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Merck & Co. snaps up cancer drug developer; Trump team proposes insurance fix

Top news

* New Jersey-based Merck & Co. Inc. agreed to acquire Viralytics Ltd. for A$1.75 per share in cash, valuing Sydney-based Viralytics at about A$502 million. Merck will gain full rights to Viralytics' lead product, Cavatak, which is based on a proprietary formulation of a virus that has been shown to kill cancer cells.

* The Trump administration yesterday unveiled a new proposed rule from the U.S. Departments of Labor and Treasury that would expand short-term health insurance plans from the current three-month limit to a full year. The health plans are intended to be available at cheaper costs but without the protections now covered by Affordable Care Act.

On the policy front

* The House Energy and Commerce Committee will begin a series of hearings Feb. 28 to work on bipartisan bills aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic, said committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore. Congress will consider bills focusing on law enforcement, public health and prevention and insurance coverage, The Wall Street Journal reported.

M&A and capital markets

* India's Aurobindo Pharma Ltd. is looking to buy the European business of privately held Apotex Inc. in a deal that could be valued at $100 million, The Economic Times reported.

Drug and product pipeline

* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted tentative approval to Mylan NV's combination HIV treatment, dolutegravir, emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide — the components found in ViiV Healthcare Ltd.'s Tivicay and Gilead Sciences Inc.'s Descovy.

* The FDA maintained its decision to reject PTC Therapeutics Inc.'s Duchenne muscular dystrophy treatment, ataluren. The U.S. regulator rejected the drug in October 2017, prompting PTC to file an appeal.

Operational activity

* Germany's Merck KGaA will invest €40 million to build manufacturing and distribution centers in Asia to meet the growing demand for biopharmaceuticals. The company's facilities in Incheon, South Korea, and Mumbai, India, are expected to be fully operational by 2019-end, while the Wuxi, China, site will be ready this year.

* German life sciences company Bayer AG sued Dublin-based Perrigo Co. plc for alleged patent infringement over a generic version of Finacea Foam, a topical gel for mild to moderate rosacea, a common skin disease.

* U.S.-based pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts Holding Co. and drugs retailer Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. plan to expand their group purchasing efforts to include the procurement of specialty brand drugs, or those that require special packaging or handling.

Our features

* US tax code revamp dampens Q4'17 healthcare results, adds M&A firepower for 2018: Results for 2017's final quarter were laden with one-time charges as healthcare companies paid the price for a U.S. law that will lower their tax rates in 2018 and beyond.

* ChartWatch: Teva insists on 'better days,' sees Buffett boost: Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. received a capital injection from billionaire investor Warren Buffett that will go toward its two-year restructuring plan, which includes up to $3 billion in cost savings and thousands of layoffs.

* ChartWatch: US government's share of healthcare spending to grow: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services projects U.S. healthcare spending to continue to grow and government programs to pick up a greater share of the costs.

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* Hospitals face off against drugmakers as Congress targets charity care program: President Donald Trump's proposal to reform 340B drug discounts for nonprofit hospitals was the latest salvo in a brewing battle expected to soon come to a head in a House committee.

Other features

* The Novartis AG bribery case in Greece, implicating 10 former ministers, could create disillusionment with established political parties and create support for the far-right movements in the debt-laden country, Bloomberg News wrote, citing political observers.

* Former Celgene Corp. CEO Bob Hugin's New Jersey Senate bid will test voters' views on rising drug prices as the Summit, N.J.-based biotech company faces criticism for raising the price of its cancer drug Revlimid and limiting generic competition, Bloomberg reported.

* Sales of CSL Ltd.'s vaccine unit, Seqirus Pty Ltd., rose 26% for the six months ended Dec. 31, 2017, driven by the strong performance of its cell culture quadrivalent flu shot, Flucelvax, and its modified version, Fluad, FiercePharma reported.

* Amazon.com Inc. has "quietly" launched an exclusive line of over-the-counter health products in the past few months to gain a slice of the private-label OTC medication market, potentially fueling a pricing competition and squeezing the profit margins of drug stores, CNBC wrote. Perrigo Co. plc produces the Basic Care line of products for the e-commerce giant.

The day ahead

Early morning futures indicators pointed to a lower opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng rose 1.81% to 31,431.89, and the Nikkei 225 increased 0.21% to 21,970.81.
In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.14% to 7,236.82, and the Euronext 100 was down 0.37% to 1,017.62.

The Daily Dose is updated as of 6:30 a.m. ET. Some external links may require a subscription.