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Merck & Co., AstraZeneca report earnings; Insys facing new lawsuit

Top news

* Merck & Co. Inc. said fourth-quarter 2017 non-GAAP net income rose year over year to $2.67 billion, or 98 cents per share, from $2.47 billion, or 89 cents per share. The U.S. pharmaceutical company expects non-GAAP EPS to be between $4.08 and $4.23 in 2018.

* AstraZeneca PLC reported a 7% increase in fourth-quarter 2017 core EPS to $1.30 and it set 2018 core guidance at $3.30 to $3.50 per share. CEO Pascal Soriot said the U.K.-based drug giant was "steadily turning a corner" and anticipates to return to drug sales growth this year as new treatments gain market share, Reuters noted.

* Eisai Co. Ltd. said its attributable profit for the nine-month period ended Dec. 31, 2017, fell 26.8% year over year to about ¥28.11 billion, or ¥98.13 per share, from about ¥38.42 billion, or ¥134.14 per share. The Japanese pharmaceutical company's revenue increased 7.5%, thanks to its global oncology drugs Halaven and Lenvima.

* Japan-based Ono Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.'s attributable profit for the nine-month period ended Dec. 31, 2017, dropped on a yearly basis to about ¥41.44 billion, or ¥79.74 per share, from roughly ¥42.47 billion, or ¥80.13 per share, a year ago. Ono raised its full-year forecast for the period ending March 31, and expects profit to grow 8.9% to ¥43 billion.

* New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against INSYS Therapeutics Inc. for illegally marketing its opioid painkiller Subsys. Responding to the allegations, Insys said the lawsuit inaccurately linked the company with materially contributing to the U.S. opioid crisis.

On the policy front

* U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency is pursuing efforts to mitigate the worsening flu season. The FDA is addressing the shortage in saline solutions to ensure patients have access to these products, Gottlieb said.

* The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed to raise its 2019 payments to health insurers that manage Medicare Advantage insurance plans by 1.84% on average for more than 20 million Americans of old age or with disability, Reuters reported. The proposal also expands the benefits that insurers could offer enrollees.

* Meanwhile, India's new health insurance scheme, dubbed "Modicare," will require an annual funding of 110 billion rupees to be able to cover 100 million poor families, a government official told Reuters.

* A new group called Patients for Affordable Drugs NOW will support federal and state candidates in the upcoming 2018 U.S. elections who support legislative efforts to drive down medicine prices, CNBC wrote. Meanwhile, pharma groups are courting lawmakers as states try to bring down high medicine prices, Kaiser Health News has a report.

* U.S. state attorneys general and other local government experts told federal judge Dan Polster that withdrawing the strongest version of Purdue Pharma Inc.'s Oxycontin painkiller from the market would have immediate results in addressing the ongoing opioid epidemic in the country, insiders told Bloomberg News.

M&A and capital markets

* Biotech startup Moderna Therapeutics Inc. raised $500 million in a funding round, valuing the company at around $7 billion and boosting its so-called "unicorn" status, Endpoints News reported.

Drug and product pipeline

* The U.S. FDA approved the additional usage of Allergan plc's Avycaz to treat hospital-acquired infection bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. Avycaz is being jointly developed by Allergan and Pfizer Inc.

* The Philippines' Department of Health said a government-ordered investigation found that Sanofi's dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, may be linked to three deaths in the country, where the injection was used in a mass immunization program, Reuters reported.

Operational activity

* Allergan will pay $700 million to Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. to settle a working capital dispute between the companies.

* Array BioPharma Inc. is seeking at least $192 million from AstraZeneca PLC for an alleged breach of their licensing agreement involving the cancer drug selumetinib, Reuters reported.

* Amgen Inc.'s revenue slump at the end of 2017 will likely give way to a quiet first quarter as key drugs settle into insurance plans, executives said on the latest earnings call.

* Novo Nordisk A/S is considering in-licensing opportunities with shared risk and rewards to further grow its biopharmaceutical pipeline.

* Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. CFO James Kehoe said the company plans to launch seven innovative products in China over the next five years to stimulate greater revenue growth in the market.

Our features

Medicaid showdown in Kentucky centers on whether working improves health: The upcoming legal batter over the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services' decision to allow Kentucky to require Medicaid recipients work focuses on a key question: Does it improve Medicaid?

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng decreased 0.12% to 32,601.78, and the Nikkei 225 declined 0.90% to 23,274.53.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.34% to 7,464.61, and the Euronext 100 was down 1.04% to 1,048.25.

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