Press review

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Servier pays experts to defend Mediator

PARIS, 8 Nov (APM) - The controversial trial over Servier's Mediator (benfluorex) continued into its fifth week with plaintiff lawyer Charles Joseph-Oudin highlighting that some of the experts defending the drug had been paid by the company, reported Le Monde on Monday (p.9).
Eleven of 17 experts called on by Servier defended the drug, saying that it was not a weight-loss drug and no it had nothing in common with the fenfluramines withdrawn from the market over 10 years before Mediator. As each said their part, Joseph-Oudin asked how much they had been paid by Servier, both to take part in this trial and over their careers.
The paper listed examples of experts paid by Servier, including one U.S. obesity expert who claimed to have received €600/ hour for the trial, and a former research director at France's national medical research institute who was said to have received €300,000 since 2011.

Servier carries on as normal despite Mediator scandal

Despite the Mediator (benfluorex) scandal for which it is currently in court, Servier is still funding numerous medical organisations and selling drugs abroad, reported La Croix on Tuesday (p.16).
The French company reported sales of €4.2 billion in September 2018, primarily because nine times out of 10, its drugs are sold abroad, it said. Servier says on its website that 2018 saw growth of at least 10% in local currency in China, Brazil, Turkey and Ukraine.
However, it is not just abroad where Servier is carrying out 'business as usual' as though nothing has changed, the newspaper noted, much to the fury of French doctor Inès Frachon, who brought the scandal around Mediator to light in 2009.
She told La Croix how she had heard Servier was still signing agreements with medical research facilities in France and said doctors are still happy for the company to pay for them to go to conferences.
Frachon added that Servier still has huge stands at cardiology conferences and that the pharma's image is still good for many doctors who believe the Mediator scandal is a press affair.

Former ANSM vice-chair reveals shortcomings behind Levothyrox affair in book

Former vice-chair of France's drug regulator ANSM, Claude Pigement, has published a book in which he talks about the shortcomings that led to the affair surrounding Merck KGaA's Levothyrox (levothyroxine), reports Le Parisien (p.8) on Friday (APMHE 65008).
In an interview with the daily, Pigement mentioned how he wrote the book after finishing his term at ANSM as he was frustrated with the regulator's lack of response to the large number of patients who had reported adverse events.
He also noted his frustration that the issue was not considered a priority within ANSM, being relegated to the news section at the end of a meeting in November 2017, seven months after the crisis began. He also criticised the State's refusal to research why so many patients had a problem with the new drug, saying it bore ''considerable responsibility''.

French study shows doctors who accept pharma gifts prescribe more drugs

Doctors who accept gifts from pharma companies prescribe more drugs, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), reported Le Figaro on Thursday (p.13) (APMHE 65023).
The study - which analysed the health transparency database set up in 2014 after the scandal of Servier's Mediator (benfluorex) - saw that almost 90% of GPs received at least one ''advantage'' from pharma companies between 2013-2016.
It divided 40,000 doctors into groups depending on the value of the gifts they had received from pharma companies, and when. Doctors who had not received a single gift between 2013 and 2016 had on average the lowest prescription cost per consultation at €45.80. They were also more likely to prescribe generics and fewer benzodiazepines, in line with recommendations.
However, the study did not show that the advantages received were behind these prescription differences. The authors pointed out several possible reasons for the differences, including that doctors who were interested in innovations might have been more open to seeing sales representatives.
Les Echos (p.17), Libération (p.19) and L'Humanité (p.14) also reported on the topic on Thursday.

Thirty years since last antibiotic discovered

It has been thirty years since the last antibiotic was discovered, Le Figaro reported on Monday (p.10).
Pharma companies have stopped investing in antibiotics because they are expensive to research and sold at low prices, it said. Moreover, their use is restricted to slow down antibiotic resistance. As a result, the return on investments is low.
However, amid the rise of antibiotic resistance - in France alone, 12,500 die as a result each year - several states are starting to invest in antibiotic resistance. France set aside an additional €40 million last year for that very reason, the paper continued.

AstraZeneca aims to profit from Chinese biotech

AstraZeneca is looking to profit from the fact that Beijing has been opened to foreign drug manufacturer entrants, and is hoping to invest $1 billion in local start ups over the next four years, reported Les Echos on Thursday (p.17) (APMHE 65010).
According to 'The Wall Street Journal', the pharma is joining forces with a Chinese investment bank and is seeking to invest in domains going from the development of traditional medicine to drug-applied artificial intelligence (AI).
The pharma is also looking to sign agreements with Chinese biotechs, with the possibility of giving distribution licences to some Chinese groups.
China is currently the second market for AstraZeneca, whose sales there grew by 40% in the Q3 compared to 2018.
AstraZeneca is not the only foreign drugs manufacturer looking to invest in France, with Sanofi and Pfizer also showing interest.

Biogen to file for approval for Alzheimer's drug

Biogen is planning to file its aducanumab-based Alzheimer's disease drug for approval in the U.S. at the beginning of 2020, reported Le Parisien on Monday (p.17) (APMHE 64826).
The drug has promising results with cognitive decline slowed by 23% compared to placebo, and loss of autonomy slowed by 40%.
The paper noted that the drug arrives at a moment when research on the disease seems to have reached an impasse. Pharmas are starting to lose as interest as 400 studies have been stopped worldwide over the past 20 years.
Le Monde Science & Médecine (p.2) also reported on the topic on Wednesday.

Inside Sanofi's trading room

Les Echos on Tuesday (p.36) carried an interview with Sanofi trader and head of the placements commission for the French Association of Corporate Treasurers (AFTE) Cyril Merkel, who outlined the main activities of Sanofi's centralised treasury.
He said the three main duties for Sanofi's trading room were to manage the group's currency risk management, interest rate management and placing the group's short-term investments (less than a year).
The trading room is managed carefully and prudence is the main principle, he said, adding thathe believes company treasuries can no longer work alone, but must work with tax experts, lawyers, accountants and even IT specialists.
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