Welcome to the Weekly Scan. Here’s what we’re following for the week of June 14, 2021.
Approval anxiety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) caused some controversy last week when it approved a drug to treat Alzheimer’s Disease from biotechnology company Biogen. The drug, the first new drug for Alzheimer’s since 2003, is called aducanumab, and it reportedly removes sticky deposits of the protein amyloid beta from the brain in early Alzheimer’s patients. The drug reportedly mitigates the early effects of Alzheimer’s, which include memory loss. However, the results of clinical trials of the drug have apparently been mixed and Biogen will be required to conduct a clinical trial confirming the efficacy of the drug in the next several years.
- The takeaway: Three members of the FDA advisory panel responsible for approving the drug have resigned over the decision. Most recently, Harvard Medical School professor Aaron Kesselheim stepped down from the panel, calling the approval decision “probably the worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history.” Kesselheim joined two other members of the panel, Joel Perlmutter and David Knopman in resigning. In November 2020, the FDA advisory panel voted 8 to 1 (and 2 undecided) that there was not sufficient evidence that aducanumab is effective.
That’s rich. Nonprofit ProPublica obtained Internal Revenue Service (IRS) documents showing that some of the wealthiest people in the U.S. pay little to no federal income taxes. The documents showed that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid no federal income taxes in 2007 and 2011, despite being the richest person in the world. Others, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, politician Michael Bloomberg, and investor Carl Icahn, also managed to pay no federal income taxes during different years. While the federal income tax rate for individuals who earn more than $628,300 is 37%, ProPublica found that the richest 25 people in the U.S. pay a true tax rate of 3.4%.
- The takeaway: ProPublica claims that its findings contradict the idea that all Americans pay their fair share according to their income. These wealthy individuals are reportedly able to pay less in taxes because much of their wealth is held in property and investments which only become taxable when they’re sold. The IRS is investigating the way in which ProPublica obtained the documents. ProPublica received the documents from an anonymous source and decided to publish the information after verifying it with some of the individuals named.
Cracking the crypto code. Investigators reportedly recovered $2.3 million in Bitcoin that had been paid to the cybercrime gang that hacked into Colonial Pipeline. Colonial Pipeline paid hackers $4.1 million to regain access to their digital information, which was seized in what’s known as a ransomware attack. The company, which provides oil, natural gas, and petroleum to much of the East Coast of the U.S., had been forced to suspend operations. Although Colonial Pipeline paid the ransom, the company also worked closely with the FBI to help them track the payment to a cryptocurrency wallet that is suspected to be used by hackers in Russia.
- The takeaway: Although the ransom recovery is good news for Colonial Pipeline, it’s also not very common to retrieve money, according to authorities. The FBI allegedly identified the encryption keys for the cryptocurrency used for ransom, enabling them to unlock the data. The anonymity of the cryptocurrency, and the fact that it is relatively unregulated, has made it attractive to some cybercriminals. Such ransomware attacks have become increasingly common and problematic for companies. Just a week ago, the world’s largest meat producer JBS SA became the victim of a ransomware attack, forcing the company to pay $11 million in Bitcoin to hackers.
Find out what we covered in last week’s Scan.