Posted by on in NEJM Highlights

Taking stock: two decades of progress in heart failure: Here comes a clever study using existing clinical trial data to assess progress in standard of care over time for heart failure. For each trial, the authors assessed the rate of sudden cardiac death during the early part of the study (excluding patients with ICDs), and it appears that between 1995 and 2014, it decreased by nearly half.  As always, in observational retrospective studies, one has to worry about systematic biases around the population that are included (i.e. are they really the same over time?), but there is a likely a… Read More

Posted by on in NEJM Highlights

Successful use of CAR-T therapy in a solid tumor Chimeric Antigen Reception T-cells (CAR-T) are immune cells molecularly engineered to seek out and destroy cancer cells; the push to develop them into a scalable generally usable treatment is likely the most exciting challenge in cancer right now.  Successful CAR-T use has so far been generally confined to hematological tumors.  In a brief report, a group from City of Hope reports on the use of CAR-T in a patient who was dying from an advanced, aggressive form of brain cancer, which led to a regression of the tumors for several months. Read More

Posted by on in NEJM Highlights

“My name is T-Cell…, James T-Cell” Immune T-cells are licensed to kill other cells through a quick molecular kiss of death, and as such are potentially powerful allies in controlling a tumor. For obvious reasons this killing power is under strict regulatory control and in particular T-cells display PD-1 proteins on their surface, which when engaged by the ligand PD-L1 on another cell, protects that cell from being killed. Tumors often display high levels of PD-L1 so that disrupting the interaction between PD-L1 and PD-1 can enhance the effectiveness of immune killing of tumor cells. Amplifying results from last year… Read More

Posted by on in NEJM Highlights, Providers

I am not sure how many docs continue to do this, but I still read the actual hard copy of my NEJM, and that means I flip past ad pages with smiling grandfathers playing with grandchildren thanks to supercalifragilistic products on my way to scholarly papers with tables and figures.  But this time, I stopped in puzzlement when I came across exhibit 1; Intermountain is a health system based in Utah, very highly respected for its sound approach to quality and cost control[1], but not broadly well known for cancer care in the way of centers like Dana Farber… Read More

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Continued progress in multiple myeloma About 25,000 patients are diagnosed with multiple myeloma yearly in the US. Despite being initially treatable, typically this disease is ultimately lethal. Following a highly successful phase 1-2 study a monoclonal antibody against a marker of myeloma cells (daratumumab, Janssen) underwent phase 3 studies in combinations with established mainstays of therapy (the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib and the immune modulator lenalinomide) in a patient population several years out from their initial diagnosis.  Results were stellar, with the inclusion of daratumumab decreasing the disease progression rate by half at 1 year.  Daratumumab, Lenalidomide, and Dexamethasone… Read More

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There is such a thing as too much hygiene The prevalence of asthma in children has increased dramatically over the last few decades. Observational studies have shown that children in “dirty” environments such as farms seem to be relatively protected from asthma.  A theory is that the lack of exposure to microbes leads to higher sensitivity to allergens, but this causality has been hard to show. Amish and Hutterite farm communities are genetically similar, but Amish rely on animals instead of machinery, and Amish children have much lower incidence of asthma. In a fascinating study comparing Amish and Hutterite, it… Read More

Posted by on in Biopharma, Medical Devices

The recent World Medical Innovation Forum on Cancer convened by Partners Healthcare in Boston was attended by leaders in oncology from around the world including top: clinicians, bench scientists, policy leaders, and executives from hospitals and life-science companies.  Two plus days of intense discussion and sharing of perspectives ably curated by Partners Innovation head Chris Coburn covered a range of topics from technology developments, to the healthcare system, and the patient/ doctor perspectives. The mind-map below is an attempt to organize the key themes that I heard through the conference and to try to convey why I came away feeling incredibly optimistic about the future of cancer care. The… Read More

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A new focus on the diagnostic reliability of clinicians Two perspectives highlighting the recent report from the National Academy of Medicine (formerly IOM) entitled “Improving Diagnosis in Health Care”.  Diagnostic error has long been the invisible side of poor medicine compared to medication errors, or a towel forgotten inside the patient and the like.  But the growth of health IT is both exposing diagnostic error and bearing the seeds of a solution, initially through rule-based automated checks and reminders, but likely eventually through a much more guideline driven practice of medicine with clinical decision support tools.   Reducing Diagnostic Errors… Read More

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Systems biology finally gets real: an unexpected use for a diabetes drug Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) has been the poster child first for a disease with a precise genetic cause (the Philadelphia chromosome), and then for targeted drug design (with imatinib – Gleevec). Unfortunately, few patients achieve a complete response to therapy which means that they have to stay on drug indefinitely. This commentary highlights recent research which shows that pioglitazone (Actos), an approved diabetes drug that activates a specific cellular pathway (STAT5) can synergistically enhance treatment with Gleevec to achieve a potential cure.  While this particular work affects only… Read More

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What are annual physicals for? Annual physicals are costly (~$10 billion annually) and have never been shown to improve outcomes, but people value them. In this dichotomy lies a lot of the inner tensions of medical care: between delivery of technical care, and nurturing of human relationships, and those are illuminated by two articles in counterpoint.  In the end though both sides come to a point of view that is not altogether dissimilar – that what is needed is not an annual physical, but some sort of preventive care/health review visit which, instead of being a fishing expedition for problems… Read More