Press review


Pharma turn to monoclonal antibodies to treat Covid-19

Country : China, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, U.S., UK

Keywords :
PARIS, 11 Sep (APM) - Pharmaceutical companies are turning to monoclonal antibodies to treat coronavirus, reported Les Echos on Wednesday (p.18).
There are currently around 70 such products being developed with one of the most advanced led by Lilly, AbCellera and the U.S. National Institute of Health. Phase III trials started for the latter's drug in August on 1,000 people.
Meanwhile Regeneron, working with Roche, has started testing a combination of two antibodies in 2,500 people.
It is hoped that these antibody treatments could give short-term coronavirus protection to those in at-risk jobs, for example healthcare workers, while waiting the development of a vaccine.
However, monoclonal antibodies have their drawbacks. They are complex and expensive to produce, which led Roche's chief executive Severin Schwan to say recently that the biggest issue in this situation was the lack of production capacity.
Pharma companies hope to solve the production capacity issue by joining forces, but nothing has been said about the cost - especially for countries with lower incomes.

Novartis committed to in-house R&D

Unlike many of its competitors, internal R&D is still important for Novartis, reported Les Echos (p.19) on Monday (APMHE 68750).
The pharma is not on the front line of the fight against coronavirus - despite taking part in various consortiums working on the subject - but it has thrown itself into developing from scratch a drug that can treat all the different types of coronaviruses by targeting the element they have in common.
Jay Bradner - who became head of R&D in 2016 - said that Novartis still uses partnerships to advance R&D, but that the company refuses to consider innovation as a good to be bought and sold.
The pharma is exploring "unknown territory for a big pharma" by looking at new tools such as genes, cells and therapeutic viruses.
By focusing its efforts on these new tools, it can concentrate on biologics and diseases which cannot be treated with classic drugs.
However, the paper noted that only 15% to 18% of Novartis' sales come from this type of drug - so investing heavily in this type of R&D will not be enough to renew its pipeline. The economic daily concluded that classic drugs are still important, and that big pharma should remember that.

Novartis and Roche hit with record fine for anti-competitive practices

Novartis and Roche have been hit with a record fine for anti-competitive practices, reported several newspapers on Thursday, including Le Parisien (p.8) (APMHE 68838).
The French competitive authority has fined the two pharma - along with Genentech - €444,851,976 for promoting Novartis' Lucentis (ranibizumab) over Roche's Avastin (bevacizumab) for age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
When it was discovered that Avastin - which is 33 times cheaper than Lucentis - has a similar impact to Lucentis in treating AMD, the companies carried out various anti-competitive practices. These ranged from emphasising the adverse events of Avastin in AMD to refusing to provide samples for comparative trials.
The companies were sanctioned in Italy in 2014, but both Roche and Novartis have said they will appeal the French decision.
Les Echos (p.15) and Le Figaro (p.23) also covered the story on Thursday.

AstraZeneca pauses Covid-19 vaccine trial

AstraZeneca has paused its ongoing Covid-19 vaccine trial, following a negative reaction in a patient in the UK, reported several papers, including Le Monde (p.6) on Thursday (APMHE 68824).
A company spokesperson told the Financial Times that it was a routine check and that the data will be reviewed by an independent committee.
The announcement came as the heads of nine pharma companies warned against approving a vaccine prematurely, before its efficacy and safety had been proven at the Phase III stage.
Pharma companies are wary that a vaccine could be launched on the market before it meets all the standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In turn this could increase the strength of the anti-vax movement which is already strong in the U.S. According to the New Yorker, between a third to a half of U.S. citizens would refuse a Covid-19 vaccine.
Le Parisien (p.9), Les Echos (p.1 and p.16), La Croix (p.10) and L'Humanité (p.13) also covered the story on Thursday.

Coronavirus has not stopped pharma acquisitions

The coronavirus pandemic has not stopped pharma acquisitions, reported Le Figaro on Tuesday (p.25) pointing that AbbVie's acquisition of the Chinese biotech I-Mab for $2 billion was merely the latest acquisition announced this summer.
The daily noted that Sanofi bought Principia Biotechnologies for $3.4 billion on 17 August, and Johnson & Johnson followed by acquiring Momenta Pharmaceuticals for $6.5 billion on 19 August.
Even though most pharma companies are looking for Covid-19 treatments, that has not stopped them for looking for external growth opportunities, the daily noted.
It said that oncology - which generated $142 billion last year - is still the primary target for acquisitions, while immunology is also attracting a lot of attention.

Struggle against Covid-19 sees pharma companies in unprecedented tie-ups

The struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic has seen pharma companies join forces in an unprecedent way, reported Les Echos on Monday (p.19).
Not only has the pharma industry reacted very quickly to the coronavirus pandemic, but it is also co-operating in a way that has not been seen before.
Companies very quickly realised that they had to work together to find a solution. Pfizer's chief executive Albert Bourla offered the company's plants to Gilead's chief executive Daniel O'Day when remdesivir was still at the clinical testing stage, while Roche and Regeneron have combined forces in a similar way to create the production capacities needed for any potential antibody treatments discovered.
In a more traditional way, Gilead has signed agreements with generic manufacturers to ensure that lower income countries have access to remdesivir as of next month. Gilead made similar agreements for its AIDS and hepatitis C treatments.

New head for Sandoz France

Mireille Saliba has been appointed head of Sandoz France, reported Les Echos on Monday (p.31) in a brief (APMHE 68734).
A trained pharmacist, Saliba worked for Eli Lilly before joining Novartis in 2002. She held the position of global marketing director before taking over the neuroscience subsidiary in Germany. In 2018, she took over as managing director of Novartis Hungary.

Subcontractor Unither buys factory in China

The subcontractor Unither - specialising in developing single-dose container drugs - has bought a factory in China, reported Les Echos on Monday (p.26).
The factory - 300 km west of Shanghai - with 130 employees and sales of around €10 million.
The company's aim is to expand in China in the local ophthalmology and respiratory sectors. Experts believe the country has at least 30 million asthmatics, of whom only 5% are receiving appropriate treatment.
Unither's chief executive Eric Goupil says the company is looking to invest €15 million in the site over the next three years to increase its production capacity.



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