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Rise of digital health M&A; Humira still bestseller in Q3; Sanofi gets flu fund

Top news

* Digital health M&A is on the rise, as drugmakers look toward the likes of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data mining to speed up the lengthy and costly process of taking a drug to market. In 2019, digital health deal value rose to approximately $6.4 billion, according to an analysis by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

* AbbVie Inc.'s Humira remains the top-selling medicine in the world in the third quarter, even as increasing competition spurred a 3.7% year-over-year decline in revenue, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of the biggest drugmakers' sales. North Chicago, Ill.-based AbbVie has seen biosimilars biting into sales of Humira, which is used to treat several forms of arthritis and other immune disorders.

Third-quarter sales of cancer therapies rose 18.0% year over year for the companies included in the analysis, reaching $14.78 billion. Merck & Co. Inc.'s Keytruda and Roche Holding AG's Avastin led the list of best-selling cancer treatments.

* The U.S. government awarded Sanofi $226 million to expand its state-of-the-art flu vaccine manufacturing facilities as part of the nation's ongoing effort to move production away from the 70-year-old antiquated process of using chicken eggs and better prepare for the next big pandemic. The Paris-based company markets Flublok, the only quadrivalent recombinant protein-based seasonal influenza vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

* In the latest edition of S&P Global Market Intelligence's blog Of Mice Not Men: Scientists discover a cell signaling pathway affects protein production and causes memory problems in people with Down syndrome, and gabapentin, a drug commonly prescribed for neuropathic pain, partial seizures and epilepsy could help restore upper limb function after spinal cord injury.

Meanwhile, low doses of radiation equivalent to three CT scans give cancer-capable cells a competitive advantage over normal cells in healthy tissue, scientists at the U.K.'s Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge found.

On the policy front

* The U.S. House Rules Committee set up Speaker Nancy Pelosi's drug pricing package for a floor vote, an action that looked imperiled earlier in the day when a group of progressive Democrats had threatened to block the measure unless changes were made. That strategy worked for the progressives, who managed to score a significant victory in getting a change made to the bill requested by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, that would raise the minimum number of drugs for price negotiations from 35 to 50.

M&A and capital markets

* After a summer of competing with other suitors, Novartis AG agreed to buy The Medicines Co. for $9.7 billion in November even though the Swiss pharmaceutical giant's own models could not justify the price tag, S&P Global Market Intelligence has a report.

* Thebarton, Australia-based Bionomics Ltd. agreed to sell its two French subsidiaries, Neurofit SAS and PC SAS, to Domain Therapeutics SA for about €1.8 million.

* Amneal Pharmaceuticals Inc. agreed to acquire a 65.1% stake in Pulaski, Tenn.-based private company Avkare Inc. and its affiliate, which conducts business as R&S Northeast, for a combined value of $340 million.

Drug and product pipeline

* Following Sanofi's plans to exit diabetes and cardiovascular research, the Paris-based drugmaker and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are changing their collaboration on two medicines into a royalty-based model. Sanofi will receive sole global rights to rheumatoid arthritis therapy Kevzara and sole rights to the cholesterol drug Praluent outside the U.S., while Regeneron will hold exclusive U.S. rights for Praluent.

* Correvio Pharma Corp. said the U.S. FDA's cardiovascular and renal drugs advisory committee voted 11-2 against approval of its irregular heartbeat drug Brinavess. The panel determined that the benefit-risk profile of Brinavess, or vernakalant, was not adequate to support approval.

* China's National Medical Products Administration approved the country's first biosimilar of Roche's blockbuster cancer drug Avastin. The Avastin biosimilar, developed by Shandong, China-based Qilu Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., will be used to treat patients with colorectal cancer and non-small cell lung cancer that has advanced, spread or returned.

* The U.S. FDA accepted Roche's application for the expanded use of Xolair in treating nasal polyps. Roche, through its Genentech Inc. unit, and Novartis are jointly developing and promoting Xolair in the U.S.

* Iterum Therapeutics PLC's antibiotic sulopenem did not perform better than Merck & Co.'s Invanz in treating complicated intra-abdominal infections in a late-stage study.

Operational activity

* Purdue Pharma LP had already calculated the hundreds of millions of dollars in future potential sales of opioid painkiller OxyContin until 2022, even before the company wiped out its sales force in June 2018, Bloomberg News reported, citing internal records filed in the company's bankruptcy case. In an emailed statement to Bloomberg, Purdue — owned by the Sackler family and among companies being blamed for helping fuel the U.S. addiction crisis — said the information is "highly misleading."

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng rose 0.79% to 26,645.43, while the Nikkei 225 ticked 0.08% lower to 23,391.86.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 lost 0.08% to 7,208.31, and the Euronext 100 went down 0.21% to 1,120.01.

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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