Brainstorm Health: Florida Medicaid Hack, Biotech Deals, Pfizer Ditches Alzheimer’s Research

Good morning, readers! This is Sy.

Florida officials revealed late Friday that a massive Medicaid hack may have exposed 30,000 patients’ sensitive personal information two months ago. The data breach, attributed to an employee who fell for a malicious “phishing” email in November, is just the latest example of a medical system infiltrated by cybercriminals—and you should expect to see even more care data hacks in the coming years.

The fact that the Florida Medicaid breach, which may have allowed hackers to access Social Security numbers, patients’ names, addresses, medical information, birth dates, and other information, stemmed from a phishing scam is telling. User error is one of the simplest ways for cybercriminals to work their way into an organization’s IT infrastructure. And, given the sensitive nature of medical data, health care systems are a natural draw for cyberattacks.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has actually issued stark warnings to health care organizations over the threats of phishing emails and malware such as ransomware, which take data hostage in exchange for recompense. Ransomware is particularly prevalent in health care, as a 2017 Verizon Data Breach analysis reports. Between 2014 and 2017, ransomware surged from the the 22nd most common type of malware to the fifth most common. In fact, 72% of all health care malware attacks were ransomware. “For the attacker, holding files for ransom is fast, low risk and easily monetizable—especially with Bitcoin to collect anonymous payment,” wrote the Verizon report authors. The only industry more frequently targeted is financial services.

Some types of health care cyberattacks are more difficult to avoid than others, especially given the sorry state of health IT infrastructure. But one critical way to thwart would-be hackers is to follow common sense guidelines about passwords, suspicious emails, and other human behavior.


JPMorgan Healthcare conference gets under way. It’s that time of year again: The JPMorgan Healthcare conference and the Biotech Showcase in San Francisco, which attracts a who’s who of the life sciences and investor crowd. Cliff is out attending the meeting, and we’ll have you covered on the biggest developments out of JPM this week.

Pfizer to leave the Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s spaces. Pfizer has decided to call it quits on developing new drugs for conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Despite its heavy investments in these fields, it may not be much of a surprise that Pfizer is retrenching; Alzheimer’s in particular is a notoriously difficult (and expensive) space. “This was an exercise to re-allocate spend across our portfolio, to focus on those areas where our pipeline, and our scientific expertise, is strongest,” the company said in a statement. (Fortune)

Celgene strikes $7 billion deal for Impact. Speaking of JPMorgan—the conference often brings with it a flurry of deal-making news. And, as any biotech investor or analyst will tell you, the space is ripe for more aggressive MA after a relatively subdued 2017. Drug maker Celgene became one of the first companies to announce a mid-size acquisition this year, snapping up Impact Biomedicines for up to $7 billion. In other news, Novo Nordisk issued a $3.1 billion bid for Ablynx, although the latter firm doesn’t seem particularly eager for the deal. (Fortune)

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