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Company news

March 3, 2010

Call it California screamin.’ Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc. continues to get a steady flow of bad news coming from the Golden State, which is feeding problems for the health insurer in Washington, D.C. WellPoint CEO Angela Braly gave an unapologetic defense last week before a congressional committee about her company’s 25-percent premium hike on individual customers in California. But the next day, California Attorney General Jerry Brown subpoaned documents from WellPoint and its insurance peers in an investigation into whether their premium increases and claims denials were illegal. According to Bloomberg News, the investigation was undertaken in response to reports that California insurance providers deny almost 40 percent of claims. Then on Monday, a consumer watchdog group sued WellPoint for pushing consumers to take coverage with fewer benefits and higher deductibles, which the lawsuit says violates California law, according to the Associated Press. On Thursday, President Obama’s top health official, Kathleen Sebelius, wants to see WellPoint and its rivals in her office to explain their premium hikes. Heavy media attention on premium hikes in states across the country has revived Obama’s health reform efforts, which WellPoint has opposed since last fall. The only good news for WellPoint came on Wall Street, where investors are pleased the company is raising its prices faster than medical costs are escalating. WellPoint’s stock price surged 6 percent last week alone.

The Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center has named a replacement for former director Stephen Williams, who died of cancer in February 2009. The center chose Dr. Patrick J. Loehrer Sr., who joined the IU faculty in 1990, and also will serve as associate dean for cancer research and hold the title HH Gregg Professor of Oncology at the IU School of Medicine. Loehrer is an internationally recognized researcher and specialist in testicular cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, and thymoma. His appointment must be approved by university trustes.

Indianapolis-based PDS Biotechnology Corp. won a $1.28 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to help it complete preclinical testing of an experimental drug aimed at curing infections and cancers caused by human papillomavirus. The most common cancers caused by the virus are cervical, anal and head and neck cancers. PDS said 400 million people have the virus, and no existing vaccines offer a cure.

The University of Notre Dame licensed technology developed by one of its professors to Pennsylvania-based Molecular Targeting Technologies Inc. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The technology, developed by chemistry prof Bradley Smith, can target dead or dying cells in humans or in bacteria clusters. Such selective sensing could help researchers see more clearly the effects of treatments on cancers or bacterial infections.

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