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Novartis inks UK NHS deal for heart drug; Oklahoma sues 3 opioid distributors

Top news

* Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG said it inked a deal with UK's National Health Service, or NHS, to launch a clinical study for its newly acquired heart drug inclisiran in the country. The NHS said it will collaborate with Novartis to launch a clinical trial — which will be part of a large-scale NHS study that is slated to start later in 2020 and to conduct manufacturing research.

* Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed a lawsuit in the Cleveland County District Court against major opioid pain medication distributors McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. for their alleged role in the ongoing U.S. opioid crisis. The legal case claims the three companies failed to notify state and federal authorities of suspiciously large opioid shipments to Oklahoma.

* Despite a lack of large biopharma deals since the start of this year, mergers and acquisitions are expected to continue at a robust pace, industry leaders and experts said on the first day of the 2020 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, one of the largest industry gatherings of the year. Some financial advisers anticipate M&A volume will remain high this year, though the value of those deals might not reach 2019's heights.

* Germany's MorphoSys AG sold the rights to its cancer therapy tafasitamab to Incyte Corp. for an upfront payment of $750 million. Incyte will also make a $150 million equity investment in Morphosys and agreed to pay up to a further $1.1 billion if the drug meets certain milestones.

* Healthcare companies raised about $21.82 billion from IPOs during 2019, roughly $2.4 billion short of the proceeds reported in 2018, data compiled by S&P Global Market Intelligence showed. IPO activity during 2019 slowed, with 178 healthcare companies going public, the second-lowest number since 2014. SNL Image

On the policy front

* A three-judge panel at a federal appeals court questioned whether the authority Congress granted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to efficiently administer government health insurance programs gave the agency the ability to force drugmakers to disclose their list prices in TV ads. Even if HHS has that authority, the three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington questioned whether putting the manufacturers' list prices — the wholesale acquisition cost — in commercials directed at consumers would do more harm than good by creating confusion.

* The healthcare sector added just over 28,000 jobs in December 2019, slowing a bit from the second-highest mark of the year in November 2019, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS' monthly jobs report showed that a total of 28,100 jobs were added in the last month of 2019. The healthcare sector added 398,800 jobs over 2019, beating 2018's figure by about 48,800, according to the data.

Drug and product pipeline

* Acasti Pharma Inc.'s cardiovascular drug CaPre missed the main goal of a late-stage study known as Trilogy 1 after failing to reduce triglycerides — a form of fat in the blood — in patients with hypertriglyceridemia, a chronic metabolic condition that heightens the risk of pancreatic and heart diseases.

* Adding Verona Pharma PLC's chronic obstructive pulmonary disease treatment nebulized ensifentrine to the current standard of care — Boehringer Ingelheim Corp.'s Spiriva Respimat — helped patients with the lung disease, results from a mid-stage clinical trial showed.

* Oyster Point Pharma Inc. said its nasal spray OC-O1 helped patients with dry eye disease achieve better tear production compared to vehicle, thereby meeting the main goal of a mid-stage study dubbed Mystic. For patients with dry eye disease, the tears are not able to provide adequate lubrication for the eyes.

Operational activity

* Japan's Astellas Pharma Inc. is collaborating with Adaptimmune Therapeutics PLC for the joint development and commercialization of up to three T cell therapies intended to treat cancer. Because of the nature of the agreement, Adaptimmune is eligible to receive up to $897.5 million from Astellas, but Astellas is also eligible to receive up to $552.5 million as a result of the transaction. The amounts include some upfront payment, though most of the figures are tied to milestone-related payments.

* Axsome Therapeutics Inc. received an exclusive U.S. license to Pfizer's reboxetine, the active pharmaceutical ingredient in the company's narcolepsy treatment AXS-12, plus the rights to develop and commercialize esreboxetine in the U.S. for fibromyalgia — a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, and memory and mood issues.

* Bayer AG bought an option to license Daré Bioscience Inc.'s experimental contraceptive product Ovaprene in the U.S. once the intervaginal ring is approved. San Diego-based Daré will receive an up-front payment of $1 million and up to $310 million in potential milestone payments as a result.

* Suzhou, China-based Innovent Biologics Inc. agreed to sell the commercial rights to its Avastin biosimilar IBI305 in the U.S. and Canada to Coherus BioSciences Inc. Avastin is Roche Holding AG's blockbuster drug used to treat colorectal, lung, kidney and cervical cancer, among others.

* Biogen Inc. is acquiring Pfizer Inc.'s PF-05251749, an early-stage asset that could potentially treat symptoms of various psychiatric and neurological diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Biogen will make an up-front payment of $75 million, with Pfizer eligible to receive up to $635 million in potential additional development and commercialization milestone payments.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng decreased 0.24% to 28,885.14, while the Nikkei 225 rose 0.73% to 24,025.17.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.23% to 7,600.13, and the Euronext 100 was down 0.14% to 1,154.97.

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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