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Last-minute opioid litigation settlement; US FDA expands use of AstraZeneca drug

Top news

* Drugmakers Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. have reportedly reached a last-minute settlement to avoid a landmark federal trial over the U.S. opioid crisis which was expected to begin today, according to The Wall Street Journal. The companies failed to reach an agreement after meeting with the judge overseeing the trial Oct. 18, an earlier report from Reuters said. Previous media reports have estimated the proposed settlement to be worth about $50 billion.

* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved AstraZeneca PLC's Farxiga to cut the risk of hospitalization for heart failure in certain patients with type 2 diabetes. The drug is already approved for improving glycemic control in adults with type 2 diabetes.

* GlaxoSmithKline PLC agreed to sell two travel vaccines — Rabipur to prevent rabies and Encepur to prevent European tick-borne encephalitis — to Denmark's Bavarian Nordic A/S for €301 million in cash upfront.

* Healthcare tech startup TrialSpark, now armed with a 23andMe Inc. partnership and even more geographic data, is venturing out of the usual clinical research "hot spots" and engaging diverse community clinics to participate in clinical trials, S&P Global Market Intelligence reports.

* The World Health Organization said the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. There have been 2,157 deaths since the outbreak was declared in the African country.

On the policy front

* The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee will markup Speaker Nancy Pelosi's drug pricing bill at an Oct. 22 session, the last of three panels to vet the legislation before Democrats move it to the House floor for a vote. The bill, which faces opposition from certain drug lobbyists, would allow the federal government to set a maximum price on as many as 250 drugs that lack competition in the U.S., with Medicare beneficiaries paying no more than $2,000 out of pocket each year for their medicines.

Drug and product pipeline

* A combination of two of Roche Holding AG's medicines — Tecentriq and Avastin — helped improve overall survival in patients with a type of liver cancer, results from a phase 3 trial dubbed IMbrave150 showed.

* The U.S. FDA approved the expanded use of Amgen Inc.'s Nplate to treat newly diagnosed adults with a rare bleeding disorder called immune thrombocytopenia, or ITP. The drug was previously approved to treat patients one year of age and older with ITP for at least six months who had shown insufficient response to certain therapies.

* Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. said the U.S. FDA approved its drug Ultomiris for treating atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome, an ultra-rare kidney disease. Ultomiris, which is being touted by Alexion as an improved version of its older drug Soliris, is already approved in the U.S. and EU to treat another rare blood disease called paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria.

* The U.S. FDA approved Foamix Pharmaceuticals Ltd.'s therapy Amzeeq to treat moderate to severe acne in patients aged nine years and older.

Operational activity

* Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Pfizer Inc. have teamed up with Fitbit Inc., a maker of wearable fitness devices, to help detect a type of irregular heartbeat called arrhythmia in people who are at risk of stroke or heart failure.

* Johnson & Johnson has recalled a single batch of its talc baby powder product due to low levels of cancer-causing asbestos found by the U.S. FDA in a bottle bought online. The company already faces more than 14,000 lawsuits alleging that asbestos in its baby powder products caused mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.

* Sanofi is voluntarily recalling its over-the-counter heartburn medication Zantac in the U.S. and Canada, as a precaution against the possible presence of a potential cancer-causing impurity called N-nitrosodimethylamine. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Mylan NV and Novartis AG have already recalled their generic ranitidine medicines for the same reason.

* Merck & Co. Inc. plans to cut 500 sales and headquarters jobs in the U.S. by early January 2020, mainly affecting those working out of Montgomery County, Pa., according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification letter filed with the state. Merck said the layoffs are related to ongoing restructuring to focus on oncology research and development.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng was up 0.08% to 26,740.24, while the Nikkei 225 inched up 0.25% to 22,548.90.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was up 0.12% to 7,159.47, while the Euronext 100 was up 0.14% to 1,090.88.

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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