Press review

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Novartis CEO on rebuilding trust after controversies

LONDON, 28 Feb (APM) - The Sunday Times carried an interview with Vas Narasimhan, chief executive of Novartis, focused on the company's efforts to rebuild trust after a series of controversies.
It highlighted the company's "global lottery" for infants with spinal muscular atrophy for chance to "win" a dose of the gene therapy Zolgensma, the most expensive single-drug treatment in the world.
Narasimhan told the newspaper: "While the one-time price looks significant. . . what if these children did not get this medicine and they paid for the care they would otherwise get for five to ten years?
"This actually looks like a great-value proposition."
Regarding the lottery, he said: "We made the decision to give away as much as we thought was reasonable, given that it’s a hard medicine to make, as part of an access programme. And then we were criticised about the way we structured the access programme for giving away a life-saving medicine."
The article also mentioned that Narasimhan’s early months in charge after becoming CEO in 2018 were marred by revelations that Novartis had made payments to Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, when Joe Jimenez was chief executive. And last summer, it emerged that the company had submitted manipulated data in its application to the FDA for Zolgensma, but neglected to tell the agency until the drug had been approved.
Narasimhan told the Sunday Times the FDA problem overshadowed "a lot of the good work" that Novartis had done. He offered to give up the part of his bonus tied to building trust with society — worth $400,000. "I thought what was responsible was to not receive any compensation for that."

Social media influencers promoting drugs

The Sunday Times had a feature on social media influencers who use their channels to push pharmaceutical products.
The newspaper spoke to Louise Roe, who has psoriasis and has posted messages to her 680,000 followers on Instagram about Celgene's Otezla, noting that it failed to mention the drug's various side effects.
The article said the post is an example of pharma companies outsourcing marketing to social media influencers.
Regulators are beginning to crack down on these situations, however. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a study to determine the effectiveness of influencers who write about prescription medicines. It will look at whether such posts lead to patients requesting the treatment and whether it is clear that an endorsement is paid for.

FDA puts China inspections on hold due to coronavirus

The Daily Mail on Wednesday said the FDA has put inspections in China on hold and warned Americans there could soon be shortages of 'critical' medical products due the coronavirus outbreak (APMHE 66347).
The newspaper said inspectors were pulled from the country after the U.S. State Department issued an advisory warning travellers not to China on January 30.

Coronavirus impacting drug supply from India

The coronavirus outbreak is impacting the supply of drugs from India, the FT said on Monday.
The newspaper said the epidemic has meant the prices of many pharmaceutical ingredients has spiked following panic buying and raw material shortages form China.
The FT spoke to Rahul Soni, CEO of Oversea Healthcare, who said the price of azithromycin and other antibiotics has risen 50% since January.

Moderna develops vaccine for coronavirus

The FT on Tuesday reported that Moderna is the first company to release a potential coronavirus vaccine. Company shares were up 15.6% in afterhours trading.
The vaccine still needs to be tested in humans and, if successful, it will take months to make it widely available, said the newspaper.
The Telegraph on Thursday noted that Moderna shares are climbing on the hope its vaccine can have an impact.
Novacyt shares are also on the up, said the newspaper. The company produces test kits to diagnose for coronavirus.
The share price of Byotrol, which makes antimicrobial sanitisers and wipes, has doubled since the start of 2020, it added.

Coronavirus not a business opportunity

The Times on Wednesday reported on comments from Roche CEO Severin Schwan talking down the possibility of profiting on the global health crisis.
"You can forget this as a business opportunity," he said, referring to the Swiss drugs maker's decision to give diagnostic tests to China free of charge.
It also quoted Thomas Breuer, chief medical officer at GSK, which is working with Clover Biopharmaceuticals, a Chinese company with big manufacturing capabilities, to help to research Clover’s vaccine candidate in pre-clinical studies.
"GSK is not currently looking at it as a commercial opportunity," he said, noting that it could take at least a year to develop a vaccine.

Coronavirus spread

The continued global spread of the novel coronavirus known as Covid-19 was widely covered by UK newspapers this week.
The Guardian on Wednesday said the virus has proliferated in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East in recent days, with the death toll rising in Iran, infections in South Korea passing 1,200 and the first suspected case recorded in Latin America.
It reported on comments from the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Bruce Aylward, who headed an international expert mission to China.
He praised China's drastic quarantine and containment measures but warned that other nations were "simply not ready" to contain the outbreak.
The Daily Mail on Wednesday said more coronavirus cases are now being reported each day outside China.
The newspaper said the WHO's director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom, admitted the sudden jump in cases was "deeply concerning" as fears of a pandemic continue to grow.
The Times on Wednesday said the outbreak is spreading in Iran, with claims of as many as 50 deaths, while deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, has been diagnosed.
Several newspapers on Thursday picked up comments from U.S. president Donald Trump that the danger to Americans "remains very low" and predicted that the number of cases diagnosed in the country - at the time 15 - could fall to zero in a "few days".
Trump has ordered vice president Mike Pence to co-ordinate Washington's response to the virus threat, several newspapers reported. The FT on Thursday then said the appointment has drawn a backlash from health experts and Democratic politicians.
Newspapers also quoted Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, who said: "There is every indication the world will soon enter the pandemic phase of the virus. We believe the risk of a pandemic is very much upon us and we as a government need to take steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic."
In the UK, the FT on Wednesday said Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned the country to expect more cases.
He also said the NHS is looking to extend home testing while a new public information campaign will be launched soon.

Sanofi spinning out active ingredient business

The FT on Monday covered Sanofi's announcement that it is spinning off its business that makes active ingredients for pharmaceuticals into a separate company by 2022 (APMHE 66341).
The newspaper said the move shows that the turnaround promised by new CEO Paul Hudson is gathering pace.
The France-based pharma said the new company will help Europe ensure adequate supply of ingredients and prevent drug shortages.

Existing drugs could be used to stimulate regrowth of bone mass

The Daily Mail at the weekend reported on a study that showed two existing medicines have been tested to stimulate the body's own repair system in the hope of better treatment for injuries.
Early research at Imperial College London showed that rats that were given a CXCR4 antagonist and a beta-3 adrenergic agonist regrew bone mass in their broken spines within three weeks.
The team are now pushing for human trials.

AI could help reduces costs for developing new antibiotics

The FT at the weekend carried an editorial comment suggesting that artificial intelligence can be used to find new antibiotics to treat superbugs.
It noted that MIT researchers have shown that halicin, an antibiotic discovered by an AI programme, was able to kill 35 powerful bacteria, including some considered untreatable with current treatments.
Automation could encourage more investment in the area as it reduces the costs of carrying out clinical trials.
However, the FT also noted that the broader drug discovery needs a "big shake up", including the possibility of paying pharma companies upfront based on the value of a new antibiotic rather than on the quantity sold.

Hope for cough treatment

Both the Daily Mail and The Times on Wednesday picked up a study showing that gefapixant may be effective in treating chronic cough.
Researchers at the University of Manchester found that 80% of patients showed a clinically significant response to the drug when given it in doses of 50 mg.
The Times spoke to Professor Jacky Smith, who led the research, who said: "This drug has exciting prospects for patients who suffer from the often distressing condition of chronic cough.
"Effective treatments for cough are a significant unmet clinical need and no new therapies approved in over 50 years."

Bayer facing more suits in Roundup legal battle

The FT on Thursday reported that Bayer is facing claims from 48,600 plaintiffs alleging that its Roundup weed killer causes cancer.
The newspaper said that the German chemicals and pharmaceuticals group has been in a costly legal battle on the product since August 2018 when a California court issued the first ruling linking Roundup to cancer.
The disclosure on the new claims came as Bayer reported a 19% rise in revenues to €43.5 billion for the full year and a 28% rise in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, adjusted for special items.
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