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Brainstorm Health: Robotic Pills, Gilead Vs Glaxo, Federal Spending Bill and Health Care

Hey there, readers! This is Sy.

Sometimes, it can be a pain, literally, to take prescription medication—especially when that medication has to be administered via injection. But injections are the most effective (or at least the most preferred) form of drug delivery for certain kinds of treatments, including those for chronic conditions like diabetes, psoriasis, arthritis, and others.

But what if pills could eventually replace the needle altogether?

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That’s what Rani Therapeutics is setting out to do with its “robotic pill.” The company announced Thursday that it’s raised $53 million in a new funding round (putting its total at $142 million in money raised) to finance broader manufacturing of its tech as the firm prepares to move into human clinical trials. Investors include big pharma mainstays like Novartis, AstraZeneca, and Shire, in addition to Google parent Alphabet’s venture arm GV, among others.

Rani claims that its “robotic pill” can deliver a drug dose straight into the intestinal wall (without any pain) as it proceeds through the stomach and intestine; the pill can push drugs into this area through a sugar-based structure that resembles a needle and automatically dissolves after delivery.

If Rani’s platform proves successful in human trials, it could be a significant advance for patient comfort (and, in turn, help improve drug regimen compliance). Many of the best-selling treatments around, such as AbbVie’s Humira (the top selling medication in the world), currently involve injections.

A shifting drug delivery landscape is an essential element of the digital health revolution. Companies are trying to figure out how to make proven drugs even more effective—and easier to use—than the available options, including through implants, patches, and other technologies.

Read on for the day’s news.

DIGITAL HEALTH

Jeff Immelt appointed Athenahealth board chairman. Jeff Immelt, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, was unanimously appointed as chairman of cloud-based medical records and health care software services provider Athenahealth effective Wednesday. Immelt made digital health expansion a core mission while at GE, including by expanding the company’s forays into medical imaging and AI-fueled hospital operations management. (Fortune)

INDICATIONS

What does the future hold for Gilead? Biotech giant Gilead helped change the very course of hepatitis C treatment via its virus-vanquishing treatments Sovaldi and Harvoni. But, in the life sciences, revolutionary innovation can wind up reaping temporary rewards as rivals swoop in and develop their own versions of groundbreaking products—as evidenced by Gilead’s sharp sales guidance declines for its hep C portfolio. But the company got a boost on Wednesday as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved another one of its key pipeline products: Biktarvy, a once-daily, triple-combination HIV treatment. That’s a big win for Gilead; but rival ViiV Healthcare (majority owned by the U.K.’s GlaxoSmithKline) immediately filed suit against the company alleging patent infringement.

THE BIG PICTURE

A two-year budget deal could have big implications for health care. A bipartisan budget deal struck in the U.S. Senate would make several big changes to health care policy, including a repeal of Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) and a further four-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)—on top of a six-year extension passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last month. The big question is whether or not the House of Representatives will go along with the deal given continued conflict over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

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Produced by Sy Mukherjee @the_sy_guy sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
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