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Senate bill aims to lower health costs; NYSE cuts fees to lure biotech IPOs

Top news

* The Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unveiled a sweeping plan to lower the costs of prescription medicines and to take action against surprise medical bills. The draft measure from Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the committee, and Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member, also seeks to provide greater transparency into healthcare costs overall, strengthen U.S. public health through new vaccine and other initiatives and improve electronic health information.

* The New York Stock Exchange is cutting fees for companies that have yet to make a revenue in an aim to lure biotechnology listings, The Wall Street Journal wrote. With about 95% of biotech companies choosing Nasdaq, NYSE is stepping up its game by offering pre-revenue companies a 75% discount to its annual listing fee and is capping its annual listing fees at $100,000 for three years.

* The Alzheimer's disease drug pipeline is riddled with failures, but pharma companies are vying for what would be a massive reward, as an estimated 74.7 million individuals worldwide will develop the disorder by 2030, S&P Global Market Intelligence reports in the last in a series of stories focused on the condition.

* GlaxoSmithKline PLC's blockbuster Shingrix vaccine has been approved by China's regulators, opening up even more potential for growth for the shingles prevention jab, which is already forecast to have sales significantly over £1 billion in 2019.

* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first diagnostic test for use in the U.S. to diagnose Zika virus immunoglobulin, or IgM, antibodies in human blood.

* The World Health Organization appointed David Gressly as United Nations' Emergency Ebola Response Coordinator, a newly created role that aims to strengthen Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gressly is deputy U.N. special representative of the secretary-general of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On the policy front

* Connecticut is proposing to create a public health insurance option that could be purchased by individuals and small businesses through the state, the Journal reported. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and fellow Democratic lawmakers are planning to reinstate the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate that requires Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

The proposed public option would provide additional financial aid to low-income residents who qualify for federal healthcare subsidies and to some middle-class individuals, the report noted. As part of the bill, Connecticut could seek federal government authorization to import prescription medicines from Canada and would also tax opioid manufacturers.

Drug and product pipeline

* Amgen Inc.'s Prolia was conditionally approved by China's National Medical Products Administration to treat patients with giant cell tumor of bone who cannot be treated by surgery.

* NovoCure Ltd. said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved its NovoTTF-100L System for use in combination with Eli Lilly and Co.'s Alimta and platinum-based chemotherapy as the initial treatment for tumors in malignant pleural mesothelioma, a type of cancer that forms in the membrane around the lungs. The device, in combination with Alimta plus platinum-based chemotherapy, is now approved as the first-line treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma that has grown outside the organ or has spread to other parts of the body and cannot be removed via surgery.

* The U.S. FDA expanded the use of Roche Holding AG's cobas test for use in cobas 6800/8800 Systems to detect two additional sexually transmitted diseases: trichomonas vaginalis, the most common nonviral sexually transmitted infection in the world, and Mycoplasma genitalium, a sexually transmitted bacterium that lives on the skin cells of the urinary and genital tracts in humans.

* Agios Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s Tibsovo, or ivosidenib, helped patients with a type of bile duct cancer live longer without the disease worsening in a late-stage study. The Cambridge, Mass.-based biopharmaceutical company evaluated the drug against placebo in the ClarIDHy trial in previously treated patients with cholangiocarcinoma with a mutation called isocitrate dehydrogenase 1. These patients had undergone one or two prior lines of other therapies.

Operational activity

* Novartis AG CEO Vas Narasimhan said few novel medicines, fears on data quality and lagging regulatory standards have restricted M&A activity in China, Reuters reported. The Swiss drugmaker, which has 14 listed therapies in China, aims for the Asian country to be its second biggest market, next to the U.S.

Narasimhan said the margin target of Novartis' main medicines business could be achieved "a little sooner" than its 2022 forecast, depending on the performance of drug launches, Reuters reported. "Our goal right now is to get to the 35%, and make sure that's a sustainable 35%," according to Narasimhan.

* GlaxoSmithKline PLC is making changes to its incentive program for sales representatives in certain territories in a bid to attract and retain sales staff. CEO Emma Walmsley had vowed to change GSK's culture as the company recovers from a bribery and corruption scandal in China in 2013 under former CEO Andrew Witty.

* Nektar Therapeutics formed a new unit called Inheris Biopharma Inc. that will be responsible for launching and commercializing its lower back pain treatment candidate NKTR-181. The San Francisco-based biopharmaceutical company's opioid medication is under review by the U.S. FDA, which is set to decide on the therapy by Aug. 29.

* Shenzhen, China-based genome sequencing company BGI Group is facing charges from Illumina Inc. for allegations of patent infringement on sequencing products and related sequencing chemistry reagents, Caixin Global reported. BGI said it may consider legal actions, including counterclaims, to fight Illumina's accusations.

* Santhera Pharmaceuticals Holding AG agreed to license worldwide rights, excluding the U.S. and Canada, for its eye disorder treatment Raxone to Chiesi Farmaceutici SpA for an up-front cash payment of CHF 50 million. The licensing deal allows Santhera to avoid an "imminent" capital hike, Thomas Meier, CEO of the Swiss drugmaker, told Reuters.

* The Competition Commission of India approved the proposed combination of GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer Inc.'s consumer health businesses. The joint venture is set to become the world's largest consumer health business.

The day ahead

Early morning futures indicators pointed to a higher opening for the U.S. market.

In Asia, the Hang Seng rose 0.32% to 27,353.93, while the Nikkei 225 was down 0.16% to 21,117.22.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was up 0.75% to 7,285.09, and the Euronext 100 increased 0.37% to 1,039.60.

Click here to read about today's financial markets, setting out the factors driving stocks, bonds and currencies around the world ahead of the New York open.

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