Press review

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UK government looking to secure third contract for drug storage in a case of ‘no-deal’ Brexit

LONDON, 11 Jan (APM) - The UK government is looking to secure a third contract for warehouse space to store drugs in the case of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, which would lead to border delays, the Guardian says on Friday.
Following queries by the paper, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that two contracts for warehousing had been signed shortly before Christmas and a third is expected to be signed “in the very near future”. It is understood officials hope this will be in the coming days or weeks.
The total cost is in the region of £10 million, the paper says. The DHSC, which has been criticised for the secrecy of its Brexit contracts, said it would publish the names of successful contractors when the tender process is complete and all contracts have been signed.

UK epilepsy patients exempted from Brexit drug shortage plans

The UK government has pledged to exempt 600,000 patients with epilepsy from its plans for post-Brexit alternative medicine supplies, said The Sunday Times.
The Department of Health and Social Care is proposing to give pharmacists powers to dispense alternative drugs if those prescribed by GPs are in short supply after the UK leaves the EU.
But this will not apply to epilepsy patients after the heads of patient groups raised concerns that changing medication would raise the risk of seizures, leading to deaths.

Long-term plan for NHS England

The UK government’s long-term plans for the NHS in England were widely reported on Monday.
The 10-year plan, which includes sequencing the genetic code of all children with cancer, aims to save more than 80,000 lives a year.
Other commitments include mental health treatment for 345,000 more children and young adults; artificial intelligence to guide brain scans in stroke patients; detection of inherited high cholesterol through genetic tests for 30,000; appointment booking on smartphones through a “digital front door” to surgeries; better detection of breathing problems and “smart inhalers” that monitor patients’ conditions.
The plan will be funded by a previously agreed extra £20 billion per year for the NHS.
However, The Times said that the Nuffield Trust think-tank has warned that the NHS will be still be short of funds because of pay rises and growing patient numbers.
The Daily Mail quoted chancellor Philip Hammond, who warned that the health service must drastically improve efficiency to ensure the cash is not wasted.

Novartis’ migraine drug too expensive for NHS use

Novartis’ migraine treatment Aimovig (erenumab) is too expensive for routine use on the National Health Service (NHS) in England and Wales, The Times reported on Thursday.
The paper covered draft guidance by HTA body NICE that did not recommend the drug, which has a list price of £5,000 per year. This is despite Novartis offering a confidential discount (APMHE 61362).
The article quoted Wendy Thomas, of the Migraine Trust, who said that the decision was “devastating”.

MPs critical of NHS ‘cultural block’ over medical cannabis

UK MPs say there is a “serious cultural block within the NHS around medical cannabis”, according to Monday’s Guardian.
The criticism comes after it emerged that the family of the first child to be prescribed medical cannabis after its legalisation must pay almost £10,000 a year to access the privately prescribed medicine, said the paper.
It referenced the all-party parliamentary group for medical cannabis, which condemned the workings of the current licensing regime, saying this cannot have been what the government envisaged when they legalised medical cannabis in November.

Criticism as pharma exec behind price gouging receives OBE

The Times on Monday reported on an OBE being granted to Vijay Patel, a pharmaceutical executive who exploited a loophole in health service rules to increase the price of old medicines for which his company was the sole supplier by up to 2,500%.
The firm, Atnahs, raised the price of a packet of antidepressants from £5.71 to £154, said the paper. An insomnia treatment now costs more than £138 instead of £12.10.
The paper said the decision to grant Patel an OBE in the New Year’s honours list has prompted an outcry from doctors and pharmacists.
Jon Trickett, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “It is an outrage that someone can be honoured for business and philanthropy when they have allegedly taken money out of our NHS through loopholes in the rules.”

Controversy over AZN’s new head of cancer R&D

AstraZeneca’s decision to hire controversial oncologist Dr José Baselga as head of its new oncology R&D unit was picked up on Monday by both the FT and The Times.
The papers both highlighted Baselga’s resignation from his role as chief medical officer of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York and from the board of Bristol-Myers Squibb last September after failing to disclose millions of dollars in payments from the pharma industry.
The FT quoted AZN’s CEO Pascal Soriot, who defended the appointment, saying the company had “made sure we did our homework and that we could feel comfortable, including our board and our chief compliance officer, that there was nothing here that was problematic”.
The Times quoted Baselga, who said: “I have accepted that I failed to make the appropriate disclosures in a number of articles, and I have corrected them.”

Lilly to buy Loxo for $8 billion

Eli Lilly has agreed to buy Loxo Oncology for $8 billion, the FT and The Times said on Tuesday. (APMHE 61318)
The Times said the deal offers a 68% premium for Connecticut-based Loxo, which specialises in developing cancer treatments. It makes selective drugs that target cancers linked to single-gene abnormalities, said the paper.
Both papers highlighted the fact that the deal is the latest in a series of multibillion-dollar pharma deals in cancer following BMS’s agreement to buy Celgene and GSK’s takeover of Tesaro.

Takeda completes £46 billion Shire acquisition

Takeda has completed its £46 billion acquisition of Shire, said the FT on Tuesday.
The completion of the deal comes despite opposition from founding family members of Japan-based Takeda who are concerned about the debt acquired.

Biotech deal-making on increase

The FT on Friday carries a feature on the growing number of large deals in the biotech space, saying that large pharma companies are turning to the sector in growing numbers to replenish drug pipelines.
The paper says that in the past month large pharmas have made deals worth more than $100 billion to boost their businesses. These include GSK’s $5.1 billion acquisition of Tesaro, BMS acquiring Celgene for $90 billion and Eli Lilly buying Loxo Oncology for $8 billion.
This increase in dealmaking has coincided with a drop in biotech stocks, said the paper, noting that lower valuations for many companies have made them more attractive to prospective buyers.

Sanofi and Novo increase U.S. insulin prices

Sanofi and Novo Nordisk have both raised the prices of insulin in the U.S. despite political pressure on high drug prices, the FT said on Thursday.
The paper said Sanofi increased the rice of its three main insulin products by between 4.4% and 5.2% last week and that Novo increased its prices by just under 5%. This puts the list prices of these products at between $300 and $400.

Norwegian pharma Vistin shuts down oil business

Norwegian pharma company Vistin Pharma is shutting down an oil trading business it launched last year due to wild swings in the oil markets, the FT said on Tuesday.
The paper said the company’s ambition had been to develop a diversified business that could cash in on changes affecting the oil industry, but that the new unit was hit by losses after shifts in the market.
Vistin specialises in producing metformin for type 2 diabetes.

Dasatinib combo could fight ageing process

The Times on Tuesday covered study results that show a drug could help fight the ageing process.
The treatment, known as DQ, contains the active ingredients dasatinib and quercetin. Dasatinib is already approved as Sprycel as a treatment for cancer. It is marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka. Quercetin is a common plant pigment found red wine, onions, green tea, apples, berries, Ginkgo biloba and St John’s Wort.
The combination is designed to target senescent cells, which are cells that are too damaged to carry out normal functions but are not dead so are not cleared out of the body. They are linked to ageing symptoms such as frailty and arthritis, as well as diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
A three-week trial of the drug on 14 pensioners showed that participants were able to walk faster, get up from a chair more quickly and score better in ability tests.
The paper quoted senior study author Dr James Kirkland, of the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, who said: “This is like a glimmer that it might actually work. The results were impressive. All 14 got better in their functional ability.”

Statins could help treat mental health conditions

The Times on Thursday reported on a study that found statins could be repurposed to treat serious mental illness.
Research involving more than 140,000 patients with conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia found that when they took the cholesterol-lowering drugs they were less likely to be hospitalised or to self-harm, said the paper.
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