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Doctors sued for role in US opioid crisis; rise of robotic surgery challengers

Top news

* Pharmacy chain operators CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., Walmart Inc., Rite Aid Corp. and other drugstore companies filed a lawsuit against physicians in northeastern Ohio, alleging that doctors should be held responsible for the U.S. opioid addiction crisis, The Washington Post reported, citing legal documents.

The companies, sued by the Cuyahoga and Summit counties in Ohio, said doctors and other opioid prescribers should also pay penalties if drugstore operators are found liable by the court. Federal opioid litigation against the major pharmacy chains is set to go to trial in October.

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* As the early days of robotic surgery give way to more precise control and better patient outcomes, early pioneers like Intuitive Surgical Inc. are seeing increased pressure from large companies like Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic PLC, which have made major M&A investments to crack into the market in recent years. Analytics firm GlobalData reported in November 2019 that the surgical robot market is expected to reach $275 billion by 2025, almost tripling in size compared to 2018 when the market accounted for $98 billion.

* The contract research organization, or CRO, sector would likely withstand an economic downturn due to steady demand, a reliable stream of revenue and solid free cash flow, according to S&P Global Ratings. CROs may suffer a sharp but short decline in revenues and margins in the event of a recession, but they will quickly recover due to the critical role CROs play in drug research and development, the rating agency noted.

* A large study published in the medical journal JAMA said it was not able to establish the link between ovarian cancer and applying Johnson & Johnson's talc powder products near the genital area. However, women with an intact reproductive tract who used the talc powders showed a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to those who did not use the product, the study noted.

M&A and capital markets

* Spain's Almirall SA entered an option agreement to acquire Irvine, Calif.-based Bioniz Therapeutics Inc. in a move to expand its medical dermatology pipeline. Bioniz Therapeutics is developing its lead drug candidate BNZ-01 to treat refractory cutaneous T-cell lymphoma and autoimmune diseases such as alopecia areata, a condition characterized by unpredictable hair loss.

Under the deal, Almirall will make an initial payment of $15 million, plus an option fee of $47 million if it decides to exercise its option to acquire all outstanding shares of Bioniz.

* Two controlling shareholders of London-based healthcare provider NMC Health PLC, Saeed Al Qebaisi and Khaleefa Al Muhairi, announced plans to sell 31.2 million existing ordinary shares of NMC Health at £12 apiece, raising about $493 million in gross proceeds intended to repay their debts. The company noted that the two investors will remain as main shareholders of NMC Health.

As of 12:19 p.m. London time on Jan. 8, NMC's shares were down 14.22% to 1,282.00 pence.

* Harvest Health & Recreation Inc. filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Federal Court in the District of Arizona requesting termination and rescission of its merger deal with Falcon International Inc., citing Falcon's failure to meet certain legal obligations, including providing auditable financial records.

Drug and product pipeline

* Apellis Pharmaceuticals Inc. said its investigational drug APL-2 was better than Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s Soliris in increasing the hemoglobin level of patients with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria — a rare disorder that causes red blood cells to break apart — in a late-stage study known as Pegasus.

Operational activity

* Shield Therapeutics PLC signed an exclusive licensing deal with Beijing Aosaikang Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. to develop and commercialize its iron deficiency treatment Feraccru (known in the U.S. as Accrufer) in China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. The British drugmaker will receive $11.4 million up front, an additional $11.4 million upon the medicine's regulatory approval in China and up to $40 million in milestone payments.

* Tyme Technologies Inc. and Eagle Pharmaceuticals Inc. entered a $20 million cash-and-stock deal to co-promote Tyme's SM-88 therapy aimed at treating advanced cancers in the U.S.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng lost 0.83% to 28,087.92, and the Nikkei 225 fell 1.57% to 23,204.76.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 slid 0.02% to 7,572.52, and the Euronext 100 shed 0.04% to 1,152.67.

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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This S&P Global Market Intelligence news article may contain information about credit ratings issued by S&P Global Ratings. Descriptions in this news article were not prepared by S&P Global Ratings.