PARIS, June 8 (APM) - AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot said in a Thursday interview published in Les Echos (p19) that France should set up a systematic screening campaign for lung cancer, similar to that for breast cancer.
"Not necessarily for the whole population, but for groups that are at risk, like smokers and former smokers," he said.
"This would provide better results in treating those cancers at an earlier stage, and this could be totally profitable for the healthcare system," he added.
He said the company was ready to carry out a cost-effectiveness study to prove this.
Questioned about the company's capacity to gain a significant presence in lung cancer, where AstraZeneca is not currently among the leaders, he said the company had "several cards to play" in order to do this.
"In late-stage cancers, we are indeed behind Roche and Merck, but we need to try something different," he told Les Echos.
"This is why we are betting on the combination of two immunotherapies, durvalumab (Imfinzi) and tremelimumab, with Phase III clinical results that should be published at the end of 2018," he noted.
"We also have another card to play with Imfinzi in combination with chemotherapy, like Roche and Merck did with Tecentriq and Keytruda respectively.
"And we are following other tracks" in earlier stages of the disease, he concluded.
Merck & Co and Roche ahead in immunotherapy market
Thursday’s Les Echos (p19) published an article saying it is now "impossible for pharmaceutical companies to perform well in the cancer market" without being present in immunotherapy.
In this field, Roche and Merck & Co have taken the lead, continued Les Echos, and the announcements made at the ASCO meeting have also shown the market is now focusing on combinations.
"This is the era of combinations, in order to increase the number of eligible patients or to increase the efficacy of treatments," Aurélien Marabelle, in charge of immunotherapy programmes at the Gustave Roussy cancer institute, told the newspaper.
But this "new step" has also seen companies face failures, noted Les Echos, saying that Merck and Roche had had to suspend recruitment in Phase III trials comparing the efficacy of immunotherapy alone versus chemotherapy in bladder cancer.
Immunotherapies were not able to show benefit in colon cancer either, due to toxicity issues.
But overall, Merck & Co is leading the race, and "intends to increase its advantage," continued Les Echos, with no less than 800 clinical trials and most of its $7.5 billion dollars R&D budget spent on immunotherapy.
Roche is also making huge efforts in the field, using "the depth of its pipeline to increase the number of combinations".
For others the way is more difficult, with AstraZeneca betting on earlier stages of cancer and Pfizer on targets that are not used by the leading companies.
In the meantime, "Bristol-Myers Squibb may seem to have been forgotten," wrote Les Echos, pointing out that the company had a hard time recovering from the failure of Opdivo in lung cancer in 2016.
Columnist judges medicines reimbursement rates should be simplified
In an op-ed published on Monday, Les Echos’ Editor-in-chief Thierry Lefebvre wrote that France should eliminate the 15% reimbursement rate from the healthcare system, which he said should be simplified.
"The delisting of Alzheimer treatments from reimbursement illustrates the complexity of the evaluation and pricing of medicines and shows it has to be simplified," he wrote.
The products were reimbursed at 15%, but were in fact taken care of at 100% by the French social security through the reimbursement programme for chronic diseases, although their efficacy was judged to be "weak", he pointed out.
"This is a vibrant example of the weaknesses in the healthcare system and its inconsistencies," he said, noting that four reimbursement rates exist in France (15%, 30%, 65% and 100%).
He said official reports have already proposed simplification with use of a single reimbursement rate of 60%, like in most other European countries.
"Removing the 15% rate, initiated in 2010 to make savings on inefficient medicines without having to face a scandal over drug delisting, would be a good thing, and the delisting of Alzheimer medicines offers a good opportunity to do so," he concluded.
Healthcare budget deficit at historic low
Wednesday’s Les Echos (p2) and Le Figaro (p19) reported that the deficit of the French healthcare budget should reach a historic low in 2018, according to official figures.
The deficit is expected to be around €500 million, even lower than the prediction set in the last healthcare budget law in 2017.
This is a major advance, noted both newspapers, as the deficit was €4.9 billion in 2017.
NASH biotech Enyo raises €40 million
French biotech Enyo Pharma has raised €40 million in a new financing round, reported Les Echos (25) on Tuesday.
The company will use the proceeds to advance the development of its portfolio of small molecules against nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
Its most advanced compound, EYP001, is currently in Phase I in a trial that is expected to finish in the third quarter of 2018.
This financing round gives the company visibility until mid-2020 and will also give it the ability to launch Phase II studies in November.
Merck KGaA loses appeal on Levothyrox
On Friday, Le Parisien (website) notes that an appeals court has ruled that Merck KGaA must comply with an earlier decision obliging it to supply the former formulation of its thyroid disorder treatment Levothyrox to a group of 32 patients.
The company announced that it has decided to take the case to a higher court, "in light of inconsistencies" in the appeals court decision.
Immunotherapy as effective as surgery in kidney cancer
Tuesday’s Le Figaro (p11) reported on the results of an academic study published in NEJM showing that treatment with sunitinib (Sutent, Pfizer) proved as effective as kidney removal in patients with metastatic kidney cancer.