additionally, there aren’t always clear guidelines around prescribing opioids, a loophole of sorts that should be closed to help promote consistency across the medical community. At the same time, patient advocates are speaking up to ensure that people who legitimately need strong painkillers aren’t left out in the cold.

Additionally, industry is working on its own solutions. Pharmaceutical companies are trying to find new, non-addictive painkillers a number of startups are looking at data-driven ways to track opioid use and hopefully cut down on the problem of abuse. For example, Jumpstart Foundry portfolio company Affirm Health has built a prescription drug monitoring program to track and report on usage.

Read more:

HHS Fact sheet on the epidemic

The team over at STAT News has been looking at this issue extensively in the past year, so be sure to search their site for outstanding coverage.


Meanwhile, At Health:Further HQ…

TIP: Last month, we announced a new partnership with TennCare to find innovative companies that will help Tennessee’s three managed care organizations that handle the state’s Medicaid services. Read more about the partnership at the Tennessean, and then check out the application (which is open for a few more days).

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