Press review

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UK cancer programme to target treatment resistance

LONDON, 17 May (APM) - The Institute of Cancer Research in London has launched a £75 million "anti-evolutionary" drive that it says is the world’s first drug discovery programme aimed specifically at tackling cancer’s lethal ability to evolve resistance to treatment, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.
The ICR, part of the University of London, is investing in a new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery on its campus in Sutton, Surrey, where scientists will pursue a variety of approaches to overcome or redirect the process of cancer evolution.
"We plan to use cancer’s survival instinct against it through an approach we call 'evolutionary herding'," said Andrea Sottoriva, who will be the centre's deputy director of cancer evolution.
"By encouraging cancer to evolve resistance to a treatment of our choice, we can cause it to develop weaknesses against other drugs — and hopefully send it down dead ends to its own destruction."
The herding will be guided by using artificial intelligence and advanced maths to forecast how cancer will react when treated with a particular drug. The idea is to force tumour cells to adapt in a way that makes them highly susceptible to a second or third drug or pushes them into an evolutionary dead end.
Experiments suggest that combinations of three drugs are far more effective than two-drug cocktails at preventing or delaying the onset of resistance.
Another approach will be to design drugs to stop the action of a protein called Apobec, which the immune system uses to adapt to different infections. This molecule is hijacked by most cancers to speed up the mutation rate that enables them to develop resistance to treatment.

UK pain charity's links to opioid maker exposed

The charity Pain UK, which urged UK GPs to prescribe opioids, was set up with funding from Napp Pharmaceuticals, the UK manufacturer of OxyContin, the Sunday Times said.
The relationship was uncovered after an investigation by the paper, which has since led to a review by the Charity Commission.
Pain UK has previously issued a statement that opioids "should continue to play a central role in effective and responsible pain management" after UK health secretary Matt Hancock unveiled regulations aimed at halting growing levels of misuse and addiction.
However, the Sunday Times claims that the statement was written by Dr Douglas Richards, a project manager at Cello Health, an advisory group for the pharma industry.
Pain UK does not declare its links to Napp or Cello on its website. David Miller, a professor of political sociology at Bristol University, told the Sunday Times: "This is a mind-boggling number of conflicts of interest. Pain UK should have disclosed funding from the opioid industry, which would have made it easier for the public and others to evaluate their position on prescribing opioids."
Antony Chuter, who chairs Pain UK, insisted the charity had not been influenced by outsiders. He said Cello was "very kindly" doing "little pieces of work for us" on a pro bono basis. He claimed opioids had been "demonised" and problems associated with their use had been "overstated".

Bayer's 'disastrous Monsanto deal'

Bayer's acquisition of Monsanto could easily turn out to be the worst deal ever, The Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday.
The paper said it is worth remembering one simple fact that is consistently ignored by empire-building chief executives: giant mergers rarely create value.
On the contrary, reams of research have proven they are almost always highly destructive, it notes. It should be of no surprise therefore that the deal is fast turning into one big, costly mess, and that was before a jury in Oakland, California, awarded $2 billion in damages to Alva and Alberta Pilliod, an elderly couple whose ill health has been blamed on exposure to Monsanto’s highly controversial Roundup weedkiller.
With at least 13,400 plaintiffs waiting for similar trials in the U.S., the total payout has the potential to be truly eye-watering, according to the newspaper. Even if, as is expected, the Pilliods' award is eventually reduced, the overall bill could still end up in the tens of billions of dollars.
On one side was Bayer’s uber-ambitious new boss Werner Baumann, who seemed determined to start his promotion to the top job with an almighty bang, unveiling Germany’s biggest ever takeover, a mere four weeks into the job, the Telegraph said.
Meanwhile, his opposite number at Monsanto, Hugh Grant, had a "mind-boggling $226 million in shares and severance pay resting on the merger".
Perhaps that explains why the boards of both companies were prepared to overlook the financial and legal risks of the tie-up, The Telegraph suggests. After all, the World Health Organization had labelled glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, a probable carcinogen back in 2015.
Bayer will now be hoping that the total bill for Roundup can be contained either through appeals or out of court settlements, it added.
Still, that is unlikely to calm investors who delivered a vote of no confidence in Baumann last month, a rare act of defiance in conservative Germany. But having forced through the Monsanto takeover without a vote, Bayer has already made it quite clear what it thinks of shareholders, The Telegraph continued, adding that salvaging something from this ruinous deal will take a heroic act.

UK biotech opposes changes to R&D tax credit system

UK biotech bosses have mounted a last-ditch effort to overturn government proposals to cap R&D tax credits, said the Sunday Times.
The Treasury has proposed laws that would restrict payments to loss-making companies through the R&D tax credit scheme. The changes are designed to prevent abuse of the system by "virtual companies", but industry figures say they will reduce the attractiveness of Britain as a place to develop life-saving medicines.

Pharma industry improves access to drugs in developing world

Pharmaceutical companies have made good progress in promoting global health over the past 10 years by providing more and better medicines to the developing world, according to an independent assessment of their performance, the FT reported on Thursday.
The study by the Amsterdam-based Access to Medicine Foundation comes at a time when the pharmaceuticals industry is facing widespread criticism from campaigners who say that companies' overwhelming priority is to maximise returns to shareholders at the expense of public health.
Access to Medicine, funded by the UK and Dutch governments and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, analysed the world's 20 largest drug companies, including their corporate strategy, research and development activities, pricing and patent policies. The so-called big pharma companies account collectively for 70% of global pharmaceutical revenues, the paper reported.
Jay Iyer, Access to Medicine executive director, said: "Our data show that the industry is moving beyond just scratching the surface and making a real effort to provide access for everyone to the medicines they need. But we need to build further on what has been achieved. There is still a long way to go."
Although the industry has been accused of neglecting diseases that mainly affect the developed world, the report found a big improvement in the research and development pipeline for a set of 47 conditions that the foundation regards as having the highest priority because they cause the most ill health and suffering.

Amsterdam in drive to attract pharma

Amsterdam's deputy mayor Udo Kock is leading a push to market Amsterdam as an international centre for health and life sciences, partly due to the arrival of the European Medicines Agency after it quit its London headquarters in March, the FT said on Thursday.
Guido Rasi, who heads the EMA, has estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 companies had been based in the vicinity of its London headquarters out of a desire to be connected to the agency. "We are identifying these companies and . . . which one of them would be most likely to move to Amsterdam and we’re approaching them," said Kock.
"He is right now in discussions with roughly 30 companies in the life science and health industry that are considering [moving] to Amsterdam because of Brexit and EMA".
Not all were currently based in London, he added: "It’s also companies from elsewhere that have extension plans in Europe and for which London is no longer an option and that are now actively looking at Amsterdam."
Kock said the active discussions were "just the beginning . . . because so far a lot of companies have been sitting on the fence because of this uncertainty regarding Brexit . . . but once Brexit is a fact I think more and more companies will move, or at least seriously consider [moving]".

Takeda forecasts operating loss after Shire acquisition

Japan's Takeda expects to post a significant operating loss for the coming financial year as it completes its integration of Shire, the FT said on Tuesday.
The paper said that Takeda has forecast operating losses in the year to March 2020 of 193 billion yen ($1.76 billion), versus an operating profit of 205 billion yen ($1.87 billion) in the 12 months to March 2019.

NHS fining patients for validly claiming free prescriptions

The NHS in England is threatening patients with fines for validly claiming free prescriptions and dental treatment, said The Times on Tuesday.
The paper covered an investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO) that revealed there has been a significant increase in the sending of penalty charge notices (PCN) over the last five years.
The forms are intended to crack down on patients fraudulently claiming to be exempt from the standard £8.80 prescription charge, such as those aged 60 or over and children under 16.
However, the NAO investigation found that 30% - around 1.7 million - since 2014 were subsequently withdrawn because a valid exemption was confirmed.

NHS to fund Biogen's Spinraza for spinal muscular atrophy

The National Health Service (NHS) in England and Wales is to fund Biogen's Spinraza for spinal muscular atrophy after lengthy negotiations, said the Guardian on Wednesday (APMHE 62984).
The paper said the drug could help between 600 and 1,200 children and adults with the muscle-wasting condition.
The agreement comes after HTA body NICE initially turned down Spinraza in August due to its high cost.

Tramadol may be as addictive as oxycodone

Tramadol may be just as addictive as oxycodone, according to new research covered by the Daily Mail on Tuesday.
Oxycodone, the generic version of Purdue Pharma's blockbuster Oxycontin, has been widely blamed for the getting millions of people addicted to opioids. Animal studies of tramadol suggested that the drug had a less powerful draw, so it was given a lower schedule classification by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
But according to a new Mayo Clinic study, people who get tramadol are no less likely to keep filling prescriptions for painkillers long after their surgical sites have healed than are those prescribed other drugs.

U.S. generic companies hit by price-fixing claims

Shares in generic drugmakers including Teva, Mylan, Novartis, Sandoz, and Pfizer fell on Monday after 44 U.S. states announced a lawsuit alleging an anti-competitive conspiracy to artificially inflate prices for more than 100 drugs, some by more than 1,000%, the FT reported. (APMHE 62951)
The lawsuit also named 15 individual senior executives at some of the companies, including Teva, Sandoz and Mylan, accusing them of orchestrating the "multibillion-dollar fraud". Teva alone is accused of raising prices on almost 112 generic drugs.

Five more U.S. states sue Purdue Pharma

Five state attorneys general have announced new lawsuits against the maker of OxyContin as they seek to hold the drug industry responsible for an opioid crisis, the Mail Online reported on Thursday.
Officials in Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin all filed suits accusing Purdue Pharma of downplaying the addiction risks of its powerful prescription drug.
Wisconsin is also separately suing Richard Sackler, former president and chair of Purdue, for his involvement in the opioid epidemic, attorney general Josh Kaul announced.
The new lawsuits bring the total to 45 states now taking legal action against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, as well as 1,500 cities, according to the Mail.
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