Health IT

A nervous biotech nations turns its eyes to Ironwood: MedCity Morning Read, Feb. 2, 2010

Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, expected to go public sometime this week, is looking to pull off the biggest biotech initial public offering in years. And that’s gotten the attention of the entire industry, hoping that a successful offering will be a signal of good, and lucrative, things to come.

Image by Ahmad Nawawi via Flickr

Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of health care:

A nervous biotech nation turns its eyes to Ironwood: Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, expected to go public sometime this week and possibly Tuesday, is looking to pull off the biggest biotech initial public offering in years, Xconomy reports. And that’s the gotten the attention of the entire industry, hoping that a successful offering will be a signal of good, and lucrative, things to  come. “Biotech has been itching for someone to come along and whet the appetite of Wall Street for new companies, so that venture capitalists and entrepreneurs can realize the big paydays they need to justify the risks of drug development,” Xconomy reports.

Irownwood could raise $306 million if it targets its upper range of $14 to $16 a share, according to Xconomy. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company is developing a drug called linaclotide, a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation. The drug is in stage 3 trials and Ironwood hopes to seek FDA approval in the first half of 2011, Bloomberg reports.

“There is huge buzz about it, and it could be bigger than most biotech IPOs in recent memory. The whole industry is waiting with baited breath and watching how it trades,” says Bob Nelsen, managing director of Arch Venture Partners in Seattle.

Wellness plans hit a snag: A law enacted last year that restricts companies’ abilities to collect family medical histories from employees has put a damper on corporate wellness plans, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act was designed to prohibit employers from using genetic information to make hiring and firing decisions, but also includes family medical history. With more and more companies offering wellness plans, and plenty of startups looking to cash in on the trend by selling those plans to corporations, the law is no small matter.

Many companies include family-history in wellness-plan questionnaires as a means of identifying at-risk employees during health screenings. As a result of the law, for example, Illinois trucking company Navistar dropped questions about family medical history from its wellness-plan questionnaire, so the company can no longer direct employees to programs for managing diabetes or cardiac and respiratory ailments based on family history. One would think this law would get wellness companies sending their lobbyists scurrying towards Washington, D.C., and with good reason.

Health coverage cost increases to soar this year: A recent survey of health insurers and health maintenance organizations reveals that costs for the most popular types of health plans are all expected to grow by double-digits this year. That includes PPO plans, POS, HMO and high-deductible plans, according to Bucks Consulting. After the growth in total U.S. health spending slowed significantly last year due to the recession, these numbers suggest a return to the bad old days of out-of-control health inflation. So what doesn’t the American public get about why the country desperately needs health reform?

Physicians EMR adoption moving slowly: Doctors continue their slow (and I mean slow) uptake of electronic medical records systems, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just 6.3 percent of physicians in 2009 reported using a “fully functional” EMR–meaning one that includes patient demographic information, patient problem lists, clinical notes, prescriptions orders, lab and imaging results, plus warnings of drug interactions or contraindications, medical history and follow-up, and orders for tests. That number’s up from 4.9 percent the prior year, at least, American Medical News reports.

Further, most experts don’t expect government incentives to provide much of a boost to adoption, at least initially, American Medical News reports. Meanwhile, noted health care CIO John Halamka lists the top 10 barriers to EMR adoption, compiled from participants in a class he recently taught. Somewhat surprisingly, cost is not No. 1 (but it is No. 2). The top concern is “people,” Halamka writes, explaining “it’s hard to get sponsorship from senior leaders, find clinician champions, and hire the trained workers to get the EMR rollout done.”