Welcome to the Weekly Scan. Here’s what we’re following for the week of July 19, 2021.
Alzheimer’s drug debate. Three major U.S. hospitals—The Cleveland Clinic, Mount Sinai in New York, and Providence in Renton, Washington—said they would not administer Aduhelm, the controversial new Alzheimer’s drug from biotechnology company Biogen. Meanwhile, healthcare providers, including Medicare, are reviewing whether they plan to cover the cost of the drug. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Aduhelm, which is also known as aducanumab, in June 2021 to criticism from some members of the healthcare industry that it had not adequately proved the drug’s effectiveness.
- The takeaway: Pushback from insurers and hospitals has curbed excitement over Aduhelm, which is the first new drug targeting Alzheimer’s since 2003. Critics have questioned the drug’s effectiveness and the FDA’s standards for approval. Meanwhile, some medical professionals have requested an investigation of interactions between Biogen and FDA officials during the approval process. Additionally, the high price of the drug, which costs $56,000 a year, and concerns about serious side effects, have concerned experts at these medical facilities.
Game on. Netflix will reportedly expand into the world of video games, hiring Mike Verdu, a former executive at Facebook and video game company Electronic Arts. Verdu will be vice president of game development at Netflix. He reportedly worked at Facebook on its Oculus virtual reality headset, and on Electronic Arts’ popular titles including Sims, Plants vs. Zombies, and Star Wars franchises. Netflix plans to continue building out a gaming team over the next few months.
- The takeaway: Netflix is reportedly looking for ways to continue growing its business and adding new customers. While the company currently leads the pack in the streaming industry, it added fewer subscribers than expected in the first three months of 2021. Currently, Netflix doesn’t plan to charge extra for the gaming, but the company could use the service to increase prices down the road.
More for Medicare. Senate Democrats reportedly reached an agreement on a $3.5 trillion budget bill last week. The $3.5 trillion plan would expand Medicare to include dental and vision coverage, and provide universal pre-K and community college. Along with $600 billion from a separate bill, the budget would allocate resources towards beefing up American infrastructure. The money would be used for rebuilding roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, as well as expanding access to broadband internet in rural areas of the U.S. Additionally, the budget would also prioritize creating 80% clean energy by 2030. President Biden plans to fund the plan by raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations.
- The takeaway: The $3.5 trillion plan still needs to be approved by the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to pass. However, 50 Republican Senators are not expected to vote for the bill. As a result, Senate Democrats are expected to use something called the budget reconciliation process, which would allow them to approve the new funding with fewer votes.
Sunblocked. Johnson & Johnson issued a voluntary recall for five of its Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreen products last week, saying that they contained low levels of a carcinogen called benzene. The recall follows an investigation of numerous sunscreen products, conducted by an independent pharmaceutical lab. The list of J&J products includes Neutrogena Beach Defense, Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport, Neutrogena Invisible Daily, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer, and Aveeno Protect + Refresh. Johnson & Johnson urged customers to throw out the products, noting that benzene can potentially cause cancer. The company is also investigating the origin of the benzene since it is reportedly not involved in the manufacturing process. The independent lab is also urging a recall of sunscreen products from other companies also found to contain benzene, including Sun Bum, CVS Health, and Banana Boat.
- The takeaway: This isn’t the first time Johnson & Johnson has run into health concerns with its products. Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot Covid-19 vaccine raised concerns over rare side effects including Gullaín-Barre syndrome and blood clots in adult women this year. In 2019, an Oklahoma judge ruled that J&J intentionally minimized the addictive aspects of opioid drug products manufactured through its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies subsidiary. And in 2018, a jury awarded $4.7 billion to 22 women who claim they contracted ovarian cancer from J&J baby powder. The company reportedly knew that the raw talc in the baby powder could contain traces of asbestos but withheld the information from consumers.
Zero to hero. Coca-Cola is rolling out new packaging and a slightly altered recipe of Coke Zero Sugar in July. The recipe for the beverage, which contains no sugar, reportedly won’t change. Coca-Cola plans to “optimize” the drink’s existing ingredients and flavors. This will be the second time Coca-Cola has revisited the drink’s formula since 2017, when the company changed the recipe and the name to Coke Zero Sugar from Coke Zero.
- The takeaway: Coca-Cola has a history of upsetting some of its customers with changes, and its most recent tweak could ruffle the feathers of some loyal Coke Zero drinkers. In the 1980s, Coca-Cola changed Coke’s formula and debuted it as New Coke, in an attempt to compete with its rival Pepsi. The new drink was met with mass disapproval from customers and Coca-Cola was forced to reintroduce its old formula as Coca-Cola Classic.
Here’s what we covered in last week’s Scan:
- Richard Branson goes to space.
- Russian cyber hackers attack 200 U.S. businesses.
- The Pentagon cancels its contract with Microsoft.
- Google faces another antitrust lawsuit.