Press review

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AstraZeneca's CEO Soriot pockets £11.4 million despite investor backlash over pay

LONDON, 8 Mar (APM) - The CEO of AstraZeneca took home £11.4 million last year - a 9% increase - despite an ongoing shareholder revolt over his pay, The Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday.
Pascal Soriot’s total pay included a £1.9 million annual bonus and £7.7 million of shares issued under a long-term incentive scheme, said the paper.
He will be awarded with a potential maximum £10 million for 2019, which includes a 3% increase in salary to £1.3 million, an annual bonus and long-term share awards that dependent on financial targets.
The pharma also unveiled that he earns 160 times the average employee’s salary.
The pay hike comes after AZN faced investor backlash over executive remuneration for two consecutive years.

Vertex pays no corporation tax in UK

Vertex Pharmaceuticals, the pharma company that has been locked in a dispute with the NHS over the high price it wants for a cystic fibrosis medicine, has paid almost no UK corporation tax for the past five years, both the Guardian and the Daily Mail said on Wednesday.
The company declared an operating loss in the UK for 2017 after paying its profitable U.S. parent company to manufacture the drugs, said the Guardian. It also received £7 million in tax credits from the UK government for investing in research and development.
Vertex and NHS England are in stalemate over Orkambi, which is one of the first to treat the underlying genetic causes of cystic fibrosis. NHS England says Orkambi is not cost-effective and the bill to provide it would be unaffordable. There are 10,400 cystic fibrosis patients in England, of whom 40% are thought to be suitable for the drug.
The Guardian quoted Robert Finlay, whose seven-year-old daughter is suitable for Orkambi. He said: “I’m sure what they are doing must be legally acceptable under the tax rules, but it seems to me it is completely ethically unacceptable. It seems to me it is more proof, if it is needed, that this company’s moral compass has fallen off.”

NHS medical director questions moral compass of Vertex

The ongoing access debate for Orkambi is covered by both the Guardian and The Times on Friday as Vertex officials made an appearance before the government's health select committee.
Professor Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, said: "It feels to me that unlike other companies who are willing to submit evidence through a fair process and work on the basis of that, that they have come at this with a particular price in mind and their strategy is to try and get those processes modified to meet that price expectation.”
He added that doctors “all hold a moral compass which relates to why we went into medicine to do the very best for our patients".
The paper reports that Jeffrey Leiden, who earns $17 million a year as chief executive of Vertex, the drug’s manufacturer, will meet Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, on Monday.
The Guardian focuses on comments in the committee hearing that Leiden might be “a political minion for President Trump”, who has accused the UK of “freeloading” by refusing to pay the high prices U.S. drug companies charge in the U.S.
Leiden said it was “a much more complicated issue” than that, denying there was a political aspect to two years of fruitless negotiations.
He added that: “Vertex does not spend one penny and will not spend one penny on direct-to-consumer advertising.”

U.S. pharma firms could charge UK more for drugs under trade deal plans

U.S. pharma firms would be able to charge NHS more for drugs under president Donald Trump’s trade plan in the case of Brexit, campaigners claim, the Guardian said at the weekend.
The paper said that the People’s Vote campaign, which wants a second referendum, highlighted a line that says a U.S. negotiating objective will be to:
“Seek standards to ensure that government regulatory reimbursement regimes are transparent, provide procedural fairness, are nondiscriminatory, and provide full market access for U.S. products.”
People’s Vote says this means the U.S. wants to remove rules that limit what U.S. drug companies can charge the NHS.
Labour MP Jo Stevens said: “Donald Trump’s administration has now made it clear just what it will be demanding from the UK in return for a trade deal - and one of those things is that we let big US companies run riot in the NHS.”

720,000 more people to be eligible for statins in UK

Hundreds of thousands more people in the UK are to be offered blood pressure drugs to cut the toll of heart attacks and strokes, the Daily Mail says on Friday.
The paper reports the threshold at which the drugs can be prescribed is to be lowered, according to draft plan published today by NICE. The move could make an additional 720,000 people eligible for daily pills.

Charities say Brexit contingency plans for drugs access in Scotland must be published

Contingency plans for medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit must be published in full by the Scottish government to avert the risk of “avoidable deaths”, health charities have warned, the Times said on Tuesday.
Diabetes Scotland, Epilepsy Scotland, Marie Curie Scotland and the MS Society have called on ministers to disclose plans to avoid disruption, said the paper. Angela Mitchell, national director of Diabetes Scotland, said on behalf of the four charities: “People are telling us how anxious and concerned they are.
“Insulin, for example, is a daily life-saving necessity for thousands of people with diabetes, and any delay or interruption to access would be dangerous. Anti-epileptic drugs are also a daily necessity for people with epilepsy.”

FDA head Gottlieb resigns

The FT on Tuesday covered the resignation of Dr Scott Gottlieb as U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, after two years in which he pushed for lower drug prices and locked horns with the tobacco industry over e-cigarettes (APMHE 62143).
The paper said he made plans to try to rein in the rising cost of prescription drugs by speeding up the approvals of generic drugs.

FDA approves Janssen's nasal spray for depression

On Wednesday, the FT reported on the FDA approving Janssen's nasal spray antidepressant Spravato (esketamine), which is based on party drug ketamine.
The paper described the drug as the first new type of antidepressant approved in the U.S. since Prozac (APMHE 62146).
The Daily Mail also covered the approval on Wednesday, saying the drug will cost between $590 and $885 depending on the dosage and before various insurance discounts and rebates.
The paper added that it is the first of several psychoactive substances making their way through the U.S. regulatory process as physicians search further afield for new therapies.
Researchers are conducting late-stage trials of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, and MDMA, a euphoria-inducing club drug, as potential treatments for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Guardian covered the approval on Friday, saying that experts are "cautiously optimistic" about the drug.

BMS defends Celgene takeover

Bristol-Myers Squibb has defended its $90 billion takeover of Celgene, urging shareholders to vote in favour of the deal, said the FT on Wednesday.
BMS has faced pushback for the deal from shareholders Wellington Management and Starboard Value, both of which plan to vote against the deal.
The board of directs of the BMS said in a letter to shareholders: “The acquisition of Celgene provides significant advantages with less risk compared to other strategic alternatives, including a strategy of pursuing several smaller transactions.”

Amazon names healthcare joint venture

Amazon’s healthcare joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase will be called Haven, the FT said on Wednesday.
The new firm has begun hiring staff with clinical and technical experience, including data scientists, software engineers and technical experience, said the paper, citing a new website that went live this week.
It added that the not-for-profit company was “born out of frustrations” with the expense and complexity of the U.S. healthcare system.

Trial to start for Alzheimer’s gene therapy

The Times at the weekend said that trials will begin in May for a potential therapy for Alzheimer’s that bathes the brain in a protective gene.
The trial, which involves 15 patients, could lead to people with high-risk DNA having genetic “tune-ups” to reduce their chances of developing the degenerative condition, said the paper.
The work involves a gene known as APOE, which comes in three versions: APOE2, APOE3 and APOE4. People who inherit two versions of APOE4 are between three and five times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. However, if a person inherits one APOE4 and one APOE2 the increased risk disappears.
The new therapy will involve large doses of laboratory-made APOE2 being delivered into the brains of 15 patients who have two copies of the high-risk APOE4.

Biogen snaps up Nightstar

A UK start-up with a promising cure for blindness has been bought by U.S. pharma Biogen, The Telegraph reported on Monday (APMHE 62110)
Nightstar, which was founded by London-listed healthcare company Syncona together with Oxford University, will be sold to Biogen for £663 million. The paper said it is the "third most valuable biotech exit by a UK company in two decades".
Its key product is a gene therapy treatment for a type of blindness called choroideremia.

HIV patient in remission after stem cell transplant

An HIV patient has been in remission for 18 months after receiving a stem cell transplant during cancer care, the Times said on Tuesday.
Doctors have said it is “too soon to speak about a cure”, said the paper, but that it proves that a similar case ten years ago known as the “Berlin patient” was not an anomaly.
The latest patient, who wishes to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and had been on antiretroviral drugs since 2012. That year he was also diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
To treat the cancer, doctors gave him chemotherapy and in 2016 he underwent a haematopoietic stem cell transplant from a donor carrying a genetic mutation that offers resistance to HIV.

Monthly injectable effective in HIV

ViiV Healthcare/GlaxoSmithKline’s monthly injection is as effective as a daily tablet for suppressing HIV, the FT said on Thursday.
The paper covered results from two separate late stage trials that showed the injectable, two-drug regimen of cabotegravir+rilpivirine had similar efficacy to a daily oral three-drug regimen.

Drug trials ‘ignore’ effects in women

Some of the world’s most commonly used drugs such as statins have not been properly shown to work in women because of sexism in science, researchers claim.
The Times on Friday reports research by Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam that claims an absence of women in clinical trials and failure to report results by sex have resulted in an evidence gap that is likely to be hampering treatment.
Medical journals should force researchers to report results for men and women separately to be sure that new medicines are safe and effective for both sexes, researchers say.

Lilly launches half-price insulin

The FT on Monday covered Eli Lilly's announcement that it is planning to sell a half-price version of its Humalog insulin injection in the U.S. as it attempts to fend off criticism about rising drug prices. (APMHE 62119)
The new version will be a biosimilar version of its widely-used insulin product at a heavy discount to the name-brand equivalent in the latest sign of the pressure on drugmakers to lower prices.
Lilly’s European rivals Sanofi and Novo Nordisk raised the price of insulin in the U.S. in January, stoking the ire of some politicians, the FT said.

Purdue to file for bankruptcy

The Guardian on Tuesday said that Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, is exploring filing for bankruptcy to address potentially significant liabilities from roughly 2,000 lawsuits, citing people familiar with the matter (APMHE 62131).
The lawsuits allege the drugmaker contributed to the deadly opioid crisis sweeping the U.S.
Purdue denies the allegations, arguing that the FDA-approved labels for its opioids carried warnings about the risk of abuse and misuse associated with the pain treatments.

Merck KGaA posts decline in earnings

German pharma firm Merck KGaA reported a double-digit decline in underlying earnings for last year after a taking a hit from foreign exchange losses, said the FT on Thursday (APMHE 62161).
The paper said that Merck also noted price declines in its liquid crystals business, costs related to product launches in its pharma business and R&D spending.

Charity sues PnuVax over misuse of funds

Canadian pharma firm PnuVax is being sued by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for misuse of funds, The Times reports on Friday.
The company is accused of using some of its $30 million grant from the charity to pay company arrears. The charity said it terminated the grant upon finding evidence of wrongdoing and is suing for repayment of the money.

Philippines government set to charge Sanofi employees over dengue vaccine scandal

The Philippines government is set to charge six Sanofi employees over 10 deaths that prosecutors claim are linked to the company’s dengue vaccine Dengvexia, said the FT at the weekend.
The paper said that former and current health officials are also facing charges after exhibiting “inexcusable lack of precaution and foresight” in rolling out the world’s first mass immunisation programmes against dengue fever.
The vaccine has been linked to 35 deaths.
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