Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, MedPage Today reports on yesterday’s House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the federal response to the drug overdose crisis. Both parties flogged the government agency witnesses. It’s worth reading. This epidemic merits more attention that Covid at this point in the FEHBlog’s view.

Nevertheless, from the Omnicron and siblings front

The Wall Street Journal reports

The easily spread Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants represent more than half of all U.S. Covid-19 cases, federal estimates showed, ramping up pressure as a spring surge stretches into summer. 

The two variants represented a combined 52% of cases for the week ended June 25, according to estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Tuesday. The variants were most prevalent—an estimated 60% of cases—in a five-state region that includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico.

What’s more also per the Journal

Federal health authorities moved a step closer to authorizing modified Covid-19 booster shots that better target the Omicron variant and could be rolled out by the fall.

Vaccine advisers to the Food and Drug Administration, which includes doctors and public-health specialists, voted 19 to 2 to recommend updating Covid-19 vaccines to target the Omicron variant.

The recommendation, which the FDA doesn’t have to follow but often does, suggests the agency may go ahead and direct vaccine makers Pfizer Inc., its partner BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. to proceed with plans to roll out modified boosters.

The vote didn’t specify whether the modified boosters should only target Omicron, or target both Omicron and the ancestral strain of the coronavirus, though several committee members said they preferred a dual-target approach. 

The vote also didn’t specify whether the modified shots should target more recent subvariants of Omicron now dominant in the U.S. * * *

Many members of the committee said they thought it should target the recent subvariants of Omicron, known as BA.4 and BA.5.

After the vote, Dr. Peter Marks, who heads the FDA’s vaccines division, said he took away from the meeting support for shots that target the ancestral strain as well as BA.4 and BA.5.

The options for a fall booster shot include sticking with current vaccines or using updated, Omicron-targeted vaccines that have shown promise in clinical studies. Another option: Use boosters that target more recent Omicron subvariants, including BA.4 and BA.5, but that haven’t been tested in people.

From the hospital systems front, the American Hospital Association informs us

U.S. hospitals and health systems continued to face difficult financial and operational headwinds in May, according to the latest report by Kaufman Hall, based on data from more than 900 hospitals.

“Nearly halfway through 2022, margins are cumulatively negative,” the report notes. “While some metrics have normalized, hospitals continue to perform below pre-pandemic levels, and there is an uncertain outlook for the rest of the year.”

Hospitals continue to see higher labor costs and fewer hours worked, “a sign of inflation and an indicator that long-standing labor shortages are likely worsened by increased turnover,” the authors said.

In addition, the Lown Institute has released its 2022 rankings of socially responsible hospital systems in the U.S. According to the Institute’s press release,

Sixty-six U.S. hospitals earned the distinction of “most socially responsible” by the Lown Institute, a think tank known for its evidence-based assessments of America’s healthcare providers. To achieve this designation, hospitals earned “A” grades across measures of health equity, value, and outcomes. 

Launched in 2020, the Lown Institute Hospitals Index for Social Responsibility draws attention to leading and lagging institutions nationwide, and provides benchmarks for hospitals to measure how well they serve their patients and communities. 

From the medical research front —

The National Institutes of Health announced

A Phase 1 clinical trial of a novel influenza vaccine has begun inoculating healthy adult volunteers at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The placebo-controlled trial will test the safety of a candidate vaccine, BPL-1357, and its ability to prompt immune responses. The vaccine candidate was developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The single-site trial can enroll up to 100 people aged 18 to 55 years and is led by NIAID investigator Matthew J. Memoli, M.D. * * *

“With the BPL-1357 vaccine, especially when given intranasally, we are attempting to induce a comprehensive immune response that closely mimics immunity gained following a natural influenza infection,” said Dr. Memoli. “This is very different than nearly all other vaccines for influenza or other respiratory viruses, which focus on inducing immunity to a single viral antigen and often do not induce mucosal immunity.”

“Our study will examine the safety of BPL-1357 and also will allow us to assess the importance of mucosal immunity against flu and whether a strategy of inducing both the cellular and antibody arms of the immune system can provide broader protection against the ever-changing influenza virus,” he added.

For additional information about the trial, visit clinicaltrials.gov and search on the trial identifier NCT05027932.

MedTech Dive tells us

If a knee talks, who’s listening? 

That’s the question facing orthopedic surgeons and rehab physicians as they learn to work with a new knee replacement that incorporates sensors and processors to send data about how the joint works from deep inside the patient’s body. 

It’s one of a growing number of devices sending data to physicians to help them monitor their patients, including continuous glucose monitors and wearables to monitor for heart arrhythmia. With this influx of information, medtech companies are still ironing out how to make the data useful for doctors. * * *

“The talking knee is a reality,” Indiana-based Zimmer Biomet announced at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ conference last year. The company was presenting its new knee-implant extension with an embedded sensor just days after receiving de novo clearance from the Food and Drug Administration. 

Now, Zimmer, which developed the device along with California-based Canary Medical, Inc., a company that creates sensors for medical devices, has begun selling the smart knee implant, called Persona IQ. It can measure a patient’s range of motion, step count, stride length, and walking distance from inside the human body. Still, physicians don’t yet know how to use this data to help patients [due to lack of time currently]. * * *

Eventually, sensors will detect problems with implants, help patients adjust their gait or provide data to predict patient outcomes. Meanwhile, competitors are creating systems that use wearable sensors to track patient recovery and hinting at their own plans for sensor-embedded implants. 

Bill Hunter, Canary’s founder and chief executive, said in an interview that medical technology companies are already unleashing a wave of sensor-loaded devices in other sectors.

“Having this ability for the device to provide the clinician with actual feedback from inside the body has implications in most every major medical device,” he said. “So I do believe that you will see this showing up in all kinds of different ways.”

Time will tell but the FEHBlog’s money is on the sensor companies. Fascinating article.

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