Press review

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French pharmas struggle to innovate in vaccines

Country : France

Keywords :
PARIS, 20 Apr (APM) - Vaccines manufacturers are struggling to deliver innovations amid increasingly higher development costs, noted Les Echos (p16) on Tuesday.
According to the newspaper, pharma companies in France are facing an “innovation breakdown”, it said, citing Sanofi’s recent debacle with dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
“This failure had scientific, political and internal causes,” wrote Les Echos, adding that this shows how difficult, risky and costly it is for companies to develop new vaccines.
“Few vaccines are blockbuster material, which makes it difficult to find candidates that can allow the company to make profits out of their investments,” it continued.
The article said there are already vaccines for most infectious diseases, and the remaining ones, like HIV or tuberculosis, “are far too complex for now, scientifically speaking”.
Thomas Liegelbach, chairman and CEO of biotech Valvena, noted that most new products are either “me-too” second-generation vaccines or combinations.
In order to find its place in this landscape, this company decided to target niche markets, and is trying to develop vaccines against Lyme disease, Zika virus and Chikungunya.
Valvena is also targeting the tourist market, which is said to be more profitable than products for local populations.
The company has however not forgotten the latter, but addresses them through licensing deals signed with low-cost manufacturers, in India for example.
However, for big pharmas like Sanofi or GlaxoSmithKline, “it is hard to leave the highway”.
The two have only three vaccine projects out of more than 10 targeting new pathogens, against RSV and herpes for the former, and RSV, rotavirus and COPD for the latter.

French patients seek old-style Levothyrox abroad

On Friday, Le Parisien (p2) reports that French patients who used to take Levothyrox thyroid treatment are hunting for the old formulation “everywhere in Europe”, in order to prepare for when it ceases to be available in France.
The newspaper noted that Merck KGaA had been obliged by the courts to resupply certain patients with the old formulation, but most of those who no longer trust the new formulation in the wake of the scandal surrounding it do not hesitate to travel to other European countries to find it.
According to the newspaper, patients travel to Belgium, Spain, Germany, or even Algeria, Greece and Turkey to get the product from local pharmacies.
Some others who cannot travel order it by Internet.
Le Parisien warned that the European option will soon no longer be possible, as Merck is slowly phasing out the former formulation everywhere in Europe.

Keytruda positive in lung cancer

Wednesday’s Les Echos (p18) reported on Merck & Co’s positive Phase III results with Keytruda (pembrolizumab) in lung cancer (APMHE 57707).
The newspaper judged those results, which showed the drug’s efficacy in association with chemotherapy even in patients whose tumours do not express its specific biomarker, “places the bar very high for competitors like Roche”.
It noted the Swiss giant is currently carrying out similar clinical trials, but Merck could be the first to get an approval in this indication, which could double the number of eligible patients to around 11,000 in France.

Servier buys Shire’s oncology business

Most of Tuesday’s French newspapers saluted Servier’s announcement of its acquisition of Shire’s oncology business for €1.9 billion (Les Echos p16, Le Figaro p24, Le Monde brief p4).
Le Figaro noted that the deal allows the French pharma to “set foot in the U.S.”, and to complete its cancer drug portfolio, while also signing the largest acquisition in its history.
The newspaper also noted that the deal was signed at a price of nine times the annual sales of the acquired business.
For Les Echos, the operation is a "two-in-one", and will further reinforce Servier’s R&D portfolio in oncology, with two collaborations with startup companies focused on immuno-oncology.
The newspaper also pointed out that Servier does not exclude further acquisitions and partnerships after this bold move.
It also noted that Takeda is still mulling a takeover offer despite Shire's opposition to one (APMHE 57767).

Procter & Gamble acquires Merck KGaA’s consumer health business

On Friday, Les Echos (p17) and Le Figaro (p22) report on Procter & Gamble’s acquisition of Merck KGaA’s consumer health business for € 3.4 billion.
Les Echos underlines that the operation will reinforce P&G’s presence abroad, as the American group is facing challenges, notably with the drop in sales of its Gillette shavers.
It also notes that the deal will allow Merck to reinforce its other branches, notably to invest more in prescription medicines R&D.
The two newspapers mention that Reckitt Benckiser, as well as Nestlé, had for a while been interested in buying the business, before abandoning the idea.

Sanofi sells European generics business to investment fund Advent

Also on Tuesday, Les Echos (brief p16) and Le Monde (brief p4) briefly noted that Sanofi sold its European generics business Zentiva to Investment fund Advent International for €2 billion (APMHE 57713).
On the same day, Le Figaro (brief p24) noted that Sanofi has also sold 12 non-strategic pharmaceutical brands to private equity group Charterhouse Capital Partners' Cooper-Vemedia drugs manufacturing arm (APMHE 57695).

Novartis invests $100 million in research against malaria

Novartis has decide to invest $ 100 millions in the development of new malaria treatments, shortly reported Les Echos (brief p14) on Wednesday (APMHE 57732).

Martin Dubuc named Chairman and CEO of Biogen France

Monday’s Les Echos (p29) announced the appointment of Martin Dubuc as Chairman and CEO of Biogen France.
Dubuc was previously client innovation and global operational excellence vice-president of the company. He replaces David Setboun, who had held the position since 2015.
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