Press review

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Breakthrough cancer drugs take 22 years to reach the NHS

LONDON, 31 Jan (APM) - 'Breakthrough' cancer drugs that can extend lives are taking 22 years to reach patients on the National Health Service, according to a major study reported by The Telegraph on Wednesday
The research by the UK’s Institute of Cancer Research found that the most innovative treatments - which can radically overhaul the way diseases are treated - take far longer than conventional drugs to get the green light. It examined all cancer drugs licensed by European watchdogs over a 16-year period.
It found that between 2009 and 2016, it took an average of 14 years for treatments to go from a patent being filed to it being available on the NHS. The situation was even worse than it had been between 2000 and 2008, when it took 12.8 years, the paper reported.
The more innovative a drug was, the longer it took to be funded on the NHS - on average, taking just over three years longer than conventional treatments to get to patients.
Cases highlighted in the study include trabectedin, which can extend the lives of those with advanced soft tissue carcinoma. It took 22 years from the drug being patented to getting the go-ahead from NICE.
Another drug used to treat bone cancer took 20 years to reach this stage, while a breast cancer drug olaparib which got the go-ahead from the U.S. Food and Drink Administration more than two years ago, has yet to be appraised by NHS watchdogs.
The report’s authors called on NICE to overhaul its systems, giving more priority to approving breakthrough medicines.

EU court backs UK on GlaxoSmithKline 'pay-for-delay' fine

Europe's top court has backed the UK competition regulator's decision to fine GlaxoSmithKline for entering financial deals with rivals to delay the introduction of generic versions of one of its drugs - a decision GSK had contested, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.
While the so-called "pay-for-delay" transactions did not necessarily constitute "barriers" to competition per se, they could be deemed anti-competitive if they prevented consumers from future benefits including price reductions, the European Court of Justice said on Thursday.
It was necessary to assess "how the market will probably operate and be structured in the absence of the concerted practice", the court said on Thursday.
EU officials briefing on the ruling said it empowered the UK's Competition and Markets Authority to take a tougher stance against "pay-for-delay" deals, the FT added.
The CMA ruled in 2016 that the deals struck by GSK were anti-competitive and fined the drugmaker £37.6 million. It found that the pay-for-delay deals had deprived the NHS of significant price reductions, after the average price of a GSK drug dropped by 70% over two years after independent generics were introduced to the market. 
The ECJ's ruling only clarifies the issue of the criteria to be applied by the CMA to hand out any fines. Ultimately, any judgment still needs to be ratified by the UK’s Competition Appeals Tribunal.

Big pharma's stake in digital health bigger than ever before

The FT carried a feature piece on Sunday detailing the pharma sector's growing interest in digital health, which has risen qicker than ever over the past 18 months.
Combined with artificial intelligence, data offer hope of expanding the number of patients who can benefit from existing medicines, or even unearthing entirely new drugs, the FT said. Investors are now pouring billions of dollars into companies that offer access to the clinical insights contained in vast troves of anonymised patient records, it added.
"The concentration and the sexiness started in discovery but the digital health world has grown exponentially in the past year," says Niven Narain, co-founder of biotech group Berg. "Eighteen months ago if I sat here I couldn’t even tell you what a chief digital officer was," he added, naming big pharma including Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi, which now have digital experts on their leadership teams.
The article cites executives from Pfizer, Roche and Novartis as touting the benefits of using these data.
It goes on to quote Zach Weinberg, co-founder of Flatiron Health - a partner of Pfizer and Roche - who believes two major shifts in the landscape are driving pharma’s fascination with data; demand from payers for more detailed evidence of drugs' performance in use, and the increasing complexity of drug discovery.
Even five or six years ago, only about half the 20 biggest companies working on cancer drugs were deploying real world data, Weinberg said. "Now, when we walk into any of the 20 [businesses], there’s a group that has been identified which at least owns the area for that."

AI-designed drug to start trials

A drug molecule invented entirely by artificial intelligence is set to enter human clinical trials for the first time, marking a critical milestone for the role of machine learning in medicine, the FT reported on Thursday.
The new compound, which has been designed to treat patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, was developed by Oxford-based AI start-up Exscientia in collaboration with the Japanese pharmaceutical firm Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma.
In a sharp acceleration of the typical path to drug development, which can take about four and a half years, the AI-designed compound reached the point of entering clinical trials within just 12 months.
The breakthrough comes at a time when investors are pouring billions of dollars into companies that are accelerating drug development using AI. On average it costs about $2.6 billion to develop a new treatment by traditional methods, but the use of AI could make drug discovery faster, cheaper and more effective for patients with a range of illnesses from cancers to heart disease.

Coronavirus 'becoming more infectious' Chinese health officials warn

The coronavirus is becoming more infectious to humans, The Times quoted the Chinese government as saying on Sunday, as those killed by the epidemic rose to 56 with more than 2,000 cases in at least 16 counties across the world.
Ma Xiaowei, China’s health minister, warned that there was still much that is not understood about the virus, including whether it has mutated, and said that there could be "new developments" as it changes and adapts to its human victims.
Meanwhile, the FT reported on Monday that China's leaders are bracing for a blow to first-quarter economic growth as the deadly coronavirus weighs on consumption, travel and manufacturing, with some cities extending the lunar new year break by nearly a week.
The virus, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has led authorities to cancel events across the country for the normally week-long lunar new year period, which started on Saturday.
The Daily Mail on Monday reported comments from J&J's chief scientific officer Paul Stoffels that the company is working on a coronavirus vaccine. The work began two weeks ago but it will take up to a year to get to market, he said during an interview with CNBC show Squawk Box.
Inovio is also searching for a vaccine, The Times on Tuesday reported. Kate Broderick, its vice president of R&D confirmed that the jab will be tested on animals this week before progressing to human trials in about two months, said the paper.

UK nationals evacuated

On Friday, the FT reported that the UK government has evacuated about 83 British citizens and 27 other nationals who were trapped in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, ending days of agonising delays.
Friday's flight, which departed at 9:45am local time, was scheduled to arrive at the Royal Airforce Brize Norton base in Oxfordshire at 1pm UK time after which the British passengers would be quarantined for two weeks at a medical facility.

Depriving poor nations of drugs is 'dangerous false economy'

The Guardian ran an opinion piece on Sunday calling out the pharma industry for its failure to invest in antibiotics, accusing the sector of denying vital medicines to those in need and endangering everyong else.
It notes that the possibility of a global coronavirus pandemic is now focusing minds on how to develop a vaccine more quickly, but stressed that the broader structural problems of continued failures to produce and supply medicines to those who most need them should not be forgotten.
The article cites a report from the charity Access to Medicine Foundation showing that, despite growing need, fewer pharmaceutical companies are engaged in antibiotic research and development, as there is little money to be made.
"We have reached a tipping point where large and prominent drug-makers have retreated from the antibiotics field," it cited Jayasree K Iyer, executive director of the charity.
Global demand for antibiotics climbed by 65% between 2000 and 2015, the newspaper added, but most of that demand was from poor countries - four of the six countries with the highest antibiotic consumption rates were low- or middle-income nations, so-called "access countries".
Not only are pharmaceutical companies more reluctant to invest in research, they are also more reluctant to provide medicines to poorer countries, the chairity report claims. It looked at 13 new antibiotics. Just three have been registered for use in 10 or more of the 102 access countries.
The Times on Monday also carried an opinion piece from Tim Jinks, head of the drug-resistant infections priority programme at the Wellcome Trust, who said the "broken global market" for antibiotics needs an overhaul and that many big companies have left the field.

UK citizens believe UK-U.S. trade deal would put NHS at risk

Nine out of 10 people believe the NHS would be at risk if the UK agrees a trade deal with the President Donald Trump, according to a poll reported by The Sunday Times.
Despite claims by Boris Johnson that the NHS is "not on the table", 90% of those surveyed believe a trade agreement with America threatens the health service, with 59% saying they thought it would pose a "significant" or "severe" risk, it said.
Worryingly for Johnson, who is expected to start talks with America next month at the same time as discussions with the European Union, it is not just Labour voters who are concerned.
The poll, for the pro-EU campaign group Best for Britain, says 81% of Tory voters in last year’s general election believe a trade deal with Trump presents a risk to the NHS, with more than a third saying it poses a "significant" or "severe" risk.

New NHS funding will be wasted without serious reform

As the UK's NHS Funding Bill entered the Commons on Monday for a second reading, The Telegraph published an opinion piece warning serious reform is needed if additional money is to make a difference.
The bill will be the first major piece of new legislation to enter Parliament after Brexit this Friday. Boris Johnson is eager to show his government’s priorities for the next five years and the health service is evidently top of the list, The Telegraph noted.
More money will undoubtedly help and is clearly required, it added, but stressed "we know from the history of the NHS that it is not enough".
The danger is that guaranteed taxpayer-funded increases risk entrenching bad practice and inefficiency while freezing out innovation and reform, it warned.

GSK licenses TB vaccine to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

GlaxoSmithKline has licenced its tuberculosis disease vaccine candidate to the medical research institute set up by Bill and Melinda Gates, said The Times on Tuesday.
The collaboration between the pharmaceuticals group and Gates MRA, a subsidiary of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is designed to develop the first approved vaccine capable of preventing pulmonary TB disease in adults and adolescents, said the paper.

AstraZeneca sells five hypertension drugs to Atnahs

AstraZeneca has sold five blood pressure medicines to Atnahs Pharma in a deal worth up to $390 million (APMHE 65991), according to The Times on Tuesday.
They have lost patent protection and the rights to them in the U.S. and India had been sold previously, said the paper.

Pfizer feels pain from restructuring

Disappointing sales of a blockbuster cancer drug and declining revenue from a pain relief medication lay behind the quarterly loss reported by Pfizer (APMHE 66017), The Times said on Wednesday.
Restructuring at the U.S. pharmaceuticals company also took a toll as its fourth-quarter figures fell short of forecasts on Tuesday, sending its shares down 5%, or $2.02, to close at $38.14 in New York, the newspaper noted.
Pfizer is spinning off Upjohn, its division that holds Viagra (sildenafil), Lyrica (pregabalin), its pain relief medication and Lipitor (atorvastatin), its popular cholesterol drug and other off-patent blockbusters and combining it with Mylan, the company behind the EpiPen (epinephrine), to create Viatris, a generic drugmaking powerhouse.
Fourth-quarter revenue at Upjohn fell by nearly a third compared with the same period a year before to $2.2 billion, as sales of Lyrica fell by two thirds to $433 million. Lyrica lost patent protection in the U.S. last July and competition from generics manufacturers has been intense. Sales of Lipitor declined by 11% to $468 million, as Viagra sales fell by 6% to $119 million.

Novartis results

The FT reported on Wednesday on Novartis' results. Fourth quarter sales rose 9% in constant currencies on the back of its newer medicines, including a new gene therapy that is one of the world's most expensive treatments. (APMHE 66026)
Net sales were $12.4 billion in the fourth quarter, mainly from heart disease Entresto, Zolgensma, its $2.1million gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy, Cosentyx for psoriasis and Kisqali for breast cancer. The figure narrowly exceeded analyst estimates. Sales for the full year were also up 9%, it said.
Guidance for 2020 remained unchanged with net sales expected to grow by mid to high-single digits and core operating income expected to grow by high-single to low double digits.

Roche sales 'miss expectations'

Sales at Roche rose 9% cent in 2019, slightly below analysts expectations, as the Swiss drugmaker sought to fend off increased competition from copycat versions of some of its best selling drugs by boosting sales of innovative new medicines, the FT said on Thursday (APMHE 66045)
Roche has been dealing with the loss of patent protection on some of its key drugs and in particular the launch of biosimilar versions of three of its leading cancer drugs, Herceptin (trastuzumab), Rituxan (rituximab) and Avastin (bevacizumab).
The impact has so far been felt largely in Europe, where the company said pharmaceutical sales had now stabilised, rising by 1% in constant currencies in 2019.

Cancer drugs delivered by drones

A Scottish island health board is considering using drones to deliver medicines, including chemotherapy drugs, The Times reported on Thursday.
NHS Western Isles is looking at using the devices to transport drugs from the mainland and said that exploratory work was "progressing well", the paper said.
The possible loss of a pre-flight screening service for short-life chemotherapy drugs is driving the board to look at using the emerging technology.
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