Press review

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UK medical research lands £1 billlion from sale of Keytruda royalties

LONDON, 24 May (APM) - Medical research in the UK is to receive a £1 billion windfall, the Financial Times reported on Monday.
LifeArc, a charity that focuses on moving discoveries from the laboratory to patients, has sold most of its royalty interest in Merck’s blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for $1.3 billion and plans to invest it in developing new treatments, the FT said.
The buyer is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, one of the world’s biggest retirement funds. The deal will transform the London-based LifeArc from an organisation that is little known even among medical scientists into a research powerhouse.
"This level of funding will come as a huge surprise to researchers and, more than that, it will really boost morale," said Robin Ali, professor of human molecular genetics at University College London. LifeArc was created in 2017 out of MRC Technology, the commercialisation arm of the government’s Medical Research Council.
The charity focuses on "translational research" — driving bioscience as quickly as possible into benefits for patients.

UK competition watchdog probes drug firms

The UK’s competition watchdog has accused four pharmaceutical companies of breaking the law by agreeing not to compete over an anti-sickness drug for five years, raising the National Health Service’s annual bill for the prescription-only pills by almost £5 million, the FT reported on Thursday. (APMHE 63083)
UK-based groups Alliance Pharma, Focus Pharmacy, Lexon and Medreich agreed not to compete between June 2013 and July 2018 for the supply of prochlorperazine 3 mg dissolvable or "buccal" tablets to the NHS, the Competition and Markets Authority claimed in a statement of objections published on Thursday.
The regulator’s statement comes at a time when drugmakers in Europe and particularly in the U.S. have been under political pressure to restrict price rises. Pharmaceutical companies increased the list prices of almost 3,000 drugs in the U.S. in the first quarter at an average of four times the rate of inflation.

Gates-backed platform raises $110 million in new drugs push

Schrödinger - the drug discovery computing platform backed by Bill Gates, hedge fund manager David Shaw and Google Ventures - has closed its latest financing round at $110 million, as investors back its new plan to develop its own drugs, the Financial Times reported at the weekend.
New investors including Invus, Pavilion Capital, a subsidiary of Temasek, and Michael Antonov, one of the co-founders of virtual reality company Oculus, have joined the fund-raising round, expanding it by almost 30% since the round was announced in January.
The company has until now focused on providing its technology to pharmaceutical customers. The platform was used in the discovery of two cancer drugs - Tibsovi (ivosidenib) from Agios and Idhifa (enasidenib), now marketed by Agios and Celgene - that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the paper said.
"Our platform has been validated again and again across hundreds of targets in real-world drug discovery projects," said Ramy Farid, Schrödinger chief executive.
The fund-raising will help Schrödinger pursue its first wholly-owned potential drug candidates in oncology, the paper said. The company hopes to have its first potential drug candidate ready for trials by next year.

GW pharma boss swaps Britain for California

The boss of GW Pharmaceuticals, the marijuana-based drugs company, is moving from Britain to southern California as the business increasingly devotes its attention to the U.S. healthcare market, The Times reported on Monday.
Justin Gover is leaving Britain two years after GW obtained a dual share-listing on the technology-based Nasdaq stock market, prompting the value of the biotechnology company to soar twelvefold to £1.5 billion.
GW is one of the most striking business successes to have emerged from the UK in recent years, but, in common with other drugs companies, it has found it easier to attract investment and generate product sales in the U.S.
"The time is right to start building our in-house U.S. commercial infrastructure," Dr Geoffrey Guy, GW’s chairman, said, citing the potential launch of Epidiolex (cannabidiol), a drug for severe forms of childhood epilepsy, which has sharply reduced the number of seizures suffered by patients in clinical trials.
GW has also recruited Julian Gangolli, a former senior executive at Allergan, to head its North American operation. With Gover, he "will spearhead GW’s growth in the U.S. and help to bring much-needed new treatments to patients", Guy said.

Research lacking on rare paediatric cancers, parent laments

The mother of a five-year-old boy given days to live has told of her frustration that a lack of research into rare childhood cancers meant he was treated with "archaic" drugs from the 1960s, The Times reported on Monday.
Harry has Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone and tissue cancer, and was given days to live on April 23. He made headlines this month after the Formula One world champion, Lewis Hamilton, dedicated his Spanish Grand Prix win to the boy he described as his "spirit angel".
His mother, Charlotte, told the paper: "Some of the main drugs used to treat Ewing’s are from the 1960s, while the most recent chemo drugs are from the 1980s. Those drugs are archaic and without the research it’s just not going to change."

Merck & Co to buy Peloton

The FT reported on Tuesday that Merck & Co has agreed a $1 billion cash deal to buy Peloton Therapeutics, gaining access to the biopharmaceutical company’s renal cancer drug treatment that is in development. (APMHE 63057)
Peloton had been planning an initial public offering in New York, and its shareholders will be eligible to receive an additional $1.15 billion, dependent on future regulatory and sales milestones.
The company is in the late-stage development of a treatment for renal cell carcinoma, which Merck said has shown "intriguing activity" in the treatment of the kidney cancer.

Red wine molecules could be used in breakthrough blood pressure drug

Molecules found in red wine could be used to create a breakthrough treatment for high blood pressure, according to researchers, the Mail Online reported on Thursday.
Resveratrol, a compound produced in the skins of grapes, has long been touted as an elixir capable of combating many diseases from cancer to dementia.
But scientists have always struggled to translate these findings into successful treatments. That is largely because the exact mechanism driving resveratrol’s effects have been poorly understood. Now experts at King’s College London say they have established how it works.
The researchers, funded by the British Heart Foundation, showed that resveratrol interacts with a protein called PKG1a in the wall of blood vessels. Resveratrol adds oxygen to the protein, causing the blood vessels to relax and expand, quickly leading to a drop in blood pressure.
This is a huge shift in the way scientists thought resveratrol worked. Many assumed it is an ‘antioxidant’ - a substance that stops oxygen damaging cells in the body.
But in fact it does the opposite, allowing oxygen in the blood stream to interact and oxidise the PKG1a protein.Writing in the Circulation medical journal, the scientists described how tests on cells taken from people’s blood vessels showed notable change.
They also gave a dose of resveratrol to mice, which resulted in a drop in blood pressure of 20mmHg, a substantial shift, in just 15 days.
The scientists said no current blood pressure medications work in this way, paving the way for an entirely new class of drugs.

GSK revamps incentives for sales reps

GlaxoSmithKline is to reintroduce performance-based bonuses linked to the number of prescriptions written for its medicines, reversing a company ban on the practice following a bribery scandal in the U.S., the FT reported on Thursday. (APMHE 63096)
The UK pharma said that the return to incentives based on the number of prescriptions issued for its medicines in part reflected its growing portfolio of cancer drugs. Oncology is a field in which sales people needed scientific knowledge and there was considerable competition for the best reps, it said.
GSK said that, after a review of rival drugmakers' policies on incentives, a return to performance-based bonuses would mean GSK was "more competitive when it comes to recruiting, motivating and retaining sales representatives and sales management with the right levels of expertise and experience".
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