* GlaxoSmithKline PLC is leading the race for Pfizer Inc.'s consumer healthcare business, outlasting competition from Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC, insiders told the Financial Times. Reckitt Benckiser was only looking to acquire part of the business, which sells branded over-the-counter products, and has now ended discussions regarding a possible acquisition.
* Meanwhile, Nordic Capital Ltd. withdrew its bid to acquire Sanofi's European generic drugs unit due to high price expectations, the FT reported, citing people familiar with the matter. With Nordic Capital out, Advent International Corp., BC Partners Ltd., and Carlyle Group LP, as well as at least one pharma company, remain as bidders for the business.
* Novo Nordisk A/S is expected to appoint Helge Lund as chairman at the Danish drugmaker's annual general meeting today, Reuters reported. The former BG Group CEO is known as Norway's Mr. Oil.
On the policy front
* House and Senate leaders have agreed to give the National Institutes of Health a $3 billion boost in funding under the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package unveiled late March 21, granting the biomedical research agency total funding of over $37 billion for fiscal 2018, its largest budget ever.
The bill will also allot nearly $4 billion for combating the opioid crisis, with $500 million of that going to the NIH. The agency will also have $100 million for research to develop a universal flu vaccine — a $40 million boost over last year.
The FDA would be appropriated a total of $2.9 billion in discretionary funding under the omnibus bill — $135 million over the 2017 enacted level, which is a relatively small increase for the agency.
* U.S. President Donald Trump has selected HIV/AIDS expert Robert Redfield to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, succeeding Brenda Fitzgerald, who resigned Jan. 31, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar confirmed. Redfield will be sworn in on March 26, a spokesman for the U.S. health department told S&P Global Market Intelligence.
* The right-to-try bill — which will give critically ill patients greater access to experimental drugs beyond the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's current compassionate-use process — succeeded in the House by a 267-149 bipartisan vote on the measure's second attempt, a week after it had failed in the chamber. The legislation now goes to the Senate for consideration — a vote that will not come until after Congress returns from its spring recess in April, though the timing remains unclear.
* U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo to federal prosecutors encouraging them to seek the death penalty in drug-related prosecutions whenever appropriate, as the U.S. Department of Justice continues its fight against the nation's worsening opioid epidemic.
* The U.K.'s National Health Service has made annual savings of £80 million following last year's launch of biosimilars of expensive brand-name drugs, including Roche Holding AG's cancer drugs Rituxan, Herceptin and Avastin, Reuters wrote. While these cheaper copycats have taken 80% of the British market, U.S. regulators have lagged in allowing biosimilars in a complex healthcare system.
M&A and capital markets
* The Department of Justice said its antitrust division is still examining the effects of Bayer AG's proposed $62.5 billion takeover of Monsanto Co., the world's top seed company, on American farmers and consumers, Reuters reported, citing a statement from the department. The planned megamerger yesterday received conditional antitrust approval from the European Commission.
* Swiss medical device-maker Medartis AG priced its IPO at CHF48 per share, for expected gross proceeds of CHF142.6 million including overallotment shares, Reuters noted. The price implies a market capitalization of CHF563 million and a free float of 24.6%, including overallotment shares.
Drug and product pipeline
* The European Medicines Agency maintained its negative opinion on Pharma Mar SA's blood cancer drug Aplidin. In December 2017, the agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use rejected Pharma Mar's application to market the drug, also known as plitidepsin, as a treatment for multiple myeloma, after which the company requested a re-examination of the decision.
* Endo International plc, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and Teikoku Seiyaku Co., Ltd. agreed to pay $270.8 million to settle class-action lawsuits accusing Endo of paying generic-drug-maker Watson Pharmaceuticals to delay launching a cheaper version of Endo's Lidoderm painkiller patch, Reuters reported.
* U.S. District Judge Richard Andrews dismissed a lawsuit by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission alleging Shire PLC's ViroPharma unit of breaching antitrust laws to slow FDA approval of generics competitors to its antibiotic Vancocin HCl, Reuters noted.
* Axios highlighted an analysis by Pharmacy Benefits Consultants that showed drugmakers have hiked the prices of medicines at rates that outpace inflation since January 2017 despite calls by the Trump administration to bring down drug costs.
* Shire PLC CEO Flemming Ornskov told FiercePharma that the biotechnology company is tying up with Microsoft Corp. to accelerate the diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases.
* Cambridge, Mass.-based startup biotech TCR2 Therapeutics raised $125 million, including from Chinese investors, to fund programs for preclinical solid tumor therapies, Endpoints News wrote.
The day ahead
Early morning futures indicators pointed to a lower opening for the U.S. market.
In Asia, the Hang Seng fell 1.09% to 31,071.05, and the Nikkei 225 was up 0.99% to 21,591.99.
In Europe, as of midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.60% to 6,996.71, and the Euronext 100 fell 0.92% to 1,014.11.
The Daily Dose is updated as of 6:30 a.m. ET.
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