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Analysis: Drug pricing reform opponents win most pharma lobbying money

Source: Reuters

Oct 25 (Reuters) – Democratic Party lawmakers holding up proposed drug pricing reforms are among the largest beneficiaries of the pharmaceutical industry’s push to stave off price cuts, a Reuters analysis of public lobbying and campaign data shows.

The industry, which traditionally gives more to Republicans, channeled around 60% of donated campaign funds to Democrats this year. It has spent over $177 million on lobbying and campaign donations in 2021.

Nonprofit political action committees (PACs) run by Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and Amgen Inc (AMGN.O) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) were among the biggest donors, according to political spending data from OpenSecrets, formerly the Center for Responsive Politics.

Drugmakers are seeking to block laws that would give the U.S. government authority to negotiate prices for prescription medicines. Current U.S. law bars the government’s Medicare health insurance program from negotiating drug prices directly.

Many of the Democrats opposing an ambitious drug reduction bill proposed in the House of Representatives are among some of the biggest recipients of drug manufacturer lobbying funds.

They include Senators

They include Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Representative Scott Peters of California, OpenSecrets data covering industry donations through September of 2021 shows. In all, they have received around $1 million in pharmaceutical and health product industry donations this year.

A spokesperson for Sinema did not respond to a request for comment on the funds she has received but said the Senator supports making drugs as cheap as possible for patients.

Menendez and Peters said the donations did not influence their views. All three said they are opposed to The Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which is sponsored by Democrats in the House of Representatives and also known as H.R.3.

Menendez and Peters have advocated for alternative scaled-back drug pricing reforms that would still allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices but would lead to significantly smaller savings.

Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who is also one of the top recipients of drugmaker donations, voted in favor of H.R.3.

Sinema, who campaigned in 2018 on cutting drug prices, told the White House she opposes allowing Medicare to negotiate them. She received about $466,000 from the industry in 2021, according to OpenSecrets data.

Peters was the top recipient of pharmaceutical industry funds in the House this year at nearly $99,550, according to OpenSecrets data. A spokesperson said Peters was not influenced by lobbying money and opposed the proposed law to protect pharmaceutical industry jobs and innovation.

Drugmakers say the Democrats’ proposed drug price overhaul would undermine their ability to develop new medicines, an argument they have used whenever price cuts are discussed by politicians regardless of political party.

“Patients face a future with less hope under Congress’ current drug pricing plan,” PhRMA Chief Executive Steve Ubl said in an August statement in reference to the proposed law. PhRMA declined to comment on donating to key Democratic opponents of the bill.

The United States is an outlier as most other developed nations do negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.

Amgen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on its donations and Pfizer declined to comment.

PROSPECTS FOR REFORM

President Joe Biden has vowed to cut medicine costs, in part by allowing the federal government to negotiate drug payments by Medicare, which covers Americans aged 65 and older.

But prospects for major drug pricing reforms have stalled in recent weeks amid opposition from centrist Democrats including Sinema and Peters. Negotiations are ongoing, eight Democratic staffers said.

The lawmakers’ resistance comes as 83% of Americans support allowing Medicare to negotiate medicine costs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The United States spends more than twice as much per person on drugs as other wealthy economies, about $1,500, for a total of around $350 billion in 2019.

“Members of Congress don’t always mirror the views of the public and the pharmaceutical industry is a powerful lobbying force,” said Larry Levitt, a health economist at Kaiser.

The healthcare industry is the second largest industry lobbying group in the United States behind the finance sector. It donated more than $600 million to politicians ahead of the 2020 elections.

The pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars per year to sway federal and state policy. But current Democratic leadership has the industry concerned major reforms could actually be enacted and is working harder to offer alternatives such as reducing insurance co-pays, one industry source said. “It’s been sort of a mad scramble.”

Corporations in the United States are not permitted to make direct contributions to candidates but can give money through PACs. Most corporate PACs, including Pfizer’s and Amgen’s, are run by company managers and employees.

Democrats and some drug price experts say the Lower Drug Costs Now Act could save U.S. taxpayers and consumers billions annually with relatively minor impact on innovation.

A House Oversight and Reform Committee report showed that top drugmakers have spent around $50 billion more on share buybacks and dividends than research and development between 2016 and 2020.

Lovisa Gustafsson, a healthcare policy analyst at the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit healthcare advocacy group, said, “There are other ways that we can incentivize innovation, aside from just paying huge margins for pharmaceutical companies.”

Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Lifestyle

HALF OF ADULTS SUFFER ANXIETY, REVEALS NEW RESEARCH

Leading Experts Identify ‘Epidemic Of Anxiety’ and Call for Empowerment Tools

New research reveals that half (48%) of all adults in the UK experience anxiety, equating to nearly 26 million people.[i] Given the widespread prevalence of this mental health condition, leading health experts have identified an ‘epidemic of anxiety’.

Commenting in a new ‘Empowerment in the Epidemic of Anxiety Report’,[ii] the panel of community and industry health experts highlighted the growing burden of mental health issues on an already overstretched NHS. They conclude that the way forward must include empowering and supporting those with mild anxiety to develop coping strategies.

Surge of Anxiety

The UK has seen a marked rise in generalised anxiety over the past decade, especially among younger people and women.[iii] Over 8 million people (around 1 in 10) are living with a diagnosable anxiety disorder at any one time,[iv] but this may not paint the whole picture. New research commissioned by Kalms Herbal Remedies shows that half (48%) the adult population often suffers from anxiety at a level that impacts their day-to-day living.i

Dr Sarah Jarvis, general practitioner, clinical consultant and expert panellist, comments: “We have a perfect storm of issues in relation to anxiety. The figures for people suffering with anxiety have increased considerably during the pandemic. To add to the problem, waiting lists for mental health services have increased further. This lack of availability of service inevitably has a huge impact on general practice as well – people with anxiety consult their GP more often, and I have found it increasingly difficult to be able to offer services for people at the milder end of the anxiety and depression spectrum.”

Self-Help Toolbox

To help prevent mild anxiety from progressing, and to improve the quality of people’s lives sooner, the expert panel recommend that people utilise a ‘mild anxiety toolbox’ – a series of powerful, evidence-based tools that can be employed into everyday life.

Talking therapies are a mainstay for many mental health concerns, including anxiety. Several of the methods used in formal talking therapies can be adapted and learned as a form of self-help therapy without the assistance of a professional.[v] For example, CBT-inspired self-help strategies and techniques such as reframing helpful thoughts, tackling worries and facing fears can be practiced at home.

Complementary therapies or practices can be integrated into everyday life to either help ease mild anxiety symptoms or to help prevent anxiety altogether. For example, mindfulness can work well alongside yoga and hypnotherapy. Developing an awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours can help to break negative habits and improve self-esteem. vi,[vi]i

Lifestyle changes such as getting more sleep, eating a balanced diet, limiting caffeine and alcohol, and exercising can go a long way toward easing anxiety. For example, just 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week can significantly improve anxiety symptoms.[vii]i

Numerous de-stressing and mood-boosting apps are available to help reduce anxiety. A good place to start is the ‘Hub of Hope’ app – the UK’s leading mental health support database, which brings local, national, peer, community, charity, private and NHS mental health services together in one place. Some mild anxiety sufferers may also benefit from group discussions; organisations offering a range of resources include Anxiety UK, SANE and Mind.

Many people rely on herbs to help with mild to moderate mental health conditions, including anxiety, whilst avoiding the unwanted and negative side effects of medications. For example, studies have shown reductions in cortisol levels and anxiety following the use of ashwagandha.ix Lavender oil contains terpenes, such as linalool and linalyl acetate, which may have a calming effect on chemical receptors in the brain.ix,x Studies have shown that a daily capsule of pharmaceutical-quality lavender oil, found only in Kalms Lavender, is as effective as commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications such as lorazepam and paroxetine.xi, xii

If mild anxiety worsens or becomes disabling, the next step is seeking professional help in order to receive an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

-Ends-


[i] Survey by Census Wide, commissioned by Lanes Health. Conducted on 3,726 Respondents – including 2,000 nationally representative respondents. October 2023.

[ii] Lanes Health. Empowerment in the Epidemic of Anxiety: Equipping patients and healthcare providers with the necessary tools and skills to manage mild anxiety. 2023.

[iii] The Guardian. UK has experienced ‘explosion’ in anxiety since 2008, study finds. September 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/sep/14/uk-has-experienced-explosion-in-anxiety-since-2008-study-finds (Accessed: April 2023).

[iv] Mental Health UK. What is anxiety? Available at: https://mentalhealth-uk.org/help-and-information/conditions/anxiety-disorders/what-is-anxiety/ (Accessed: April 2023).

[v] Mental Health UK. Treatments for anxiety disorders. Available at: https://mentalhealth-uk.org/help-and-information/conditions/anxiety-disorders/treatment/ (Accessed: May 2023).

[vi] Royal College of Psychiatrists. Hidden waits force more than three quarters of mental health patients to seek help from emergency services. October 2022. Available at: https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/news-and-features/latest-news/detail/2022/10/10/hidden-waits-force-more-than-three-quarters-of-mental-health-patients-to-seek-help-from-emergency-services (Accessed: April 2023).

[vi]i Mind. Types of complementary and alternative therapies. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/complementary-and-alternative-therapies/types-of-complementary-and-alternative-therapies/#Hypnotherapy/ (Accessed: May 2023).

[vii]i Mayo Clinic. Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms. September 2017. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495 (Accessed: May 2023).

ix Salve J, et al. Cureus. 2019;11(12):e6466.

x Malcolm BJ and Tallian K. Ment Health Clin. 2018;7(4):147–155.

xi Woelk H and Schläfke S. Phytomedicine. 2010;17(2):94–99.

xii Kasper S, et al. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014;17(6):859–869.

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Business

How Gen AI Opens a Whole New World for Dyslexic Individuals

Boris Krumrey, Global VP of Automations at UiPath

Growing up in 1970s West Berlin, I experienced a lack of attention from primary school teachers who were not equipped to address special needs for dyslexic children. While teachers were somewhat aware of conditions like dyslexia, they lacked the necessary training to support students like me. I vividly remember the disheartening moments of reading aloud, as other children would complain about my struggles, with the teachers choosing not to intervene. Writing assignments was even more demoralising, as the teacher looked at me with disappointment, regardless of the pressure I faced, as my spelling and handwriting showed no improvement.

Living with dyslexia can pose significant challenges in reading and writing, making self-expression daunting. However, new tools and technological developments are presenting exciting opportunities for workers who are neurodiverse or are living with learning difficulties.

Any traumatic experiences faced by dyslexic individuals often lead to deep disbelief in one’s abilities. Often simple tests such as identifying a series of numbers or words can frustrate people and even lead to misdiagnosis or failure to receive new opportunities. However, a new horizon of possibilities has emerged with the advent of generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI). Thanks to the content writing capabilities, data analysis and automation, Gen AI is poised to be an ideal tool for dyslexic individuals, empowering them to overcome writing obstacles and unlock their full creative potential.

Understanding the use cases

Gen AI can act as an important catalyst for a business on its automation journey, unlocking the door to a wealth of new opportunities. Technology, such as AI, can seem intimidating at first, but taking the first step to an intelligently automated business truly can improve efficiency and workplace experience dramatically for individuals.

Of course, before implementing AI solutions, it is important to understand the exact use cases and where they can be applied for many tasks. Looking first at enhancing writing efficiency, generative AI provides invaluable assistance in improving writing efficiency for dyslexic individuals. The technology offers real-time suggestions, corrections, and alternative phrasing as a reliable companion during the writing process. Dyslexic writers can focus on their ideas and thoughts while the AI refines the expression, eliminating the frustration caused by dyslexia-related writing challenges.

Predictive capabilities are perhaps one of the remarkable features of Gen AI. The ability to anticipate words and phrases, often aligning perfectly with the writers’ intentions has proven to be a real game changer. It significantly reduces the time and effort required to produce coherent and correctly written content, enhancing both speed and accuracy in the writing process.

Gen AI understands the unique challenges faced by dyslexic individuals, particularly in terms of visual perception. Dyslexia commonly involves difficulties accurately reading letters or words, resulting in visual confusion. The customisable features of AI can address this, for example, tailoring the text presentation to suit individual needs. It can also make the writing experience more accessible and enjoyable.

This all draws back to the essential principles of boosting confidence and self-expression among workers. The stigma surrounding learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, can negatively impact self-confidence, but Gen AI is the equivalent of a supportive partner, encouraging dyslexic writers to express themselves freely without the fear of judgement or misunderstanding. Providing real-time feedback and assistance instils an important sense of assurance, empowering individuals to embrace their unique voices and share their ideas with the world.

Spotlighting the human impact and AI limitations

The ways in which Gen AI can overhaul work should not be conflated with a testament to the decline of human intelligence and value in the workplace. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Workers with learning disabilities often let self-doubt block potential due to mistakes that they do not see among the wider pool of workers. This idea of being ‘other’ can distance workers for the wrong reasons. If AI can free workers of tasks that fuel self-doubt, they can apply their specialist skills and stop feeling as though they are being dragged down by perceived weaknesses. Gen AI is bringing out the human value to work more than some individuals might have ever believed.

However, as with every technology and human relationship, it is essential to analyse and limit possible negative impacts. Starting with language formulation, Gen  AI’s predictive capabilities and real-time suggestions can influence the language formulation process. While this can be beneficial for dyslexic individuals who struggle with word recall or spelling, there is a possibility AI’s suggestions may steer the writing towards a more standardised or conventional form. This may inadvertently dilute the writer’s authentic expression, altering their unique style or creative choices.

To mitigate this, AI usage should be selective and applied only to areas of struggle, such as sentence structure and spelling, letting creative flair do the rest. It’s also recommended that teams and dyslexic individuals retain manual reviewing and editing. This ensures they maintain control over the final product, making deliberate choices that align with their authentic voice and personal style.

Authenticity lies in embracing imperfections and unique qualities. Dyslexic learners can celebrate their distinct perspectives, creative approaches, and personal growth throughout their writing journey. Acknowledging and highlighting their individuality can create a genuine connection with their readers which is the core goal of any copy. Once the concerns about authenticity have been addressed, it is key to strike a balance that allows the AI to support and amplify their writing while maintaining the authenticity and genuine expression that make their work truly remarkable.

A powerful AI and human partnership

I once met a friend who struggled with dyslexia but had a talent for working with computers. He helped run his father’s real estate business, but when I asked him why he didn’t study computer science, he explained that his dyslexia made him worry about the amount of time he would have to spend debugging his code due to syntax errors.

As someone who studied computer science, I never fully appreciated the challenge dyslexic individuals face when it comes to coding. Computers are patient and tireless, always correcting mistakes as long as the user persists. However, with Gen AI, coding challenges for people with dyslexia can be immediately filtered out before compilation.

In the future, automation platforms like UiPath will integrate Gen AI into all tools that support intelligent automation for daily knowledge work. Dyslexia will no longer be a barrier to unleashing creativity.

Gen AI emerges as a transformative tool for dyslexic individuals, revolutionising the writing and coding experience. It empowers writers and developers to overcome the barriers imposed by dyslexia and unlock their full creative potential. By providing tailored support, boosting confidence, and facilitating effective communication, Gen AI ensures the written word becomes a playground for self-expression rather than a source of frustration. We should celebrate the union of technology and humanity as dyslexic individuals triumph over their writing challenges and share their remarkable stories with the world.

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Business

Testing, testing…the key to health tech triumph

By Chris Bradshaw, Strategy Director at Infinum  

 
Musicians prepare rigorously for successful performances through hours of practice and refinement. In the realm of direct-to-consumer health tech, achieving innovation also requires meticulous groundwork.

When executed effectively, direct-to-consumer solutions empower patients and caregivers, providing them with informed health choices and rapid access to medical insights. Nevertheless, growth brings its own set of challenges. When health tech products lack rigorous testing and design, they can result in user confusion, unreliable data, and even jeopardise patient safety.

Amidst the whirlwind of innovation in this field, a crucial aspect often gets overlooked – preparing for worst-case scenarios. To ensure both success and safety, it’s imperative to thoroughly investigate potential user issues prior to launch.

To excel in this field of innovation, keep these three essential components in mind: comprehensive testing, a user-centric approach, and strong privacy measures.

Testing, your products best friend

Just as rehearsals are the heart of a polished musical performance, comprehensive testing serves as the foundation for identifying and addressing potential issues in the early stages. 

By simulating various scenarios and user interactions, companies can understand how their products perform under different circumstances. A method that’s getting attention is sprint testing. It pushes the product’s long-term goals and ethical aspects to make sure the final product is strong, reliable, and safe. 

Running discovery sessions for any product is also critical to help predict and navigate potential problems, but it’s even more important in the health tech industry. Even more so when you’re working on direct business to consumer products, where the risks can increase significantly. 

In short, the lesson is test, test and test again. By investing time and resources into comprehensive testing, companies can avoid costly and potentially harmful issues after product launch. 

It’s also important to remember that testing doesn’t stop when the product or app is launched; it’s crucial to gather consistent feedback from users to improve the solution continuously. 

Strike the right cord with users

 Putting your end-users first is not just a catchphrase; it’s a fundamental principle to launch any product or service. At the same time, if you’ve engaged in rigorous testing and gathered feedback from users before launch, you’ll already be set up for success.  

For example, at Infinum, we worked to develop Cormeum, the smart heart-failure app. To validate some of our initial assumptions on what would work best, we trialed the prototype with real cardiac arrest patients and discovered they preferred larger visuals, a straightforward tone of voice, and a streamlined morning and evening tracking routine. 

 This allowed us to design a product that is easy and seamless to use, and empathises with users, understanding their needs, expectations and fears. This is critical in medical situations and helps ensure your product isn’t just meeting requirements, it instills confidence.  

 User-centric design goes beyond aesthetics—it’s about enhancing the user experience across the journey and customising it for specific needs. By integrating user feedback early on, companies can build products that deeply connect with their target audience.  

The importance of data privacy  

 It’s also important to remember that health tech should value patient data as much as a doctor does. As these technologies collect and manage personal health information extensively, the ethical responsibility to safeguard user data becomes even more crucial. A significant data breach can result not only in substantial financial losses but also harm to a company’s reputation.

Openness and clear communication about data usage and security measures can significantly reassure users about their information’s safety. Staying up to date with data protection regulations and implementing strong cybersecurity measures are essential for thwarting potential threats. A single breach can undo years of hard work and innovation.  

 An excellent case of emphasising data privacy from the beginning is Bloom Diagnostics, a health-tech company focused on at-home diagnostic tests. With Infinum’s assistance, they used strong encryption and secure storage methods to protect user health data, building a foundation of trust with their users. 

How to create a masterpiece

Health tech success requires a huge amount of planning and an unwavering commitment to testing and your end users, just as composing a masterpiece takes time and dedication. 

Done right, direct-to-consumer health tech has the potential to transform the entire healthcare industry, and in many ways, already is. 

 Businesses venturing on this journey aren’t alone; tech consultants can help get the process right. Together, real change is possible, transforming the lives of patients and healthcare staff for years to come. 

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