TeleMed Texts: Novartis Launches Streaming Style Service

Novartis is pushing beyond the digital engagement we know today to reach HCPs in the most effective way possible. To do this, they’ve launched PEAK (Personalized Education and Knowledge), an on-demand, tailored video/audio service. Novartis curates the content with rheumatologists (so far the program is aimed specifically at the rheumatology field) through the video service developed by software company Evermed. While the company’s Cosentyx is a major reason why the company is appealing to rheumatologists first, the content goes beyond prescription information, discussing topics such as clinical trial designs, healthcare disparities, and more. About 90 items can be found on PEAK already, most are brief mini-docuseries, podcasts, or animated videos.

“The whole point of this is to explore the best ways of engaging with our stakeholders and be as relevant as possible with them,” said Gail Horwood, Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer for Novartis Pharma U.S., in a statement.

While COVID was a major driver for digital innovation in HCP education, Novartis believes that with on-demand services as an expectation in personal lives, it only makes sense that pharma information would progress to streaming as well. As much a learning experience as a new service, Horwood explains that the streaming service is “a great vehicle for our marketers to really engage on a day-to-day basis to understand what’s happening, what are people looking at, what are they consuming and what are they exploring on the platform, and so on, so it’s been great from that perspective.” PEAK will run as a three-year pilot program and set the tone for other areas Novartis could access beyond rheumatology.

Therapeutic Talk: Existing Drug May Treat Blinding Disorders

A drug previously approved for treating alcoholism may also be a solution to help those suffering from retinal degeneration.

Antabuse (disulfiram), a drug approved by the FDA for treating alcoholism, can improve sight by combating retinal degeneration. Researchers at University of California, Berkeley first revealed that progressive blindness caused by the inherited disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP), and perhaps other vision disorders, produce a specific chemical in the retina. This chemical, called retinoic acid, is produced when light-sensing cells in the retina, called rods and cones, gradually die off. This acid causes hyperactivity in retinal ganglion cells which obscures the visual information from the eyes to the brain, obscuring vision and eventually leading to blindness.

Head researcher Richard Kramer, however, realized that Antabuse inhibits not only enzymes involved in the body’s ability to degrade alcohol, but also enzymes that make retinoic acid. He and his collaborators tested Antabuse on blinding mice, showing that Antabuse decreased the production of retinoic acid and made the mice much better at detecting images.

“There may be a long window of opportunity in which suppressing retinoic acid with drugs like disulfiram could substantially improve low vision and make a real difference in people’s quality of life,” said Kramer, the CH and Annie Li Chair in Molecular Biology of Diseases at UC Berkeley, in a statement. “Because the drug is already FDA approved, the regulatory hurdles are low. It wouldn’t be a permanent cure, but right now there are no available treatments that even temporarily improve vision.”

Experiments with retinoic acid hasn’t been done on humans due to the invasive nature of the research. Now, the researchers plan to partner with ophthalmologists to conduct a clinical trial of Antabuse on patients with RP and would include patients with advanced, but not yet complete, retinal degeneration. Should these clinical trials be successful, there are still some hurdles to surpass. Antabuse works by causing headaches, chills, nausea, and muscle cramps when combined with alcohol, acting as a deterrent to drinking. However, if disulfiram proves effective in trials, more targeted therapies could be designed after breaking down retinoic acid without affecting alcohol metabolism. One such drug being an RNA inhibitor that interferes with the receptor for retinoic acid, which the team also found dramatically improves vision in mice.

DC Dispatch: FDA to Ban Menthol Cigarettes

The FDA is working on new product standards that would ban menthol as a flavor in cigarettes within the next year.

After a decade of asserting that menthol cigarettes, a milder smoke producer than traditional tobacco cigarettes, play a large role in appealing to young smokers, the FDA announces a solid plan to ban the flavored products throughout the U.S. The regulation will be developed sometime in the next year, with no indication of when this will go into effect.

Public health advocates support the move, claiming that banning menthol will help alleviate the health disparities between White and Black Americans, stating that Black Americans smoke menthols at a higher rate than other racial groups because of the tobacco industry menthol ad targeting. The FDA addresses other advocacy groups that worry a legal menthol ban will increase policing in Black neighborhoods, by stating that the ban will only target “manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers, and retailers” of menthol products.

“Banning menthol—the last allowable flavor—in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement. Tobacco companies are expected to challenge the regulations in court being that the ban would eliminate at least one third of the cigarette market.

Med Device Department: Apple Watch Detects Subtle Heart Disease

Mayo Clinic researchers have found the Apple Watch is capable of detecting a heart disease known as low ejection fraction.

Low ejection fraction, a heart disease in which a slightly smaller than normal amount of blood is pushed from the heart with each beat, is linked to worsening heart failure. However, typically showing no symptoms or signs, the dysfunction often goes undetected. Diagnostic tests would usually require AI in a hospital-based ECG with 12 leads and multiple electrodes wired to the chest, but Mayo Clinic researchers proved they can do it with just one device: the Apple Watch.

“It is absolutely remarkable that AI transforms a consumer watch ECG signal into a detector of this condition, which would normally require an expensive, sophisticated imaging test, such as an echocardiogram, CT scan, or MRI,” Paul Friedman, MD, Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at Mayo Clinic, said in a statement. With more than 125,000 ECGs logged from 11 countries over six months, the AI test demonstrated readings as accurate as a hospital heart test can be achieved.

FDA Update

The FDA has approved Supernus Pharmaceuticals’ new adult ADHD drug, Qelbree. The first nonstimulant ADHD treatment for adults in 20 years, Qelbree was approved last year for children between 6 and 17 years of age. The non-stimulant differs from typical ADHD medications in that there is no evidence of abuse potential found in clinical studies.

The FDA has approved Camzyos (mavacamten) to treat adults with the rare heart condition symptomatic obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (oHCM). The drug from MyoKardia, Inc., a subsidiary of Bristol Myers Squibb, is the first and only FDA-approved allosteric and reversible inhibitor selective for cardiac myosin that targets the underlying pathophysiology of oHCM.


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