Press review

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French patients criticise high diabetes prices

PARIS, 24 Jan (APM) - Members of the French patient association Diabète et méchant (Diabetes and naughty) protested outside Sanofi's offices earlier this month against the high prices of insulin-based drugs, Le Figaro reported on Monday (p.15).
The patient association has also protested outside the offices of Novo Nordisk and Lilly, as the three pharma companies control almost the whole of the diabetes market between them.
The patient association - part of the international movement #insulin4all - is calling for more transparency over how drug prices are set.
They claim that insulin is used by pharma companies to increase their margins, even though it is a vital drug.
The paper pointed out that even though the diabetes patent filed almost a century ago was sold for a mere dollar, the altruistic spirit of its discovers has long gone.
Since its arrival on the market in 2003, Sanofi's Lantus (insulin glargine) has made €6.3 billion - almost 19% of the company's sales - and was priced 50% higher than the insulin previously prescribed.
Sanofi and other pharmas defend their prices, saying they are needed to cover R&D costs, but patients and patient association heads have pointed out that this argument is becoming obsolete, given that increasing numbers of so-called innovative healthcare products are actually developed with public funds.

AstraZeneca to invest €500 million in France

AstraZeneca is to invest €500 million in France, Les Echos reported on Monday (p.2) (APMHE 65915).
The announcement was made as French President Emmanuel Macron visited one of the group's factories in Dunkirk west France. The factory itself will receive €135 million - which will be used to build new assembly and packaging lines - while the group will pump €240 million into R&D.
The Dunkirk factory exports 99% of the drugs it produces, the paper noted, with 86% going to the U.S. It has sales of over €1 billion.

Biogen to continue investing in France

Biogen is to continue investing in France, Les Echos reported in a brief on Wednesday p.18) (AMHE 65956).
The pharma is to invest an extra €22 million in R&D each year starting this year in France. It is currently carrying out 21 clinical trials in the country, involving 2,100 patients.
It has signed a research agreement worth €4.2 million over four years ''to support the creation of the first national register for patients with spinal amyotrophy".

Scientists and Gilead clash over efficacy of new and old PrEP drugs

Scientists and Gilead are clashing over whether the pharma's new HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) Descovy (emtricitabine + tenofovir alafenamide) is more effective than its old one Truvada (emtricitabine + tenofovir), reported Le Monde Science & Medecine on Wednesday (p.3).
Gilead is arguing that the results of the DISCOVER trial presented in July 2019 show that the drug is more effective and safer in men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women. However, numerous scientists have said that Descovy does not fulfil the criteria to prove its efficacy is superior to Truvada. They also argue that the two drugs share the same adverse events.
Scientists point out that Gilead is pushing Descovy as the more effective and safer drug as there are no generics on the market for Descovy, but several for Truvada in Europe. The paper noted that Gilead Sciences did not want to comment when contacted.

J&J sales plagued by generics and court cases

Johnson & Johnson's sales increased by 0.6% to $82 billion in 2019, but net earnings dropped 1.2%, reflecting the impact of generics and the court cases it is facing, reported Les Echos on Thursday (p.24).
The company is facing competition from generics and biosimilars - especially for its blockbusters Remicade (infliximab) - whose sales have fallen 18% - and Zytiga (abiraterone acetate) - whose sales have fallen 20%. The paper noted J&J's pharma arm Janssen more represents over half the group's sales.
However, J&J's negative image has also negatively impacted sales. The pharma is facing court cases over supposed links between its talcum powder and asbestos, the effects of its antipsychotic drug Risperdal (risperidone) and its involvement in the opioid scandal.
In all, J&J is facing 17,000 plaintiffs and although it only faced fines of $246 million over the past three months, this sum could increase again due to the number of ongoing trials.

Valneva targets travel vaccines' market

French biotech Valneva is targeting the travel vaccines' market, with vaccines against Japanese encephalitis and travellers' diarrhoea about to arrive in France and ones against chikungunya and Lyme disease in the pipeline, reported Les Echos on Tuesday (p.21).
Valneva acquired Ixario and Dukoral - for Japanese encephalitis and travellers' diarrhoea respectively - from Novartis in 2015 and thanks to the company's own marketing infrastructure, Valneva has seen its sales more than double in four years. Its sales for 2019 are likely to be between €125 million to €130 million.
Its two new vaccines are set to come on to the market in 2022- chikungunya - and 2024 - Lyme disease. The former could benefit from an accelerated procedure after very good results in its first human tests and is drawing the attention of the U.S. authorities - especially the army which has provided funding of $70 million.
Valneva has a meeting with the U.S. authorities at the end of February in which it hopes to get priority review status, meaning it could jump straight to Phase III trials. In the meantime, it is looking for an Indian or Brazilian partner to sell its Japanese encephalitis licence too, so the vaccine can be mass produced at low cost for countries where the disease is epidemic.

Moderna developing vaccine to protect infants from CMV

Boston-based biotech Moderna is developing a vaccine to protect infants from CMV, reported Les Echos on Tuesday (p.21).
No vaccine is currently available for this disease which can cause death and severe handicaps when transferred from mother to foetus - as happens in 30-50% of cases.
Moderna's Phase I trials have had convincing results in 120 patients and so Moderna is to start a Phase II, whose results will be due by the end of 2020. Chief executive Stephane Bancel already believes that the company's factory will be able to produce 10 million vials a year once it is on the market.
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