Press review

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AbbVie's Rinvoq reimbursed in France for rheumatoid arthritis

PARIS, 12 June (APM) - AbbVie has had its rheumatology drug Rinvoq (upadacitinib) reimbursed in France for rheumatoid arthritis as it finalised its $63 billion acquisition of Allergan, reported Le Figaro on Wednesday (p.26).
Rinvoq is set to replace another of AbbVie's rheumatology drugs Humira (adalimumab) - the biggest selling drug worldwide, generating 57.6% of AbbVie’s sales. The European Commission approved Rinvoq in moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis at the end of 2019 (APMHE 65573), and the company has since filed in active psoriatic arthritis (APMHE 67584).
Beside Rinvoq, AbbVie is in the midst of putting in place therapies which could replace these sales as Humira is facing a patent cliff.
In addition to Rinvoq, AbbVie is also relying on plaque psoriasis drug Skyrizi (risankizumab), which, according to head of AbbVie France Pierre-Claude Fumoleau, it is hoped will have sales beyond those of Humira given its different mechanism of action and indications.
AbbVie's acquisition of Allergan (APMHE 67303) - which has made it the fourth biggest pharma worldwide - is also set to be a growth driver with the former’s presence on the ophthalmology and medical aesthetics sectors.
In all, AbbVie is looking to launch 40 drugs in new or expanded indications by 2024.

French scientists present 'intelligent chemotherapy' data at ASCO

Scientists from France’s Gustave-Roussy cancer centre have presented encouraging results for an innovative new lung cancer treatment, Le Figaro reported on Monday (p.13).
The so-called ‘intelligent chemotherapy’ is combined with an antibody to target lung tumour cells as much as possible while avoiding healthy cells, to treat locally advanced cancers, metastatic cancers and severe cancers which have already failed to respond to at least three previous treatments.
The treatment targets cells moderately or strongly emitting CEACAM5 antigens, which most tumour cells do.
This ultra-targeted technique has the benefit of causing fewer adverse events - for example no hair loss and little vomiting.
Further trials are required to see how the efficacy of the treatment varies with how intensely the cells emit CEACAM5. Scientists quoted in the paper are saying it looks promising - with two out of three patients benefiting when their cells emit high levels of CEACAM5.
However, head of the respiratory and thoracic oncology department at Lille’s university hospital professor Arnaud Scherpereel pointed out that this was not the first drug in this class that seemed promising in its early stages, only to fail at Phase III.

Sanofi aims for sales of $10 billion for Dupixent

Sanofi is aiming for sales of $10 billion for Dupixent (dupilumab), looking to launch the drug in 90 new or extended indications by 2023, reports Les Echos on Friday (p.22) (APMHE 67716).
In a digital information point on Thursday the pharma announced its plan to focus on the biologic, in line with the message of "recentering" announced by chief executive Paul Hudson when he took up the post last September.
Global lead of Dupixent at Sanofi said that the company is looking to exploit the two indications for which the drug is approved - eczema and asthma - as much as possible by carrying out trials evaluating them in children and adolescents in addition to adults.
Even though there are two other biologics already on the asthma market - GlaxoSmithKline's Nucala (mepolizumab) and AstraZeneca’s Fasenra (benralizumab) - analysts believe it could have sales of $5.4 billion in this market alone.

Potential AstraZeneca/Gilead merger

Rumours abound that AstraZeneca and Gilead are in merger talks, reported Le Figaro on Tuesday (p.24) (APMHE 67665).
Apparently the talks started last month and are still at the informal stage, the paper added, noting that if the merger were to go ahead, it would be result in a company worth almost $240 billion and dwarfing Bristol-Myers Squibb’s acquisition of Celgene for $74 billion last year.
Such a merger would benefit both companies, noted the daily. AstraZeneca needs cash - which Gilead with liquidity of $24 billion in the first quarter has plenty of - while Gilead needs a drug portfolio - which AstraZeneca has.
However, such huge mergers - which regularly took place 20 years ago - do not seem very attractive at the moment. Pharmacist specialist at Bryan, Garnier & Co Eric Le Berigaud said he believed that discussions on potential collaborations or share sharing were more likely than a potential merger.
Les Echos also covered the story on Tuesday (p.36).

Moderna CEO optimistic about approval of Covid-19 vaccine

Moderna’s chief executive told Les Echos in an interview on Tuesday (p.20) that he is optimistic about the likelihood of the pharma’s Covid-19 vaccine being approved.
In the interview, Stéphane Bancel, told the economic daily that Moderna has started a Phase II for its vaccine and that a Phase III is set to start in July. He noted that he believes the vaccine has a 70% to 90% chance of being approved but added that there would not be any data about the vaccine’s efficacy until autumn.
Despite the lack of data on its efficacy, Bancel hinted that the U.S. government had already passed orders for the vaccine, pointing out that it had bought vials of the H1N1 vaccine before it has been approved.

NASH treatment eluding pharma companies

A treatment for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is eluding pharma companies, causing agitation, reports Les Echos (p.22) on Friday.
There is currently no treatment for the disease - whose market is set to be worth $22 billion to $35 billion - with some liver specialists stating that it is a consequence of obesity and that therefore the only real cure is a healthy lifestyle.
However, the potential market is too promising for pharma companies, which are investing heavily to try and find a cure.
Novo Nordisk and Gilead have teamed up to test for former’s Ozempic (semaglutide) with the latter’s firsocostat and cilofexor in NASH in a Phase I-II. This follows the failure of Gilead’s selonsertib in Phase III last year.
Gilead is not the only pharma to have failed the last hurdle in NASH. Genfit’s elafibranor also failed at Phase III in May.
However, Intercept’s Ocaliva (obeticholic acid) looks promising - expecting to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by 26 June for NASH. And Novartis and Enanta Pharmaceuticals are also working on drugs with similar mechanisms of action.

Trial on Servier’s Mediator restarts

The trial on the scandal surrounding Servier’s Mediator (benfluorex) has restarted after the coronavirus confinement halted it, reported Les Echos on Monday (p. 20).
As of 9 June until 24 June, the lawyers of Mediator victims and their families will plead to the court of the pain, fear of death and anger at the "Servier system", reported the paper.
The pharma, while "presenting its apologies and sincere regret" - as noted in briefs by L’Humanité and Le Parisien on Tuesday (p. 8 and p.12 respectively) - has not stopped defending itself, saying no warnings were raised about the drug until 2009 - the same year it was withdrawn from the market.
After the plaintiffs have had their say, the lawyers for the defence will have their say. The end of the trial is set to end on 6 July.
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