Press review

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Bayer takeover of Monsanto more time-consuming than expected

BERLIN, Jan 12 (APM) - Bayer is making headway in its takeover of U.S. agrochemical giant Monsanto, but the process is proving to be more time-intensive for Bayer than its leadership expected, Handelsblatt reports on Friday (p14).
Though anti-trust authorities in Europe, the U.S. and Brazil are giving the deal a much harder look than anticipated, experts continue to be optimistic that it will eventually be approved. The question is when. Bayer's CEO Werner Baumann says "early 2018", while many analysts now believe the closing will not take place until the second quarter of the year, the paper said.
The deal has experienced notable headwinds from the European Commission, the paper said. The commission is under heavy public pressure due to massive criticism from non-governmental organisations and politicians, and it will examine the deal as intensively and for as long as possible, it said.
In any case, a decision on the merger must be clear by mid-June 2018, at which point Monsanto could bow out, it concluded.

Bayer further reduces stake in Covestro

Bayer has sold about 1.8 billion euros more of its stake in chemicals group Covestro to further strengthen its books for the $63.5 billion Monsanto takeover, reported FAZ on Thursday (p19) and Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) (p18), FAZ (p20) and Die Welt (p15) on Friday.
Bayer has divested itself of Covestro shares in several steps since last spring and plans to completely withdraw from the company in the medium term, FAZ said.

Merck takes German start-ups to U.S. tech fair

Merck KGaA took nine start-ups from in its German accelerator programme to the global CES (formerly the consumer electronics show) tech fair in Las Vegas, Handelsblatt reported on Thursday (p19).
At CES, starts-ups seek U.S. investment. "CES is becoming increasingly important" for gaining a broad view of digital innovation, said Michael Hungele, who works in Merck's digital office. "Soon, no one from the scene will be able to afford not to be here," he told the paper.

Start-up accelerator programmes fuel pharma creativity

Large pharma companies use start-up accelerator programmes to find new ideas, inspire creativity and give employees a boost, reported FAZ on Saturday (p23).
Merck KGaA, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bayer, Novartis and Pfizer have all set up such programmes in Germany or are involved in start-up funding initiatives.
The programmes have become indispensable in the pharmaceuticals and healthcare industry, Birgit Fischer, managing director of the research-based pharmaceutical company association vfa, told FAZ.
In addition to traditional acquisitions, corporate venture funds and incubators are now increasingly being used to "participate in development as early as possible", said Siegfried Bialojan, head of the life sciences division at EY Germany.
The aim is either to link start-up ideas to the company's own businesses or to discover new technologies with help from the start-ups, said Merck's strategy chief Isabel de Paoli. "But it is also a matter of boosting innovation and opening up the corporate culture," she added.

New drugs approvals double in U.S.

The number of new drug and vaccine approvals in the U.S. last year doubled compared with 2016, to 53, Handelsblatt reported on Tuesday (p16).
Handelsblatt cited U.S. approvals of the first two CAR-T drugs - Novartis' Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) and Gilead/ Kite’s Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel or axi-cel) - in blood cancers, that of Spark’s vision loss gene therapy Luxturna (voretigene neparvorec), and the first "digital pill", Otsuka's Abilify MyCite, with an ingestible tracking system.
The larger number of approvals is partly due to the fact that pharmaceutical companies are targeting more small indications and fewer widespread diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, Handelsblatt said.
The most promising products in terms of peak sales are Roche's multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) and its haemophilia drug Hemlibra (emicizumab); AstraZeneca's cancer drug Imfinzi (durvalumab); Neurocrine Biosciences's Ingrezza (valbenazine) for Tourette's; and Sanofi's neurodermatitis drug Dupixent (dupilumab).

Major mergers in biotech sector

In the biotechnology sector, the merger roundabout continues to turn with two new mega-deals, wrote FAZ (p21) and Handelsblatt (p15) on Tuesday.
The U.S.'s Celgene has snapped up cancer specialist Impact Biomedicines for $6.5 billion (APMHE 56321), and Danish insulin producer Novo Nordisk took a cash offer of around 2.6 billion euros to Belgian biotech company Ablynx, which was rejected (APMHE 56328).
Manufacturers are going on a shopping spree in order to survive the increasingly fierce competition and to improve their pipelines, FAZ said.

Moderate sales growth in 2017 increases pressure for M&A

Moderate pharma industry sales growth in 2017 will probably increase pressure on mergers and acquisitions in 2018, Handelsblatt said on Tuesday (p14-15).
Analysts expect 2017 full-year results to show 1% to 2% organic growth in pharma turnover on average.
In the first nine months of 2017, some companies did much better, including Abbvie, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) and Lilly, each with a 10% sales increase. The three leading German pharmas were also above average - Boehringer with 8% to 9% growth, Bayer's pharmaceutical business with around 5% and Merck KGaA at just under 6%.
Generic drugmakers such as Teva, Novartis' Sandoz, Mylan and Valeant were in a much tougher situation in 2017, mainly due to increased price pressure in the U.S., the paper said.

Novartis' stages oncology staffing coup

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis' head of development who takes over as chairman of the company at the end of January, carried out a successful coup by poaching Pfizer's head of oncology Elizabeth (Liz) Barrett, reports FAZ on Friday (p20). (APMHE 56374)
Barrett, who will head up Novartis' oncology business, switches allegiances to Pfizer's main rival in February. She managed the development of Pfizer's Ibrance (palbociclib), which competes with Novartis' new cancer drug Kisqali (ribociclib) in breast cancer.

Setback for Alzheimer patients

Pfizer's decision to end drug research in Alzheimer's disease is a setback for patients, wrote FAZ on Tuesday (p15) (APMHE 56339).
There are only a few drugs that can slow the course of the disease for a certain period, provided it is diagnosed early enough, FAZ wrote.
The demand for new, more effective drugs is immense, as no new drug has been approved in the field in over 15 years.
Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies have suffered setbacks in Alzheimer's research, and it is still unclear what scientific path can lead to success, FAZ said.
Since 2002, around 100 drug candidates have failed to reach the market because they were not proved to be more effective than existing products. The latest example was Lilly's solanezumab in November 2016.
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