Dispensed: The problem with insulin prices, dispatches from Davos, and the plan to get anti-aging drugs approved
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
Hope nobody had a flight scheduled for today! But if you are stuck with shutdown-imposed delays, allow me to distract you for a few minutes to run through all the stories that captured the healthcare team's attention this week.
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But first, I'm curious to hear what you all thought of the news that Optum's suing a former employee that's gone to work at the still-unnamed Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway- JPMorgan health initiative.
It was interesting to read through the complaint and see just how many ex-Optum folks are already going to the initiative (three!) and how they're viewing the new initiative as a direct competitor that could threaten Optum's trade secrets. To me, it seems like the healthcare system's already going on the offensive to keep the impact of the initiative as limited as possible.
Anyway, in other news, my big focus this week was on an insulin pricing story I hadn't heard before.
A few months ago, Carole Andrew contacted me, telling me that she was seeing pretty drastic fluctuations in the price of her son's insulin prescriptions (no changes to the quantity, nothing like that). For instance, in January 2018, his prescription cost $114.95. In October, that same prescription cost him $268.23.
Carole couldn't get an explanation, so I took a stab at it. Here's what I learned along the way.
Courtesy Carole Andrew
No one could explain why this college student saw the price of his life-saving diabetes medication more than double, and it reveals a disturbing problem with the US healthcare system
- For the 1.25 million Americans living with Type 1 diabetes, insulin is a life-saving drug that helps them process the sugar in their blood.
- Price increases for insulin have put pressure on people living with diabetes who don't have insurance, or whose insurance plans require them to pay the full price of the medication.
- But even those with comprehensive insurance are feeling the pressure. Business Insider spoke with one family who saw its insulin costs increase drastically in 2018 - jumping 150%.
Our West Coast correspondent Erin Brodwin spoke to a number of executives heading up companies looking to defeat aging. One of the biggest roadblocks for these companies is that a drug's never been approved that's specifically built to treat aging, making the regulatory path pretty blurry. Here's what the companies Erin spoke to are doing about it.
Investors bet nearly $1 billion on startups that want to defeat aging, but there's a key challenge ahead
- Investors are pouring money into health startups that aim to beat aging.
- While some companies focus on creating drugs for age-related diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, others aim to address the more visible components of aging, such as muscle loss and skin health.
- But regulators have yet to define aging, meaning the path to treatments remains hazy.
- Progress is nevertheless being made, several executives told Business Insider. Here's what you should know.
Erin also had the scoop on a Soylent cofounder's newest endeavor: meet Lucy, a company that makes nicotine gum.
The man who helped found Silicon Valley cult-favorite Soylent has a new startup - and it's aimed at smokers who want to quit
- The cofounder and former chief marketing officer of Soylent has a new startup that makes nicotine gum, he told Business Insider.
- Called Lucy, the new company is a product of esteemed Silicon Valley startup hub Y Combinator and has $5 million in venture funding from backers like Refactor Capital and Greycroft.
- Unlike existing nicotine gums, Lucy is sold online and operates on a subscription model, like Soylent. The founder claims it's also significantly better tasting and easier to use than products like Nicorette.
Out in Davos, Switzerland, our Executive Editor Matt Turner and BI US Editor-in-Chief Alyson Shontell have been sitting down with healthcare and pharma executives to get their perspectives on where their companies are headed. Here's what they learned (with an assist from our US-based healthcare team):
- $225 billion drug giant Novartis is taking a fresh approach to cancer treatment, and it could help prepare it for a 'doomsday' scenario
- Why the CEO of a $7 billion health system wants tech giants like Microsoft to use 'non-creepy' data to help track patients
- A top psychedelic scientist says 'the climate's looking good' for magic mushrooms and MDMA to turn into medicines at a gathering of the world's billionaires
Lastly, I wrapped up some more of my stories coming out of the JPMorgan healthcare conference - only a few more to go, promise. But I wanted to highlight the interesting chats I had about Sofinnova's investment strategy and why the solution for hard-to-treat diseases like antibiotic-resistant infections could also be on our pharmacy shelves.
- A top VC at a $2 billion fund that invests in risky biotechs reveals how he finds his best investments
- Drug companies are teaching old drugs new tricks, and it could upend how we find new treatments for superbugs and a devastating lung disease
Thoughts, tips, confusing pharmacy receipts of your own you'd like me to investigate? Find me at firstname.lastname@example.org or our whole team at email@example.com.
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