Dispensed: Venture-backed insurance startup Bright Health's 2018 results, a dispute between 2 drug giants, and the quest for a male birth control drug

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Hello,

Welcome to Dispensed, our weekly newsletter recapping all the big healthcare stories that kept our team busy this week. For those who are new to the newsletter, I’m Lydia Ramsey, a senior reporter here on the team.

I’m curious to hear what you all think of Cigna and Express Scripts’ program that caps a 30-day supply of insulin at $US25 for patients. How many plans will pick this up? How many patients will this impact? I guess time will tell.

It will also be interesting to see how the healthcare industry taps into Alexa now that Amazon’s voice assistant is HIPAA compliant. Would you want to set up an appointment or give your doctor an update via the Echo Dot in your living room?

One thing to keep an eye on: the FDA is holding a hearing about cannabis next month. One day, it might be legal to make foods and drinks with certain levels of the cannabis extract CBD, at least according to a recent note from outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.


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Erin Brodwin had the story on the newest test out using the Helix DNA kit. It looks at risk of some of the same conditions 23andMe looks at, but includes genetic counseling and requires a doctor’s sign-off. Here’s what you need to know about it.

A Silicon Valley startup just launched a DNA-based health test that could be a big competitor to 23andMe

  • On Tuesday, DNA testing startup Helix launched a new test that looks at your risk of diseases like breast cancer, colon cancer, and high cholesterol.
  • You can buy the test online for $US260, but it must be approved by a physician.
  • Helix partnered with clinical diagnostics company PerkinElmer to create the test, which includes genetics counseling.
  • The test also uses a type of sequencing that some experts say all DNA-based health tests should use.

I had the scoop on venture-backed health insurer Bright Health’s 2019 enrollment and revenue expectations. Those numbers, and the company’s 2018 results based on regulatory filings, suggest that the insurer is managing to double its footprint every year (its first year offering plans was 2017). So far, it’s been holding losses steady.

We got a look at the 2019 plans for venture-backed health-insurance startup Bright Health, which says it doubled its membership again

  • Bright Health, the Minneapolis-based health-insurance startup that provides health plans for individuals and families and to seniors, made $US145 million in gross revenue in 2018, its second year offering health plans.
  • According to state filings, Bright lost $US17.5 million in 2018, the same as in 2017. At the same time, it doubled its membership base to more than 24,000 from 12,000.
  • Bright Health CEO Bob Sheehy told Business Insider the company expected to jump to about $US400 million in revenue for 2019 and had signed on more than 60,000 members.

And if you need a recap of how all the health insurance startups fared in 2018 and what’s ahead for 2019 and 2020, I’ve got you covered.

Health insurance startups 4x3Bright Health; Alex Wong/Getty; Clover Health; Oscar Health; Shayanne Gal/Business InsiderBright Health CEO Bob Sheehy, Devoted Health co-founder and executive chairman Todd Park, Clover Health CEO Vivek Garipalli, and Oscar Health CEO Mario Schlosser.

Health-insurance startups like Oscar Health and Clover Health have raked in $US1.3 billion in the past year. We took a look at their financials, which show how hard it is to get a foothold in the industry.

  • Startups have attracted massive funding in the past few years to build new kinds of health-insurance plans – with the help of technology.
  • In the past year, four companies in particular – Oscar Health, Devoted Health, Bright Health, and Clover Health – brought in a combined $US1.3 billion in funding.

Emma Court has the story of the race to successfully develop a cancer drug targeting the KRAS mutation.

A $US23 billion drugmaker and a $US2 billion biotech upstart are racing to develop a type of ‘silver bullet’ drug for aggressive cancers that has eluded their industry for 30 years

  • Pharmaceutical companies long wanted to develop a drug that would target KRAS, a common gene mutation seen in cancers. But every effort so far has failed.
  • The pharmaceutical company Amgen and biotech Mirati are backing two new drugs that are raising those hopes again, though it’s still early days.
  • If these experimental products are successful, they could rake in billions in sales and help patients with few treatment options.

Emma also chatted with the top scientist at AveXis, which Novartis acquired last year. He broke down why the Swiss pharma giant was so interested in the gene-therapy maker.

The top scientist at AveXis told us it got sold to Novartis for $US9 billion because of this ‘unique’ strength that could shape the future of gene therapy

  • The biotech AveXis develops cutting-edge “gene therapy” products that could be powerful and long-lasting medical treatments.
  • Swiss drug giant Novartis bought the biotech for $US9 billion last year in part because AveXis had figured out how to actually make gene therapies at a big-enough scale, AveXis Chief Scientific Officer Brian Kaspar told Business Insider.
  • Manufacturing has emerged as a huge challenge for the booming industry because these products are so new and complex.

And for those just catching up on Thursday’s lawsuit – Emma broke down the significance of the dispute between Amgen and Novartis over their new migraine drug, Aimovig.

2 drug giants are feuding over a highly successful new migraine drug, and court documents reveal how profitable the $US10 billion market could be

  • Two drugmakers, Amgen and Novartis, have worked together for years on a new type of cutting-edge migraine drug, Aimovig.
  • Now they’re involved in a bitter fight. Amgen is trying to get out of the collaboration, while Novartis is suing Amgen to keep it in place.
  • Aimovig costs roughly $US7,000 a year and was the first of a new category of migraine drugs to get to market. The lawsuit provides a window into how successful it has been and how much Novartis stands to lose in the disagreement.

Out on the West Coast, Erin took a look at a startup coming out of Y Combinator that wants to crack the male birth control market.

A Berkeley-stacked startup backed by Silicon Valley’s top tech hub is developing male birth control that experts call promising

  • A new startup called Your Choice Therapeutics aims to bring the first hormone-free male and female birth control drug to market.
  • The company debuted at a recent demo day hosted by Silicon Valley tech hub Y Combinator.
  • Stacked with researchers from UC Berkeley, the startup has published several basic studies in top-notch science journals.
  • Still, the field of male birth control is a tough nut to crack, and the company faces challenges.

For those eager to hear what comes out of the PBM grilling next week in the Senate, we’ll be following along. Find Emma and me on Twitter, where I’m sure we’ll post some live updates.

In the meantime, be sure to send tips, thoughts, and ideas for how you’d use now-HIPAA-compliant Alexa to [email protected], or you can find the whole healthcare team at [email protected]

– Lydia

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