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Health Highlights: March 29, 2017

Last Updated: March 29, 2017.

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

FDA Nominee Will Recuse Himself From Decisions on 20 Companies

The nominee to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will recuse himself for a year from FDA decisions involving more than 20 companies he has links with, according to his ethics agreement filed at the Office of Government Ethics.

The agreement reveals that Scott Gottlieb, a physician, has been involved with numerous firms in a variety of roles, including consultant, guest speaker, investor and adviser, the Washington Post reported.

Those companies include two large pharmaceutical firms: GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Gottlieb pledged to resign his position as a member of Glaxo's product investment board and avoid involvement in FDA matters affecting the company.

The former deputy FDA commissioner during the George W. Bush administration did consulting work Bristol-Myers Squibb through his company Innovating Healthcare, but said he would avoid decisions involving Bristol-Myers while FDA commissioner, the Post reported.

Gottlieb will also sell his financial interests in several firms and resign from some positions he has held, according to the ethics agreement.

His close ties to the health care industry are likely to be targeted by Democrats during his confirmation process, but Gottlieb has strong support within the drug industry, the Post reported.

Changes he's expected to make at the FDA include speeding up the approval process for complex generic drugs. Gottlieb has also said the FDA is too restrictive on "off-label" communications, in which drug makers promote their products for uses for which they haven't been approved.

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Health Care Plan Will Happen 'Very Quickly': Trump

A health care deal will happen soon, President Donald Trump said just days after the first GOP attempt failed.

A reception Tuesday for senators and their spouses at the White House attracted both Democrats and Republicans. Trump made note of the bipartisan gathering and predicted a health care deal will occur "very quickly," the Associated Press reported.

"I know that we're all going to make a deal on health care. And that's such an easy one," Trump said.

There is also potential for working with Democrats on other issues like infrastructure, according to Trump.

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Trump to Set Up Commission on U.S. Opioid Epidemic

A commission to investigate the opioid epidemic in the United States is expected to be announced Wednesday by President Donald Trump.

Opioid overdose kills about 78 people a day. In 2015, more than 33,000 died of opioid overdoses, which was a record high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said more than half of those deaths involved prescription opioid painkillers, NBC News reported.

The chair of the commission will be New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "The opioid initiative is one that's incredibly important to every family in every corner of this country," Christie said Wednesday, NBC News reported.

"What we need to come to grips with is addiction is a disease and no life is disposable. We can help people by giving them appropriate treatment," Christie added.

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Senator Probes Opioid Makers' Role in U.S. Drug Abuse Epidemic

A U.S. senator wants information from the five top makers of opioid painkiller drugs in order to assess their role in the nation's opioid epidemic.

Sen. Claire McCaskill wants to determine whether the five companies -- Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Insys Therapeutics, Mylan, and Depomed -- have contributed to overuse and overprescribing of opioids, the Washington Post reported.

Since 2000, 180,000 people in the U.S. have died of prescription opioid overdoses and tens of thousands have died of heroin and fenatnyl overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Tuesday, McCaskill sent a letter to the five companies asking them for opioid sales and marketing materials, any research they may have conducted on the addictive properties of their drugs, and information on compliance with legal settlements, the Post reported.

"This epidemic is the direct result of a calculated sales and marketing strategy major opioid manufacturers have allegedly pursued over the past 20 years to expand their market share and increase dependency on powerful -- and often deadly -- painkillers," McCaskill, the ranking Democrat of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote in the letter.

"To achieve this goal, manufacturers have reportedly sought, among other techniques, to downplay the risk of addiction to their products and encourage physicians to prescribe opioids for all cases of pain and in high doses."

On Tuesday, most of the companies said they were reviewing McCaskill's request for information, the Post reported.

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Trump Seeks $1.23 Billion Cut in NIH Funding

The U.S. National Institutes of Health faces a $1.23 billion cut in funding this fiscal year under a Trump administration proposal.

Most of the proposed cuts would come from research grants, including $50 million less for a program to support biomedical research in states that typically receive less NIH money, Bloomberg News reported.

The Trump plan would also eliminate $300 million from an HIV/AIDS program with a heavy focus on patient treatment in Africa, and cut $50 million from HIV prevention and research in states.

Trump previously announced a proposal to slash biomedical research at the NIH by $5.8 billion next fiscal year, an 18 percent cut from the 2017 fiscal year, which ends in October. The White House also wants to reduce Department of Health and Human Services spending to $65.1 billion in fiscal 2018, down from $84.6 billion in 2016, Bloomberg reported.


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