Press review

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Vaccination rates lower than expected in Germany

BERLIN, 9 Aug (APM) - German payer Barmer said in a report that the rate of measles vaccinations in the country is lower than thought, Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) (p6), Die Welt (p9) and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) (p17) write on Friday.
In 2017, only 89% of six-year-old children had received two doses of a measles vaccine, according to Barmer's drug report based on the payer's own data, while RKI reported a 92.8% rate for this year (APMHE 63993). RKI is a German federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention.
Applying the percentage from the number of Barmer customers to the general population would mean that 166,000 two-year-olds are not fully vaccinated. Barmer said these numbers are "alarming", FAZ said.

Pharma lobby claims economic benefit to society for expensive cancer drugs

Cancer patients on expensive new therapies can remain at work for longer, German pharma lobby vfa told Handelsblatt on Wednesday (p9) (APMHE 63973).
vfa pointed to results from a study showing that German cancer patients worked for on average 2.2 years longer in 2015 than in 2001.
Speaking to Handelsblatt, payers responded that the pharma industry was "cherry-picking" to justify high drug prices.

Bayer to acquire remaining BlueRock shares

Bayer will acquire the remaining 59.8% of shares of cell therapy developer BlueRock Therapeutics from U.S. venture capital Versant, with whom Bayer co-founded BlueRock in 2016, FAZ reports on Friday (p21) (APMHE 63988).
Versant will receive an up-front payment of $240 million plus $360 million when certain milestones are met.
This year Bayer expects regulatory approval in the U.S. for a clinical study of BlueRock’s most advanced drug candidate based on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) in patients with Parkinson's disease, FAZ said.

Bayer sells stake in chemical park operator

Bayer has sold its 60% stake in chemical park operator Currenta to Australian investment firm Macquarie for around €1.17 billion, Handelsblatt (p23) and FAZ (p19) wrote on Thursday (APMHE 63964).
Bayer shares rose by 5% after the announcement.

Merck KGaA earnings rise thanks to increase in drug sales

The earnings of Merck KGaA rose 7% to €4 billion in the second quarter of 2019 thanks to a drug sales increase of €100 million to €1.7 billion, FAZ (p21, 22) and Handelsblatt (p21) report on Friday (APMHE 63981).
Merck profited from sales increases for its new drugs Mavenclad (cladribine) and Bavencio (avelumab) in Europe. Moreover, the group received considerable milestone payments - for instance, Pfizer paid €35 million after Bavencio in combination with Pfizer's Inlyta (axitinib) was granted U.S. approval in May.
However, its performance materials division is still facing challenges.

German biotechs post promising prospects

German biotechs MorphoSys, Evotec and Medigene posted promising developments for drug R&D and partnerships in their second-quarter results presentations, FAZ reported on Thursday (p25).
MorphoSys is not profitable yet but has announced filing tafasitamab in 2020 (APMHE 63963).
Evotec will present its results next week, which are expected to be favourable, based on the biotech's successful partnerships and acquisitions. Medigene could show good progress in the development of their immunotherapies, FAZ said.

Novartis hit by data manipulation case on Zolgensma

Novartis faces huge risks in the data manipulation case on the gene therapy Zolgensma (onasemnogene abeparvovec), Handelsblatt (p20) FAZ (p22), SZ (p24) and Die Welt (p13) reported on Thursday and SZ on Friday (p15) (APMHE 63960).
The case is not only about Novartis' image but potential severe penalties by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration while the approval process in Europe and Japan is likely to take more time than initially planned, Handelsblatt wrote.

Profitability gap in pharma widens

The profitability gap between research-based pharma companies and generic companies has widened according to 2019 first half results, Handelsblatt wrote on Wednesday (p20, 29).
Nine out of the ten major pharmaceutical companies raised their sales or profit forecasts in H1, although weaker sales growth was expected in 2019 than in the previous year. Only Pfizer did not.
By contrast, generic firms or generic divisions from big pharma continue to be under pressure, especially in the U.S. market. Several companies, such as Novartis' Sandoz or Mylan, reported declining sales and earnings.
The ongoing trend to separate the business with established drugs more strongly from the more high-growth and high-priced pharmaceutical innovations - as Pfizer plans with a spin-off from Upjohn - is likely to continue, Handelsblatt wrote.

DocMorris against German pharmacy bill

German pharmacy chain DocMorris will "exhaust all our legal possibilities" to block the country's "local pharmacies reinforcement" bill presented by Health Minister Jens Spahn, weekly Wirtschaftswoche reports on Friday (p23), FAZ (p20) and SZ (p16) reported on Monday.
According to DocMorris chief executive Olaf Heinrich, the bill which plans to maintain fixed prices for prescription drugs and forbid discounts by mail-order pharmacies violates the European law. Heinrich also relies on the European Commission to take action.

Off-label use prescriptions on the rise in Germany

The number of off-label drug prescriptions in Germany rose 12% during the last three years, mostly in oncology indications, according to the statutory payers' joint medical service (MDK), FAZ reported on Thursday (p3).
In general, physicians are allowed to prescribe off-label when no treatment options are available. However, MDK may decide that payers do not have to reimburse in individual cases.
In 2018, 26,000 cases were presented to MDK, which is a small number compared to 650 million drug packages reimbursed by statutory payers, FAZ said.
Older drugs which are efficient in other than the approved indications should be used as comparative therapies and as reference products in pricing negotiations for newer products, said Kordula Schulz-Asche from opposition Green party.

Ketamine acts fast in depression

German psychiatrists have started using intravenous ketamine off-label to provide a fast-acting treatment for their patients with therapy-resistant depression while Janssen's Spravato (eketamine) has not yet been approved in the EU, SZ reported on Saturday (p33).
Psychiatrists are looking forward to the new treatment option, as antidepressants fail in up to a third of cases. However, long-term safety and efficacy of the new drug have to be investigated, SZ said.
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