Press review

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AstraZeneca takes inspiration from fast-food industry in China

LONDON, 12 July (APM) - The Financial Times on Thursday carried a feature on AstraZeneca's efforts to grow in China, saying that the UK pharma is learning lessons from the fast-food industry.
The paper said that branded drugs with expired patents have remained big sellers in the country as people do not trust generic copies. However, the generics market is expecting to grow as the government tries to constrain cost, AstraZeneca's head of China and emerging markets Leon Wang told the FT.
The country is also rolling out a 'winner takes all' tendering system, said the FT.
These moves will impact the UK pharma, said Wang, as the company has several off-patent branded products on the market. The company is hoping that volume can replace price, however, saying that its expansion of paediatric asthma centres in hospitals imitated those in China by McDonald's and KFC.
"That was the usual number for fast-food chains, 3 to 4,000 to nearly cover the whole of China," he told the FT.

Chinese investment in U.S. biotech on decline

The FT on Monday said that Chinese venture capital investment in U.S. biotech companies fell by more than half in the first six months of this year.
The paper put this down to the U.S. government increasing scrutiny of funding from overseas.
Chinese investors took part in venture capital funding rounds for U.S. biotech companies worth $725 million in the first six months of 2019. This was down 60% from $1.65 billion in the same period in 2018, said the FT, citing figures from PitchBook.

Private equity firms moving into biotech

The FT at the weekend had a feature on how private equity companies are making more deals in the life sciences sector.
It highlighted KKR, which invested in BridgeBio - a California biotech that has just gone public with a valuation of $3.3 billion.
The FT pointed out this type of investment can be counterintuitive as it can be years from inception to commercial success, but that the growing interest reflect several trends, noting that investing in drug development allows companies to present themselves as "doing good".
The paper also said that the competition for big deals that take control of mature companies - private equity's main area of interest - has become "intense" and that returns are starting to come down.

Amgen and Novartis halt Alzheimer's trial

Amgen and Novartis have discontinued two studies of drugs for Alzheimer's disease, the FT said on Thursday. (APMHE 63680)
The paper said that trial results had shown that some patients had shown a worsening in cognitive function and the potential benefits for participants did not outweigh the risks.
It added that the news comes after Biogen shut down an Alzheimer's drug trial in April.

Trump drops plan to eliminate rebates

U.S. President Donald Trump has dropped plans to eliminate rebates from the country's drug payment process, the FT said on Thursday.
It said the decision caused share prices of insurance firms and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to climb as they would have been most severely affected (APMHE 63672).
It also quoted a spokesperson for pharma trade body PhRMA who said it was the only proposal from Washington that would have provided "immediate savings" for patients at the pharmacy counter.

Oklahoma's legal action against J&J over opioid crisis will go ahead

A U.S. judge has dismissed Johnson & Johnson's request to throw out a multi-billion dollar lawsuit over the country's opioid abuse crisis, the Guardian said on Tuesday.
Judge Thad Balkman said the state of Oklahoma has presented sufficient evidence for the trial to continue after alleging that J&J played a leading role in creating the epidemic with marketing strategies that dangerously misrepresented the risk of opioid addiction to doctors, manipulated medical research and drove prescribing of high strength narcotics to patients who did not need them.

Reckitt Benckiser settles Indivior investigation for $1.4 billion

Reckitt Benckiser has reached a $1.4 billion settlement with U.S. regulators to resolve an investigation into the sales and marketing of its opioid addiction treatment Suboxone Film by its former drugs business Indivior, both The Times and the FT reported on Thursday.
U.S. authorities allege that Indivior, which was spun out by Reckitt in 2012, made unsubstantiated claims about a new version of the drug (APMHE 63658).
The figure is larger than the $400 million provision the company had previously made, said The Times.
Also on Thursday, the FT said that Indivior raised its guidance for the year following a strong performance for Suboxone. The company expects 2019 net revenue to be in the range of $670-$720 million, up from forecasts of $525-$575 million.

AZN's chief questions NICE appraisal process after Tagrisso rejection

AstraZeneca has called for changes to the way England's NICE assesses the value of medicines for National Health Service (NHS), The Daily Telegraph said at the weekend.
The comments come after NICE rejected routine reimbursement for Tagrisso (osimertinib) for a form of lung cancer
Pascal Soriot, its chief executive, said he was "very disappointed" with the decision and that AstraZeneca would be appealing against the ruling.
"It is time for a comprehensive review of how NICE values innovative medicines," he said.

Pfizer's Ibrance recommended for NHS use in Scotland for breast cancer

The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has recommended Pfizer's Ibrance (palbociclib) to be used within NHS Scotland for breast cancer, alongside the hormone treatment therapy fulvestrant, The Times said on Tuesday.
The paper said that trials have shown that women who were given the combination treatment lived more than six months longer than those treated with hormones alone. Women who had previously responded to hormone therapy survived an extra 10 months on average.

Researchers link increases use of gabapentin to kickbacks

The Daily Mail on Tuesday said that prescriptions for the painkiller gabapentin have tripled in a decade as doctors have been receiving more kickbacks from manufacturers.
The paper covered research by public health professors at UConn Health, which saw gabapentin prescriptions start to rise in 2002, from 1.2% of U.S. adults to 3.9% in 2015.
They also found that gabapentin manufacturers paid physicians $11.5 million between 2014 and 2016, the team found.
The researchers found that doctors who received payments from industry were more likely to prescribe a brand name version of gabapentin such as Lyrica, Gralise or Horizant.
"We found that the more physicians receive industry money, the more likely they were to prescribe gabapentin. But more research is needed to understand how much of that gabapentin goes to drug abuse," lead author Greg Rhee, an assistant professor of medicine and public health at UConn Health, said.

UK expands HPV programme to include boys

Both the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian covered the expansion of the UK's HPV vaccination programme to include all boys in school year eight in England from September.
By 2058, Public Health England claims the programme may have prevented more than 100,000 cancers across the UK. (APMHE 63630)
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the cause of most cervical cancers in women, said the Guardian. Because the virus is sexually transmitted, vaccinating boys will help protect their partners, but reducing the circulation of the virus will also help prevent penile, anal and genital cancers and some cancers of the head and neck.

Former UK health minister joins PR agency working with Vertex

Former UK health minister James O'Shaughnessy has rejoined PR consultancy Portland, whose clients include U.S. pharma company Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which is in a battle with the NHS regarding access to cystic fibrosus drug Orkambi.
The Guardian reported the news on Thursday, saying that Lord O'Shaughnessy had dealings with Vertex while he was a health minister from 2016 until December last year. In April last year, he wrote a letter to the company, with fellow minister Steve Brine, asking it to negotiate a "responsible and proportionate" price for the drug Orkambi.
O'Shaughnessy worked at Portland from 2012 to 2015 as chief policy adviser and is now returning as a member of its advisory council.

Redx sales cancer programme to Jazz Pharmaceuticals

Redx Pharma has signed an agreement with Jazz Pharmaceuticals for the sale of a promising oncology research programme to treat tumours, The Times said on Thursday.
The deal includes an upfront payment of $3.5 million and milestones of up to $203 million (APMHE 636440.
The paper described the deal as a "boost" for Redx, which is recovering from a "torrid period" in recent years during which it called in administrators over a £2 million loan.

Billions wasted on developing needless drugs

Both The Times and the Daily Mail on Thursday covered a study published in The BMJ that claims most new treatments do little more than existing alternatives and pharma companies are wasting billions of pounds developing needless drugs.
The study looked at drugs introduced to the German market, where it is mandatory to investigate their efficacy. Of the 216 approved by regulators 58% offered no improvement on those already available, the papers said.
The authors claim: "Since drug development, approval, reimbursement and pricing are highly regulated, the current state of affairs suggests a policy failure."

UK cancer patients to receive XBiotech's bermekimab

The Daily Mail on Thursday said cancer patients in the UK will receive XBiotech's immunotherapy bermekimab as part of a trial to see if the drug can ease symptoms.
The drug blocks a molecule in the body which can cause inflammation and pain and is believed to be involved in disease progression, said the paper.
Patients with advanced lung, pancreatic or ovarian cancer will be given the first chance to test bermekimab.

Oxford Nanopore starts production of DNA decoding machine

The FT at the weekend said that UK biotech Oxford Nanopore has started production of its portable DNA decoding machine at a new factory.
The paper said Nanopore is challenging California's Illumina, which dominates the market for DNA sequencings equipment. Illumina has at least 80% of the market, it said.

France to stop funding homeopathy

The French government has announced it will stop reimbursing patients for homeopathic treatment from 2021, both the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph said on Thursday.
The moves comes after a major national study concluded the alternative medicine had no proven benefit.
Health minister Agnès Buzyn said the refunds paid by French social security - currently 30% of the treatment - would be phased down to 15% in 2020 and then to zero in 2021.

Germany's BioNTech raises $325 million

Germany's BioNTech has completed the largest financing round of any biotech in Europe by raising $325 million, the FT said on Tuesday.
The paper said the funding brings the total raised by the company to $1.4 billion to help develop its technology for the personalised treatment of cancer and other conditions.
BioNTech, which spun out from the University of Mainz in 2008, has seven products in clinical trials involving about 1,000 patients, it said.
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