Press review

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Bayer's CEO regains shareholders' confidence

BERLIN, 1 May (APM) - Bayer's chief executive Werner Baumann has regained the confidence of the group's shareholders at the 2020 annual meeting, held online for the first time because of the Cpvod-19 outbreak, reported Handelsblatt (p16, 46), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) (p22) and Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) (p17) on Wednesday.
The massive approval for the actions of the board of management and the supervisory board, respectively 93% and 94%, was a great relief after last year's debacle when Baumann's management was rebuked and the supervisory board got an unusually short majority.
The pressure on the Bayer CEO has eased since last year as operational results are solid, said Handelsblatt on Tuesday (p16-17) in an analysis of 2019 results.
At the presentation of Q1 2020 results on Monday, Baumann was cautious about forecasts for 2020, saying that it was not yet possible to assess the impact of Covid-19 on the business (APMHE 67093).
The share price, which dslumped more than 30% in 2018-2019 due to the U.S. glyphosate weedkiller lawsuits, has party recovered because Bayer has a relevant business in these times of the coronavirus pandemic, added Handelsblatt.
However, 52,000 lawsuits are still pending, with trials ongoing in first instance or appeal and settlement talks in parallel. Baumann indicated that €480 million have been earmarked for legal fees over the next three years.
The annual meeting was the last for chairman Werner Wenning, who has left after 54 years at the group, told FAZ on Sunday (p23) and SZ on Tuesday (p15).
His decision to leave, before the end of his mandate, was taken because he knew the group is "in an impeccable state", he told FAZ.
In a commentary, Handelsblatt said that digital shareholder meetings, if necessary in crisis times, are "the wrong way". It limits shareholders' capacity to debate and really challenge managers, which is "a positive development".
As the meeting was held online only, public protest led by green activists opposed to the use of weedkillers also moved online, noted SZ on Saturday (p23).

BioNTech communicates no timeline or price on Covid-19 vaccine

German biotech BioNTech, developing Covid-19 vaccine candidates with Pfizer and Fosun Pharma, has not communicated on the timeline for approval or a price, co-founder Ugur Sahin told Die Welt on Thursday (p10, 15).
"We make no comment on the timeline for the first approval of a vaccine" as this depends on "too many factors beyond our control", Sahin said. "We are waiting to see what the clinical trial data will show."
BioNTech and Pfizer have started the first Phase I/II trial on BNT-162 and 12 people have already vaccinated, said FAZ on Wednesday (p19) and Die Welt on Thursday (APMHE 67044).
Getting a marketing approval early is important "to make a difference medically". However, there is no guarantee that the first vaccines on the market will win all market share, Sahin told Die Welt.
A single company will not be able to cover alone the needs for the vaccination of the world population. "Out of the 100 or so companies currently developing vaccines against Covid-19, each of them would have to generate 60 to 120 million doses of vaccine. This shows the enormous dimensions."
Asked about BioNTech's growing market capitalisation, Sahin said he is "not concerned with the daily stock market price" but "with the data from our studies".
The management has started working on "a price range" for the vaccine but it is too early to communicate on this as several factors are unknown, such as how much the clinical studies will cost in total or how high the dose for a vaccine will be.

German biotech hopes Covid-19 momentum will continue

The German biotech sector has gained momentum in the Covid-19 crisis and could continue, Handelsblatt (p19) and FAZ (p22) reported on Tuesday (p19). (APMHE 67097)
"We hope that German biotechnology will emerge stronger from the crisis," which has shown that "there is no solution without biotech," said Oliver Schacht, chairman of the industry association BIO Deutschland, upon presentation of the 2020 EY Biotech Report.
If BioNTech succeeds in finding a vaccine for Covid-19, it would be a"triumph" for the German biotech sector and could grant the companies the "societal support they deserve", FAZ said.
Regardless of the crisis, the 2019 data showed a positive trend for the German biotech sector in terms of turnover and research and development spending. However, the inflow of investment is distributed very unevenly and primarily benefits only a few "flagship" companies - BioNTech in 2019 before it started development in the covid-19 area.

Building up manufacturing capacities for Covid-19 drugs and vaccines key - Bill Gates

Building up manufacturing capacities for Covid-19 drugs and vaccines is key to supplying these in 12 to 18 months globally and not just to western countries, Bill Gates said in two interviews published in FAZ on Saturday (p15) and Die Welt on Thursday (p6).
Companies' speed in drug and vaccine development for Covid-19 is "impressive" - in particular development of therapeutic antibodies, which companies identify "at high speed" and build up capacities to manufacture these in big quantities, Gates said.
Such drugs and vaccines could "offer a new perspective on the pandemic - but we cannot rely on this, of course", he added. Within the next three months, first clinical data on vaccine candidates could help assess "if this is probable".
The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation is aiming to make treatment and vaccines accessible in developing countries, Gates said. It has already reduced the price of polio vaccine by buying large quantities over years and thus allowing manufacturers to build new factories and produce the required quantities, he said.

Sanofi's CEO says U.S. patients could benefit first from Covid-19 vaccine

Sanofi's chief executive Paul Hudson has said that U.S. patients could benefit first from a Covid-19 vaccine, FAZ reported on Saturday (p24).
Sanofi's vaccine unit has signed a deal with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) under which the company receives support for U.S. manufacturing of a Covid-19 vaccine, Hudson said at Sanofi's Q1 results presentation this week.
Hudson forecast that Sanofi could manufacture one billion Covid-19 doses until the end of 2021 under a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline and U.S.-based biotech Translate Bio, after Sanofi had spoken of 600 million doses last week (APMHE 67057).

Germany's PEI to 'fully utilise regulatory and legal flexibility' in Covid-19 vaccine approval

Germany's drugs' regulator Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) will "fully utilise the regulatory and legal flexibility without lacking the thoroughness appropriate" in Covid-19 vaccine approval procedures, according to PEI's chair Klaus Cichutek, Wirtschaftswoche reported on Thursday (p58-60).
Cichutek said that "many signals" indicate that RNA vaccine technology is safe. BioNTech has started clinical testing of RNA-based candidates and has dosed first patients this week and CureVac plans to do so in June, Wirtschaftswoche says.
However, some researches have been warning against lowering safety standards for vaccine development, such as skipping animal testing to directly start Phase I trials in humans.
Volunteering trial participants in the U.S. will be intentionally infected with Covid-19 in a private initiative, so-called "human challenge studies", to test vaccine candidates - and more than 1,000 volunteers have already been identified.

Positive data for Gilead's remdesivir in Covid-19

U.S. biotech Gilead announced positive data for its antiviral candidate remdesivir in Covid-19 on Wednesday, which has caused stock markets to rise, according to observers, FAZ reported on Thursday (p28).
Patients have recovered within 11 days from Covid-19 infection under remdesivir, compared to 15 days under placebo, according to the data come from a clinical trial conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, FAZ said. (APMHE 67152).

Heartburn drug famotidin investigated against Covid-19

Inexpensive heartburn drug famotidin could be effective in blocking the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to Chinese physicians' observations and computer modelling of virus surface proteins, published by U.S. researcher Michael Callahan in medical journal Science magazine, SZ reported on Wednesday (p14).
New York Hospital group Northwell Health has started a randomised double-blind trial to test famotidin in 1,100 Covid-19 patients. In April, 200 participants received the drug and top-line data will be presented based on 400 patients treated, SZ said.

Pharma manufacturing in Germany grew 7% during lockdown

Pharma manufacutring in Germany grew 7% during the ongoing lockdown, which makes pharma the only industry to benefit from the Covid-19 outbreak, according to a survey among 8,800 companies conducted by ifo economy institute, FAZ reported on Wednesday (p16).
Pharma exports are also expected to remain stable, according to an ifo data from 2,300 companies, FAZ said on Tuesday (p17).

Higher drug expenditures in March

The statutory health insurance companies spent significantly more on drugs in March than in the same month last year, Die Welt said on Tuesday (p14). (APMHE 67102)
Expenditure rose by 25% to €3.8 billion, German pharmacists' association ABDA said.
The number of prescriptions increased 14% to 44 million and the number of packages dispensed grew 19% to 71 million. Vaccines' expenditure in March was also 44% higher than in March 2019 to €153 million.

Europe needs strategic reserve on medical supplies and key drugs

The EU should build up a strategic reserve for medical supplies such as protective clothing, respirators and masks as well as key drugs that cannot be manufactured in Europe, said former European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources Günther Oettinger in a commentary in Handelsblatt on Thursday (p12)
The reserve should be able to cover at least 90 days.
The EU needs a financing concept for this while the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in Solna, Sweden, could be a suitable manager of the health reserve, Oettinger said.
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