Press review

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Pharma industry 'addicted to acquisitions' - Le Monde

PARIS, 11 Jan (APM) - With Bristol-Myers Squibb buying Celgene, Takeda finalising its takeover of Shire and Lilly buying Loxo Oncology, the pharma industry has shown it has an ever-growing appetite for acquisitions, said Le Monde Economie & Entreprise on Wednesday (p.1).
The paper said acquisitions and sell-offs are becoming an integral part of pharma companies’ strategy for two reasons. First, ever-changing healthcare priorities: from devastating diseases pre-war to cardiovascular diseases post-war and now chronic long-term diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Keeping up requires extensive investment in R&D, and it is faster and cheaper to buy other companies which already have products than to make this investment.
The second reason is pressure for lower drug prices, which healthcare authorities are calling for as people live longer, treatments become more complex and healthcare budgets are restricted. As a result, larger pharma companies are specialising in particular areas to increase their negotiation power.

Lilly buys Loxo for $8 billion

Lilly has bought biotech Loxo Oncology for $8 billion, Le Figaro reported on Tuesday (p.19) (APMHE 61318). Lilly is paying $235 per share, resulting in a 68% bonus for Loxo’s shareholders in Lilly's biggest ever transaction. With this acquisition, Lilly gets access to Loxo’s portfolio of drugs which target patients with genetic mutations. This comes a week after Bristol-Myers Squibb announced it was buying Celgene (APMHE 61277).
One of Loxo’s drugs, Vitrakvi, was developed in partnership with Bayer, and is already marketed in the U.S. to treat some tumours with rare genetic abnormalities, reported Les Echos in a brief on Tuesday (p.16). Analysts say Vitrakvi will have sales of $200 million in 2019 and $1.4 billion in 2023.

Lilly to cut 250 jobs

Lilly is intending to cut 250 jobs, reported Le Figaro on Wednesday (p.24). The jobs will be cut at the pharma’s site in Fergersheim in Alsace in eastern France. At the same time, the company is planning to invest €100 million in the factory to modernise it (APMHE 61352).
The factory currently has 1,400 employees, reported Le Monde Economie & Entreprise in a brief on the same topic on Thursday (p.5). The cuts will be made through voluntary retirement and early retirement.
The factory is Lilly’s biggest production site outside of the U.S. and manufactures, fills and assembles injectable drugs (insulin, parathyroid hormone, growth hormone etc.), reported Les Echos on Thursday (p.20). The job cuts and investment make up a “transformation plan” which aims to respond to the challenge of “connected medicine” by providing the factory with new connected products, especially for diabetes treatment.
The factory will also be automatised, reports Le Figaro on Friday (p.22), adding that 25 posts will be created to provide the site with new skills. Lilly France is the fourth biggest arm of the Lilly group, which has sales of $21.8 billion and announced nine social restructuring plans last year, affecting 1,500 posts.
The pharma has justified the latest cuts saying that “constant pressure on prices means [we] have to reduce production costs” and “increasing competition that is affecting production volumes”.

Sanofi revises R&D agreement with Regeneron

Sanofi has revised its R&D agreement with Regeneron, Les Echos reported on Tuesday (p.19). The agreement now focuses on two bispecific antibodies (BCMA-CD3 and MUC16-CD3), which Sanofi can opt into once they have been proved effective. In this case, Sanofi will pay up to $70 million to develop the first drug, half of which will be reimbursed by Regeneron via potential sales.
Sanofi will manage development and marketing, the paper continued, and the profits will be spilt 50/50. If Sanofi opts in for the second drug, it will spend up to $50 million, but Regeneron will manage development and marketing in the U.S. Profits will be spilt 50/50 (APMHE 61315).

High temporary prices for Gilead and Novartis’ CAR-T therapies

High temporary prices have been set for Gilead and Novartis’ new therapies Yescarta and Kymriah in France, Les Echos reported on Wednesday (p.4). Yescarta (axicabtagene-ciloleucel) will cost €350,000 and Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel)€320,000, and they will be completely covered by France’s health insurance.
These prices are close to the U.S. prices, the economic daily continued. However, the therapies’ target populations are very small, with only two or three patients treated since 2018 and several dozen potentially eligible for treatment in 2019.
The paper emphasised that these are temporary prices in place until a definitive price has been negotiated by the French healthcare pricing committee. If the final price is lower than the temporary one, Gilead and Novartis will have to pay back the difference (APMHE 61241).

New head of Pfizer announces battle plan

Pfizer’s new chief, Albert Bourla, has said that although Pfizer could buy any company, he currently wants to concentrate investment on internal pipeline products, reported Les Echos on Wednesday (p.18) (APMHE 61332). Bourla was talking in public for the first time since taking over from Ian Read as CEO.
Bourla believes Pfizer is entering a new era after a difficult period when the patents for several key products - including Viagra (sildenafil), Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Celebrex (celecoxib) - expired. Bourla said the company is now concentrating on R&D and refocusing its efforts in six therapeutic areas: oncology, rare diseases and vaccines.
Pfizer has 15 blockbusters in the pipeline, which could bring in more than $1 billion in sales. These blockbusters include Xalkori (crizotinib) for relapsed lung cancer patients and tafamidis in amyloidotic cardiomyopathy.

Pharmas on the attack in the U.S. regarding drug prices

Pharma companies are shifting the blame for high drug prices in the U.S. away from themselves, reported Les Echos on Thursday (p.20). U.S. drug prices increased on 1 January as normal, but the increases were lower than usual (e.g. the price of AbbVie’s Humira increased by 6.2%) in the hope of avoiding the anger of U.S. president Donald Trump.
However, pharma companies say that they are not at fault for the high prices patients pay, but are just easy targets. The pharma industry say that the intermediaries between patients and pharma companies are at fault, by not passing on the beneficial rates negotiated with pharma companies. U.S. insurance companies do not have to publicly publish their margins, the paper continued (APMHE 61161).

French pharma Seqens repositioning itself on the drugs market

French pharma Seqens - formerly Novacap - is repositioning itself on the drugs market after doubling in size over the past decade, reported Le Figaro on Monday (p.25).
Seqens grew after numerous acquisitions and now has sales of around €1 billion. Half of the company’s sales come from providing subcontracting services for international pharma such as Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and Pfizer, as well as start-ups.
Seqens has a portfolio of around 60 active ingredients with which it manufactures several hundred drugs.

Families file lawsuit following chemo allergies

Four families whose relatives were victims of chemotherapy allergy are filing a lawsuit, reported Le Parisien on Monday (p.14). The families are suing the authorities for not having recommended sooner a test that would have detected that their family members were allergic to Mylan’s oral version of the 5-FU chemotherapy drug, capecitabine.
The drug is very commonly used in France but can prove toxic for some patients. There are two tests to check whether a patient is sensitive to capecitabine, but they are rarely carried out, even though they are recommended by France’s health technology assessment board, HAS.

Migraine discovery could lead to treatment

French scientists have discovered a gene mutation that causes migraines, which raises hopes that a treatment might be found for this disease that affects 15% of the world’s population, reported Les Echos on Monday (p.11).
Up until now migraines have remained a mystery for neuroscientists, who knew only that they can be hereditary and are linked to neuron hyperexcitability. The French researchers hope that by targeting a dysfunctional protein linked to the gene mutation it might be possible to stop migraines.
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