PARIS, Jan 12 (APM) - M&A activity in the pharma sector could pick up again this year, according to Les Echos on Wednesday (p19), reporting on the JP Morgan Healthcare conference held over the past week in San Francisco.
According to Bloomberg figures cited by Les Echos, takeover activity has declined sharply in recent years, from $202 billion in 2014 to $95 billion in 2017.
But the picture could change, notably with the vote in late December by the U.S. Senate of measures that reduce corporate taxes and to push companies to repatriate "billions of dollars left abroad".
Investment firm Ernst & Young anticipates "mega-deals like never seen before" this year in the sector, while JP Morgan reminded that Pfizer and Merck & Co have huge cash reserves, $160 billion dollars for the former and $70 billion for the latter.
The report also noted big companies could be looking to sell big chunks of their business, as with Pfizer and Merck KGaA selling their consumer divisions, as well as Lilly in animal healthcare and Novartis in ophthalmology.
In a separate piece on Thursday, Les Echos (p20) published an interview with Sanofi’s chief executive Olivier Brandicourt, in which confirmed the French pharma is willing to "speed up acquisition efforts this year".
He told the paper the company is interested in several fields, including rare diseases, vaccines, diabetes, OTC and immunotherapies. He declined to comment on specific potential deals, such as Pfizer's OTC business.
Big pharma takes steps to lower risk in Alzheimer's
On Thursday, Les Echos (p18) reported that pharma companies are adapting their strategies in Alzheimer's dises in order to reduce their exposure to failure.
It mentioned Lilly’s recent decision to abandon the development of its Alzheimer's candidate treatment idalopridin, noting this is more "bad news" for research in the field.
However, it said sales of Alzheimer's treatments could double by 2030, adding that pharma companies have faced failures in the past 20 years in targeting amyloïd plaques.
The newspaper noted Pfizer has announced it is cutting 300 jobs in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's R&D, while externalising its R&D pipeline, in order to reduce its exposure to risks while "keeping an eye on it".
The article also pointed out Lilly has chosen to partner with AstraZeneca to develop its compound.
And despite its failure, Lilly decided to keep its pipeline, notably because it believed in the quality of the researchers it employed in that field.
But other players, such as Biogen, keep believing in their ability to market a new treatment. The company launched a Phase Ib study on aducanumab in August 2017.
"The company decided to take maximum risks by betting on Alzheimer's in order to reduce its exposure in multiple sclerosis, where it is facing a raging competition."
Novo Nordisk bids 2.6 billion euros for Ablynx
Les Echos reported on Tuesday (p20) on the 2.6 billion euros takeover offer by Novo Nordisk for Belgian biotech Ablynx (APMHE 56319
The newspaper underlined the move would represent a significant step for Novo Nordisk outside of diabetes, its main market, though the Nordic giant is already present in haematology through its haemophilia treatment Novo Seven, and has several compounds in that field in its R&D portfolio.
But Ablynx's caplacizumab could be a major addition to that business, noted Les Echos.
It also underlined Novo Nordisk might not be the only big pharma interested in this acquisition. Sanofi signed an R&D deal with Ablynx last July.
'Shock treatment' for GlaxoSmithKline
Friday’s Les Echos (p20) published an article on the changes made by Emma Walmsley since she took the helm at GlaxoSmithKline in April 2017.
It said she has taken "radical measures", notably by changing 40% of the top management of the company, or 50 of its 125 most senior managers.
It underlined Walmsley did not hesitate to hire talent from outside the pharma sector, with managers coming Google (chief digital officer) and Unilever (healthcare products EMEA manager), while reminding Karennan Terrel, head of IT, came from Walmart.
Les Echos also noted the company has refocused its R&D efforts, on its strongest positions (oncology, immuno-inflammation, respiratory and HIV), while GSK has also dropped 140 of its brands in order to "clean" its portfolio.
Walmsley also pointed out the company has decided to refocus its marketing efforts geographically, on around 10 markets, and to reduce the number of its suppliers by 30%.
Roche, GE Healthcare launch partnership in therapeutic decision making software
Tuesday’s Les Echos (p20) reported Roche and GE Healthcare have signed a collaboration deal to co-develop new software specialising in therapeutic decision making.
The new software will help healthcare professionals to take "the best clinical decision" in selecting the most appropriate treatment based on the patient’s situation.
The partnership will initially focus on cancer and intensive care, and for the former will notably take into account the cost of existing treatments.
Sanofi and Regeneron invest 1 billion euros to accelerate immunotherapy R&D
On Wednesday, Les Echos (p19) reported on the decision by Sanofi and Regeneron to invest a further 1 billion euros to accelerate the development of their immunotherapy dupilumab in allergy and cemiplimab in cancer (APMHE 56330
Ibuprofen effects on fertility confirmed by study
On Wednesday, Le Monde (Science & Medicine supplement, p3) and Le Figaro (p11) reported on a study that found ibuprofen had side effects on masculine fertility.
The study, carried out on athletes, was lead by a French and Danish team and published in PNAS.
According to professor Bernard Jégou, coordinator of the study, "among all the molecules I tested, ibuprofen is probably the most efficient to induce hormonal unbalance both in adults and foetuses".
The study showed the molecule had a "strong effect on the levels of "circulating luteinizing hormone", which is involved in production of testosterone.
The study was carried out over six weeks with high doses of the product (1200 mg daily), but further studies are required to study the longterm effects.
The researchers also pointed out this study was evaluating the practice of preventive use of the molecule by athletes, and not its use in the general population.
French public investment funds want to attract U.S. investors
Tuesday’s Les Echos (p20) published an article announcing public innovation investment fund BPI France is aiming at attracting U.S. investors to finance French biotech companies.
Nicolas Dufourq, general manager of BPI France, told the newspaper 95% of the funds currently injected in French biotech companies are coming from Europe, while 50% of those invested in Israeli companies come from the U.S.
Though a couple of U.S. funds are already active in BPI’s portfolio, the organisation wants to seduce more actors from the other side of the Atlantic.
The manager underlined the richness of the French biotech landscape, though acknowledging U.S. investors are now more wary of the country because of the tightness of the clinical trials regulations, as well as a shortage of analysts specialising in biotech in France.
France’s fight against counterfeit drugs
On Friday, Le Monde (Economy & Enterprises supplement, p1) carried a report on the efforts made by France in fighting counterfeit drugs.
The article mostly describes the work of customs agents at airports.
Levothyrox: Court rejects complaint of 23 patients over Levothyrox
On Friday, Le Parisien (brief p10) reports that a French court rejected the demand of 23 patients that were asking Merck KGaA to supply them the former formulation of thyroid disorders treatment Levothyrox.
Thursday’s Le Figaro (p24) reported that Ipsen has appointed Aidan Murphy to the position of executive vice-president in charge of technical operations.
He replaces Jonathan Barnsley, and was previously senior vice president for biologics development and manufacturing for the company.