Press review


Merck KGaA clarifies focus by selling OTC to Procter & Gamble

BERLIN, 20 Apr (APM) - Merck KGaA has made an important and logical move in selling its consumer health business to Procter & Gamble, Handelsblatt (p18), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) (p22) and Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) (p18) report on Friday.
The move reinforces Merck's position as a technology and science company focused on innovation-driven products. From this perspective, the OTC business, which is driven by marketing, was straying outside its core focus, Handelsblatt wrote. Merck had sold its biosimilar portfolio to Fresenius in April 2017 for similar reasons.
The €3.4 billion sale, announced on Thursday (APMHE 57749), will allow Merck to reduce its debt to less than €8 billion and will give the company some room to manoeuvre in expanding its other business segments (APMHE 57757).

Singapore's Temasek Holdings buys €3 billion stake in Bayer

Singapore's Temasek state-owned holding company has become a major Bayer shareholder with its acquisition of an additional 31 million shares for about €3 billion, FAZ (p18), SZ (p24) and Handelsblatt (p19 and 46) reported on Wednesday.
After this purchase, Temasek will hold around 4% of Bayer. The news was well received on the stock market, where Bayer's stock rose slightly more than 2% on Tuesday, FAZ said.
Both of Singapore's state-owned funds - Temasek and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) - are focused on investing in Asia, but are open to opportunities for companies that are highly research-intensive. In 2017, Temasek had a portfolio of about €170 billion, FAZ said.

Shire's price rising

Japan's Takeda offered £43 billion (€49 billion) for Ireland-based Shire but a bidding war is expected, Handelsblatt (p19) and SZ (p18) write on Friday (APMHE 57767).
Shire, the world's largest manufacturer of drugs for rare diseases, has already rejected Takeda's offer, but both companies said talks were continuing. Other pharma companies are likely to outbid Takeda, Handelsblatt writes.
For Takeda, the acquisition would be a big deal. Shire generated €13 billion of sales and an operating profit of €1.2 billion in the fiscal year 2016/17. It has market capitalisation of around €30 billion euros.

Shire sells cancer therapy business to Servier

Rare disease specialist Shire has delighted investors on the London Stock Exchange with the $2.4 billion sale of its cancer therapy business to Servier, FAZ wrote on Tuesday (p19) (APMHE 57691).
The company's shares climbed by up to 3.5% to 3,732 pence on Monday.

Novartis strengthens its top management

Novartis has strengthened its top management, FAZ writes on Friday (p18).
The Swiss pharma has appointed Amgen's John Tsai as head of global drug development and chief medical officer, succeeding Vas Narasimhan, who became CEO in February.
Novartis has also added three new members to its executive committee: the chief digital officer, the chief ethics, risk and compliance officer and the global head of Novartis technical operations.
Narasimhan is seeking reinforcement for his restructuring programme, FAZ writes.
In the first quarter of 2018, Novartis reported 12% higher drug sales to $8.4 billion and a 22% jump in profits to $2 billion. Total group sales grew 10% to $12.7 billion.

Sanofi sells generics business to Advent

Sanofi has sold its generics business to U.S. private equity firm Advent International for €1.9 billion, FAZ reported on Wednesday (p18) (APMHE 57713).
The transaction is part of Sanofi's "simplification and reorientation strategy" and should be completed by the end of 2018. CEO Olivier Brandicourt is concentrating the pharma's business on biotech. Sanofi has acquired two biotechs this year, Ablynx (APMHE 56633) and Bioverativ (APMHE 56520), for a total of $16 billion, the paper said.

Stada appoints new head of production and development

Generic drugmaker Stada appointed Novartis's Miguel Pagan as its head of production and development and as a member of the executive board, FAZ reported on Tuesday (p20) (APMHE 57717).
He succeeds Barthold Piening, who is leaving Stada.
Three additional appointments were announced: Biogen's head of Germany, Steffen Wagner is joining Stada as head of Europe; Pfizer's Carsten Cron will become Stada's head of emerging markets business; and Robert Knerr becomes head of business development.

EMA asks GSK to alert doctors about defective syringes

At the request of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), GlaxoSmithKline has alerted doctors to the risk of leakage associated with the syringes used for its vaccines, SZ reported on Wednesday (p16).
The problem was identified as early as 2015 and had been considered as minor by national regulatory bodies so far. The EMA only recently decided to send an alert.
The problem affects almost half of the company's product line including single and multiple vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, TBE, Hib and hepatitis A and B, the paper said.
GSK and the German regulatory body PEI said there is no risk to patients and it is not necessary to withdraw the defective products from the market. The manufacturing error was fixed in January, but syringes with a risk of leakage will still be issued until the end of 2019. About 26 in a million syringes are defective, it said.

Not enough commercial success for German biotech

Despite a huge effort, German biotechs are seeing too little commercial success, wrote Handelsblatt (p20-21) and FAZ (p19) on Tuesday (APMHE 57724).
Venture capital investment in the German biotech sector fell 6% to €201 million in 2017, according to a report from consulting firm Ernst & Young Deutschland (APMHE 57724).
The sector's dynamism is far from sufficient. Research spending declined slightly in 2017 and only eight new companies were founded.
According to EY, there are many new ideas from research, but far too few commercially successful innovations follow on.

Spahn makes splash in new health minister role

In his first few weeks as health minister, Jens Spahn has made it clear that he will not shed the bold public demeanour as an expert on many issues that has brought him so much success, SZ reported on Thursday (p7).
Spahn had until now presented himself primarily as an expert on poverty and unemployment benefits, EU reforms, border or internal security and Islam. This week, at a reception for the German Hospital Federation (DKG), he finally began speaking publicly about the intricacies of the complex health system, the paper said.
Spahn's priorities are becoming clearer as he narrows his focus to three key issues: parity in statutory health insurance contributions, more nurses in the elderly care programme and a fairer process for assigning specialist appointments. The minister clearly wants to score points with the voters, the paper said.

German health minister calls for cut in health insurance contributions

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has called on the public health insurance funds to cut social contributions, FAZ wrote on Monday (p17).
"Many health insurance companies have leeway to reduce contributions," Spahn said in an interview on Sunday.
Umbrella payer group GKV-Spitzenverband rejected the demand: "On 1 January, premiums were already reduced for over 12 million people insured with statutory health insurance," a spokesperson said.

Not enough competition between payers in Germany

The mediocre grades the German healthcare system gets in comparison with the European average are a result of weak competition between healthcare insurance providers, Die Welt reported on Tuesday (p10).
An editorial by the head of Germany's Centre for European Economic Research, Achim Wambach, said one problem is that insurees cannot switch back to the private system once they have left it. This weakens the private insurers because they have no incentive to try and get those customers back.
There is competition between statutory insurers (GKV), but it is mainly limited to premium competition and the GKV do not see any financial benefit in offering policyholders better service, the paper said.

Major health insurer Barmer appoints digitalisation head

Major German health insurer Barmer has appointed a former McKinsey consultant, Regine Vetters, as its first head of digitalisation, Die Welt reported on Saturday (p14).
Her job is above all to promote digitalisation and a more "digital-friendly" culture within Barmer, the paper said.
Her new department is also tasked with consulting digital healthcare start-ups. Funding from Barmer for such projects is "complicated" because legislators have not regulated market access for digital products, she told the paper. For this reason, Barmer must find loopholes to offer members coverage of popular apps and digital services, she said.



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