Posted Jan. 11, 2017 at 6:41 a.m.

Tech news: Heart devices hackable; Norway dumps FM; J&J to disclose pricing; Valeant sells $2B in assets

Published: 2017-01-11 06:41:52
Updated: 2017-01-11 06:41:52

Bulldog Bulletin

In today's Bulldog wrapup of technology and life science headlines:

  • US warns of unusual cybersecurity flaw in heart devices
  • Norway tuning out analog radio in favor of digital
  • Johnson & Johnson to reveal average drug price increases
  • Valeant sells $2B in assets to begin paying down debt

The details:

  • US warns of unusual cybersecurity flaw in heart devices

The Homeland Security Department warned Tuesday about an unusual cybersecurity flaw for one manufacturer's implantable heart devices that it said could allow hackers to remotely take control of a person's defibrillator or pacemaker.

Information on the security flaw, identified by researchers at MedSec Holdings in reports months ago, was only formally made public after the manufacturer, St. Jude Medical, made a software repair available Monday. MedSec is a cybersecurity research company that focuses on the health-care industry.

The government advisory said security patches will be rolled out automatically over months to patients with a device transmitter at home, as long as it is plugged in and connected to the company's network. The transmitters send heart device data back to medical professionals.

Abbott Laboratories' St. Jude said in a statement it was not aware of deaths or injuries caused by the problem. The Food and Drug Administration also said there was no evidence patients were harmed.

The federal investigation into the problem started in August.

MedSec CEO Justine Bone said on Twitter that St. Jude's software fix did not address all problems in the devices.

St. Jude's devices treat dangerous irregular heart rhythms that can cause cardiac failure or arrest. Implanted under the skin of the chest, the devices electronically pace heartbeats and shock the heart back to its normal rhythm when dangerous pumping patterns are detected.

The company's Merlin@home Transmitter electronically sends details on the device's performance to a website where the patient's physician can review the information. But that device can also be hacked.

The FDA's review is ongoing, agency spokeswoman Angela Stark said. Its investigation confirmed the vulnerabilities of the home transmitter, which could potentially be hacked and used to rapidly deplete an implanted device battery, alter pacing and potentially administer inappropriate and dangerous shocks to a person's heart.

The software patch issued by St. Jude "addresses vulnerabilities that present the greatest risk to patients," Stark said.

  • Norway tuning out analog radio in favor of digital

For some radio listeners in Norway, there will be dead air starting on Wednesday.

The mountainous nation of 5 million will become the first in the world to phase out analog signals in favor of Digital Audio Broadcasting, or DAB.

The move has provoked concern for the elderly and motorists, while others will be nostalgic for the crackling sound of old radio.

Judith Haaland, 98, remembers the radio broadcasts from London during World War II and Norway's king stiffening the resolve of his countrymen under German occupation. Now blind and living alone, her radio has been her tether to the outside world.

"I remember April 9, 1940, planes flying overhead and Quisling coming on the radio saying he had taken control of the government with the help of the Germans," said Haaland, recalling the rule of Norwegian Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling. "After that we listened to broadcasts from London."

In a move likely to be watched closely by other nations, the Norwegian government will begin shutting off the FM signal on Wednesday. By the end of the year, national networks will be available only on DAB.

Switzerland and Britain are both considering a switch to digital networks.

  • Johnson & Johnson to reveal average drug price increases

Johnson & Johnson plans next month to disclose average price increases of its prescription drugs, as the industry tries to calm the storm over soaring prices.

The health care giant will divulge its 2016 average increases in list price and net price, or what middlemen such as insurers and distributors pay J&J after discounts and rebates.

Analysts say that will help J&J's image more than patients initially, but could push other drugmakers to tame future price increases and be more transparent.

  • Valeant sells $2B in assets to begin paying down debt

Valeant will sell just over $2 billion in assets as it pays down debts after more than a year of backlash against its pricing and business practices.

The company said Tuesday that it would sell three skincare brands to L'Oréal for $1.3 billion. The three product lines, CeraVe, AcneFree and AMBI, generate about $168 million in annual revenue.

The announced sale comes a day after Valeant said it would sell Dendreon Pharmaceuticals Inc. to China's Sanpower Group Co. for about $820 million

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