The Rundown | Week of 6.25.18

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FDA Await DEA Decision on Marijuana Pharmaceutical

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first cannabidiol (CBD) for the treatment of Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, two rare forms of epilepsy. Approval of the marijuana-derived drug, Epidiolex, followed three randomized, placebo-controlled studies on 516 patients. Results, which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicated that the drug effectively reduced the frequency of seizures.
Since marijuana is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which indicates both a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use[s],” the drug will require rescheduling before it becomes available to patients. As a CBD derivative, the drug contains less than 0.1 percent of marijuana’s psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has not yet determined whether or not it will reschedule the pharmaceutical. If approved, experts believe the drug will be available by September and exceed $1 billion dollars in sales.
>>Read More: FDA approves first cannabis drug for rare forms of epilepsy

Senate Requests More Money for Opioid Crisis

Despite a White House pledge to cut the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) discretionary funding by 20 percent, a new health appropriations bill requests an additional $2.3 billion in fiscal year 2019. The ongoing battle against the opioid epidemic is the primary focus with $1.5 billion in allocations. Senator Roy Blunt (R–Missouri) said, “This bill provides flexible funding for states to tackle this crisis with programs that best fit their needs. The bill directs resources to the hardest-hit states and rural communities, which are affected at a higher rate than urban or suburban areas.” To that end, further funding would benefit community health centers, rural areas, and behavioral health facilities, which would receive a 50 percent increase in total funding for a total of $150 million. The emphasis on rural treatment programs follows from recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which indicate that drug-related deaths are 45 percent higher in rural communities.
>>Read More: Senate appropriators boost funds for rural telehealth, opioid epidemic

Flailing General Electric Slashes Healthcare Division

General Electric (GE) will cut its healthcare division to focus on power, aviation, and renewable energy, the three forces that made up more than half of the conglomerate’s $122 billion in revenue last year. The announcement coincides with the company’s removal from the Dow Jones Industrial Average last week when it was replaced, in an ironic twist, by Walgreens. GE’s healthcare department, which generated $3.5 billion in profit last year, focused on medical devices, imaging technology, patient monitoring, genomics, and tools to aggregate and integrate data. The company sold its Value-based Care Division in April to Veritas Capital for $1.05 billion.  “We will have greater flexibility to pursue future growth opportunities, react quickly to changes in the industry and invest in innovation. We will build on strong customer demand for integrated precision health solutions and great technology with digital and analytics capabilities as we enter our next chapter,” GE Healthcare CEO Kieran Murphy said in a statement.
>>Read More: GE to spin off its healthcare unit

Exercise + Coffee = Happy Hearts

A recent study by The Cooper Institute established a “strong relationship” between fitness, depression, and death from cardiovascular disease. The study of Medicare-aged individuals determined that fitness was strongly correlated to reduced risks of heart problems in both participants with and without a depression diagnosis. “Now we know that the long-term benefits and the connection between mind-body wellness are more significant than we thought. We hope our study will highlight the role of fitness and physical activity in early prevention efforts by physicians in promoting healthy aging,” said Benjamin Willis, MD, one of the study’s author. In related heart-health news, a team of researchers from Germany has pinpointed the protein that links caffeine intake to cardiovascular health. The protein, p27, moves into mitochondria and protects heart muscle cells from cell death, which may extend one’s lifespan, though further research is necessary.
>>Read More: Exercise in midlife may stave off risk of CVD death

DOJ Cracks Down on $2 Billion in Fraud

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently charged 601 individuals with healthcare fraud totaling $2 billion. This is the largest healthcare fraud takedown in American history. Multiple federal agencies — the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and others — collaborated to reign in the suspects. Of those charged, 165 were doctors suspected of mishandling opioid prescriptions or false billing. “Some of our most trusted medical professionals look at their patients — vulnerable people suffering from addiction — and they see dollar signs,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Since 2014, the number of individuals charged in the DOJ’s “summer bust” has risen 568 percent.
>>Read More: National healthcare fraud takedown results in charges against 601 individuals responsible for over $2 billion in fraud losses

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