Press review

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Confusion over UK potentially staying in EU customs union to 2021

LONDON, 18 May (APM) - The UK could be set to remain part of the EU customs union until after 2021, buying time to find an alternative solution to a hard border in Ireland, The Telegraph and the Financial Times both said on Thursday, though there were some conflicting reports.
Any customs union extension could come as at least some consolation for the life sciences industry, which has repeatedly aired worries over trade borders which could lead to medicines shortages for both UK and European patients (APMHE 56635, APMHE 58130).
According to The Financial Times - citing government officials - prime minister Theresa May agreed the plan to remain tied to the customs union on Tuesday with her cabinet ministers, including Boris Johnson, one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign.
The same day, however, The Guardian asked Prime Minister Theresa May if she would be "climbing down" over membership of the customs unions based on these reports. Her reply was: “No, we are not [climbing down]. The United Kingdom will be leaving the customs union, we are leaving the European Union. Of course, we will be negotiating future customs arrangements with the European Union and I have set three objectives; the government has three objectives in those.
“We need to be able to have our own independent trade policy, we want as frictionless a border [as possible] between the UK and the EU so that trade can continue and we want to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
Downing Street sources had earlier dismissed reports that the Brexit war cabinet had agreed that the UK would have to stay in the customs union for an extended period if there is to be is no hard Irish border, The Guardian added.
Experts in the pharma industry have previously considered whether Northern Ireland could serve as a ‘land bridge’ between Europe and the UK to could help allay customs clogging (APMHE 57105).
On Thursday, MPs reporting from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee echoed the pharma industry's concerns over drug shortages, The Independent noted. Patients’ access to vital medicines is at risk unless the government secures a post-Brexit deal for the pharmaceutical industry that ensures the closest possible regulatory alignment with the EU, the paper said.
Failure to secure a deal that ensures the minimum possible friction at borders will damage the UK’s world-leading pharma sector, The Independent went on to say, adding that prices of vital drugs could “be significantly impacted” if the UK diverges from European Medicines Agency (EMA) regulations.
Meanwhile, on the same day, The Times' angle was that the EU has told Theresa May the UK will have to request an extension to the whole of the Brexit transition period, including added budget payments, if it needs more time to implement a long-term customs deal.
Senior British government figures have conceded that neither of the UK’s proposed options for a customs deal will be ready by the end of the implementation period in December 2020, it said. However, it claimed that EU negotiators in private discussions in Brussels have told the UK that they will not accept a temporary “pick and mix” extension to the present customs arrangements. They have insisted that the UK request an extension to the transition period in its entirety.

NHS England criticised for denying some patients access to Janssen’s Imbruvica for CLL

NHS England is under fire for denying access to Janssen’s Imbruvica (ibrutinib) to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), The Times said at the weekend.
The paper said the drug was recommended by NICE last year for routine NHS use in people who had relapsed after chemotherapy, but that NHS England has ruled it will pay for Imbruvica only to treat patients who have relapsed within three years. This could mean the drug is denied to an estimated 200 patients a year who have been in remission longer.
NHS England said that the three-year criterion had been imposed because the key trial of Imbruvica looked only at patients who had relapsed within this time, arguing that this was “in the spirit of the NICE recommendations”.
This view was criticised by Andrew Kaye, the head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support. He said: “Any rationale for adding extra conditions for how a cancer patient accesses treatment beyond what NICE recommend must be fully explained and backed by clinical evidence.”

AstraZeneca profits drop 47%, could face 'revolt' over Soriot's pay

AstraZeneca's core operating profit fell 47% to $896 million in the first quarter 2018 compared to the previous year, the Financial Times reports on Friday, but the company reassured investors that its plans remain on track.
Earnings per share dropped 51% to $0.48, well below the $0.60 analysts had expected, it added, citing Thomson Reuters. Total revenues dipped 4% in the first quarter compared to the same period last year — a 9% fall when exchange rate effects were stripped out, the FT said.
Product sales will be better towards the second half of the year, however, the company said, as newer medicines start to offset the impact of generic competition to its legacy Crestor statin.
Still, according to The Telegraph on Friday, AstraZeneca could be in for an investor "revolt" over chief executive Pascal Soriot’s £9.4m pay package.
It noted that Sarah Wilson, chief executive of investor advisory group Minerva, had told the BBC there were “plenty of aspects of AstraZeneca’s pay that are definitely cause for concern for many shareholders," including poor disclosure of targets, high pension contributions and the failure of top executives to acquire substantial shareholdings for themselves.

Opioid reputation management key for pharma investors

The Financial Times on Monday carried a feature on rising legal costs and reputational risks relating to opioid addiction for pharma companies, saying they are climbing in the list of engagement issues for investors in healthcare.
It highlighted a vote by members of the Investors for Opioid Accountability, a coalition of institutional investors with $2.2 trillion in assets, that called for information on how the board of drug distributor AmerisourceBergen is addressing business risks related to the opioid epidemic.
A similar resolution filed at Mallinckrodt was withdrawn in March after the company decided to divest its opioid business.
The FT quoted Andy Mason, responsible investment analyst at fund manager Aberdeen Standard Investments, who said: “There are four key areas we currently focus on in healthcare, and of those, the use of opiates is the main one right now.”

Stem cell injection could cure erectile dysfunction

An injection of stem cells could cure men of erectile dysfunction, The Sunday Times said.
The paper covered research by the Danish Centre for Regenerative Medicine which found that injecting 20 million stem cells into the base of the penis could reinvigorate the nerves and blood vessels.
Professor Soren Sheikh and his team have successfully treated eight men in an early trial and are awaiting results for another 12 treated as part of a trial of 70 men.

NHS needs to improve uptake of drugs, says Pfizer’s UK managing director

The Sunday Times carried an interview with Pfizer’s UK managing director Erik Nordkamp, who discussed slow uptake of drugs on the NHS.
“This is one of the things that, personally, I’m sad about: that patients in the UK have to wait longer to get access to innovative medicine,” he said.
He said the lack of willingness for the UK to pay for innovative new products is sending the wrong message to the boards of pharma companies that might want to invest in the UK.
“There is a clear relationship between the ability of the UK to attract investment and showing that it wants to use that innovative output of that investment in the UK for its own patients.”

Swiss prosecutors looking at Novartis payments to Trump’s lawyer

The Swiss attorney general’s office in Bern has “taken note” of reports that Novartis made $1.2 million in payments to the lawyer of U.S. president Donald Trump, the FT said on Monday.
The paper said the Bern officials are in contact with prosecutors in Basel, where Novartis is headquartered. Criminal proceedings have not been opened, however.

Novartis’s top lawyer leaves due to links with Trump lawyer payment

Novartis’s general counsel Felix Ehrat has left the company after it was revealed he was involved in a $1.2 million deal with U.S. president Donald Trump’s personal attorney, the FT said on Wednesday.
Ehrat said he would “take personal responsibility” for the agreement with Michael Cohen’s Essential Consultants, which he signed with Joe Jimenez, then Novartis chief executive.

Some UK cancer patients waiting 'well over a year' for treatment

Some cancer patients wait well over a year for treatment after being referred by their GP, according to the Daily Mail on Friday.
It cites hospitals that provided figures for a Freedom of Information request filed by the Labour party. Of those, two thirds - 58 out of 88 trusts - said at least one patient had waited more than six months, it said.
The Labour party accused the government of losing control of cancer treatment, according to the paper.
However, it pointed out that the hospitals concerned had said some of these patients had not intended to have treatment. Some were on care plans in which they were scanned, only being treated once tumours grew or spread.
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