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Bayer/Monsanto megamerger nabs EU approval; China to cut tariffs on cancer drugs

Top news

* Germany's Bayer AG said the European Commission conditionally approved its proposed $62.5 billion takeover of Monsanto Co., the world's top seed company. The regulator wants Bayer to sell certain businesses, including its global field crop seeds business.

* As part of broad plans to open the economy, China is considering doing away with import tariffs on medicines, according to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. China plans to "extensively lower" tariffs for therapies that address unmet medical needs, while aiming for a zero tariff rate for anti-cancer drugs.

On the policy front

* Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, has been waiting for Congress to pass its Omnibus spending bill to start up his public-private partnership aimed at accelerating the development of nonaddictive alternatives to opioids and better overdose-reversal agents.

* Researchers at the London School of Economics warned that the U.K. National Health Service is not prepared for the costs of potential breakthroughs in treating Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia that could range from about £300 million to £9 billion annually, the Financial Times reported.

M&A and capital markets

* Spanish pharmaceutical company Grifols SA will acquire Haema AG, a privately held Germany-based plasma collector, from investment firm Aton GmbH for €220 million.

* Boston Scientific Corp. entered into a definitive agreement to acquire NxThera for $306 million up front in cash, and up to $100 million in potential commercial milestone payments over the next four years. Minnesota-based NxThera developed the Rezum system, which treats men for symptoms arising from an enlarged prostate.

* Cipher Pharmaceuticals Inc. is acquiring Cardiome Pharma Corp.'s Canadian business portfolio, which includes four drugs, for C$25.5 million in cash.

* AFT Pharmaceuticals Ltd. divested its noncore hospital products in New Zealand to Baxter International Inc. to focus on its higher margin over-the-counter offerings.

Drug and product pipeline

* Seattle Genetics Inc. won its fifth U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for Adcetris after the agency allowed the use of the medicine, in combination with chemotherapy, in treating certain patients with classical Hodgkin lymphoma — a type of cancer that affects a part of the immune system called the lymph system.

* Danish biotech Zealand Pharma A/S said the first phase 3 study of dasiglucagon to treat severe hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, met its main and secondary goals.

* The U.S. FDA granted orphan drug designation to Trillium Therapeutics Inc.'s skin cancer treatment TTI-621.

Operational activity

* Johnson & Johnson appointed Joseph Wolk to serve as executive vice president and CFO after Dominic Caruso announced plans to retire from those roles.

* Ireland's Prothena Corp. Plc is collaborating with Summit, N.J.-based Celgene Corp. to develop new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. Prothena will receive a $100 million up-front payment and a $50 million equity investment by Celgene.

* Moody's revised the outlook on Shire Plc's Baa3 issuer rating to positive from stable, representing the agency's expectations for solid operating performance from recent product launches and continuing debt reduction.

* U.S. prosecutors said several Novartis AG sales representatives will testify they provided doctors with expensive dinners, speaker fees and other perks in exchange for prescribing the Swiss drugmaker's medicines and boost sales, Bloomberg News reported.

* The U.S. FDA observed three violations at Alembic Pharmaceuticals Ltd.'s formulation facility in India.

Our features

Drugmakers target new approaches in drive to treat schizophrenia: There have been remarkably few advances in the treatments available for those diagnosed with schizophrenia in recent decades, but Cardiff University researchers have uncovered 50 new genes and brain pathways that increase the risk of developing it.

Once questioned as science fiction, more surgeons becoming open to using robots : While a debate continues over the use of robots in hip and knee surgeries, proponents see signs that surgeons are increasingly accepting the technology.

CEO: Reinvigorated from Novartis deal, Xoma looks to next asset sale: Xoma, once a classic biotech company searching for the next big drug, was on the verge of collapse before it turned to a new target: becoming a "royalty aggregator."

Insurers eye loosened ACA requirements as hope for cost-sharing subsidies fades: While Congress is reportedly likely to reject a measure to fund cost-sharing reductions, the industry's tenor is moving toward loosening minimum coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act.

Other features

* Luke Miels, GlaxoSmithKline PLC's new president of global pharmaceuticals, wants his managers to find budget savings of 20% and reallocate them to priority drugs and markets, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources. Miels confirmed that he aims to funnel sales and marketing resources to new products, including shingles vaccine Shingrix and lung drug Trelegy, in 10 major markets.

* Drug distributors such as AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson dropped for a second day after U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his pledge to lower U.S. drug prices and to get tough on companies that contributed to the opioid epidemic, Bloomberg News wrote.

* Meanwhile, Opiant Pharmaceuticals Inc. shares rose the most since December 2017 after Trump said pharma companies would distribute free Narcan, an anti-overdose product made by Opiant, to schools as part of the opioid battle, Bloomberg noted. During a March 19 speech in New Hampshire, Trump also asked Mike Kelly, a top executive at Adapt Pharma Inc., which distributes Narcan, to discuss the program offering free samples of Narcan to schools.

* Inc. has been in talks with AARP, a nonprofit for the elderly, since 2015 about potential partnerships to design technologies for aging populations, CNBC reported.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng fell 0.43% to 31,414.52, and the Nikkei 225 was down 0.47% to 21,380.97.

In Europe, as of midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.37% to 7,034.84, and the Euronext 100 had fallen 0.01% to 1,024.89.

The Daily Dose is updated as of 6:30 a.m. ET.

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