Press review

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Report slams ‘fundamentally broken’ pharma industry

LONDON, 19 Oct (APM) - The Times on Monday covered a report by academics that slams a “fundamentally broken” drug industry which ignores the most urgent health problems to prioritise profits to shareholders.
The report, led by Professor Mariana Mazzucato of University College London, claims that pharma companies are making billions of dollars from drugs discovered thanks to government funding but that more than half the new medicines approved in recent years offered no additional medical benefit. (APMHE 60145)
It also says drug companies are ignoring global killers such as tuberculosis.
Mazzucato said: “The NHS is a huge buyer of drugs and the UK government is a significant investor in the development of new treatments, yet big pharmaceutical companies are calling the shots.”
The Times also carried an opinion piece from Mazzucato in which she says the health innovation system “is not serving the people that fund it; instead it provides monopoly profits for large pharmaceutical companies”.

Companies planning to launch Humira biosimilars

The FT at the weekend reported on several companies that are looking to launch biosimilar versions of AbbVie’s Humira (adalimumab), the world’s best-selling prescription drug, once its patent expires in Europe this week.
Companies lining up their own products after gaining approval in the region include Japan’s Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics, which has granted Mylan an exclusive licence to commercialise Hulio in Europe; Amgen; Sandoz; Biogen; and Samsung Bioepis.
Boehringer Ingelheim also has a biosimilar but remains in patent litigation with AbbVie and has no plans for a European launch. (APMHE 60143)

NHS could save £150 million from Humira copycat

Meanwhile, NHS chief Simon Stevens has told hospitals they could generate savings of up to £150 million per year from Humira's patent expiry (APMHE 60176), according to The Mirror on Monday and The Times on Thursday.
Humira cost the NHS more than £400 million last year and is prescribed to more than 46,000 patients, according to The Times' report. The health service is planning to increase the uptake of biosimilars in general in an attempt to save up to £300 million a year by 2021.

Doctors slam lack of UK reimbursement for Spinraza

Doctors have said it is a “scandal” that Biogen's spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) drug Spinraza is still not approved for NHS use despite it winning the $3 million annual Breakthrough prize, The Times reported on Thursday.
It said the award, sponsored by Silicon Valley billionaires including Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner, is the world's largest scientific prize.
NICE rejected the drug for routine NHS commissioning in August draft guidance after deciding the cost of the treatment was too high and the evidence of long-term benefits too low (APMHE 59305).
The health technology assessor said that cost-effectiveness estimates for Spinraza ranged between £400,000 and £600,000 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY) gained, well above NICE's standard £30,000 per QALY threshold.
Spinraza is approved for use in most health services, The Times wrote.
About one in 10,000 children is born with the most severe form of SMA, which causes muscle-wasting that will kill most before their first birthday, the paper added.
Spinraza uses a technology called antisense, altering the way that the faulty genetic message is processed so that more protein is produced and the function of nerve cells is restored.
“It’s the beginning of a revolution in complex neurological genetic diseases that were untreatable. This is a new era of medicine. One way or another we need to find a way to give it to patients," The Times quoted Professor Kevin Talbot, of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Oxford University, as saying.
“We are the last developed nation to license this; that is unthinkable.”
It went on to quote Adrian Krainer, from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York - who shared the Breakthrough prize with Frank Bennett, head of research at Spinraza's original developer Ionis Pharmaceuticals in California.
Professor Krainer said that while drug approval was a “charged topic”, any delays in Britain would affect patients for the rest of their lives.
“They should keep in mind that this is the only approved treatment, patients are deteriorating without it. While there are discussions, patients are waiting and deteriorating and dying.”

AI aiding drug discovery

The Sunday Telegraph carried a feature on UK companies' use of artificial intelligence (AI) to aid drug discovery.
It spoke to C4X Discovery, which it describes as pioneers of a new field in drug discovery that combines science with the sort of virtual reality technology typically associated with gaming.
Using a headset and hand controls, researchers can access a database of virtual molecules to pull and twist to see how they fit together, potentially allowing scientists to discover medicines in a fraction of the time it takes today.
The paper also spoke to Exscientia, a company that uses computer algorithms to discover new drug molecules.
Chief executive Andrew Hopkins said: “Britain is ahead of Silicon Valley and Boston. We have been leading the scene. Boston is the world capital of biotech, but we are creating a new phase: AI-driven pharma.”

China hands record fine to maker of faulty vaccines

Chinese vaccine-maker Changsheng Biotech has been hit with penalties totalling more than $1.3 billion after the company falsified data in the production of rabies vaccines, the FT reported on Wednesday.
Police detained Changsheng chairwoman Gao Junfang in July after regulators said that the company had distributed hundreds of thousands of substandard rabies and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccines to medical centres.

Novartis to buy Endocyte for $2.1 billion

Swiss drugmaker Novartis has announced a $2.1 billion deal to acquire U.S. radiotherapy specialist Endocyte (APMHE 60194) in its latest move away from high-volume drug production towards innovative and personalised medicines, the FT reported on Thursday.
The acquisition of Endocyte, a company specialising in prostate cancer therapies, came as Novartis announced a 6% increase to $12.8 billion in net sales in the three months to the end of September in constant currencies (APMHE 60196), and revised its guidance for full-year sales upwards.
Novartis said the Endocyte acquisition would strengthen its capabilities in radiopharmaceuticals, which it expected to be a “key growth driver” for its business, the FT reported.

Amgen pays £50 million for small piece of Oxford Nanopore

Amgen has paid £50 million for a 3% stake in UK-based gene-reading company Oxford Nanopore, the FT reported on Thursday. The deal values Oxford Nanopore at £1.5 billion.
The paper said the California-based biotech is the first big user of DNA sequencing machines to invest in Nanopore.
Amgen’s subsidiary deCode Genetics, which searches through human genomes for causes of disease that could lead to new drugs, is already an enthusiastic customer, the FT cited its founder Kári Stefánsson as saying.
He said the technology “creates a window into parts of the genome that have been out of reach, as well as giving us a much better handle on structural variants that confer risk of a wide variety of diseases”.
“We have used Oxford Nanopore technology to sequence several hundred human genomes and continue to see the promise of this emerging technology,” he added.
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