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J&J loses another talc cancer case; big pharma joins Verily on clinical trials

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J&J loses another talc cancer case; big pharma joins Verily on clinical trials

Top news

* A New York jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay at least $25 million in compensatory damages to a woman alleging that the company's talc products caused her cancer, Bloomberg News reported. Donna Olson claimed that her mesothelioma — a type of cancer in the lining of internal organs that is caused by exposure to asbestos — was caused by decadeslong use of the company's baby powder.

* Verily Life Sciences LLC has teamed up with Switzerland's Novartis AG, New York's Pfizer Inc., France's Sanofi and Japan's Otsuka Holdings Co. Ltd. to apply digital technology to clinical research programs in an effort to make them more patient-centered.

With Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi and Otsuka, Verily — the life sciences arm of Google LLC parent Alphabet Inc. — plans to increase the number of people participating in clinical trials by making the process more streamlined. The pharmaceutical companies, in turn, plan to launch clinical studies using the Project Baseline platform in areas such as cardiovascular disease, oncology, mental health, dermatology and diabetes.

* Though recent mentions of Biogen Inc. have primarily revolved around the latest in a line of failures to treat Alzheimer's disease, the company still has a few tricks up its sleeve, including a partnership with Ionis Pharmaceuticals Inc. that takes a different approach to treat the incurable neurodegenerative condition, S&P Global Market Intelligence reported.

* S&P Global Market Intelligence has a separate report on how the approach to tackling heart disease holds lessons for addressing the rising specter of Alzheimer's disease.

* A couple of biopharmaceutical CEOs revealed what they would prioritize and promote if they were the U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, while the person who recently left that job admitted some of his failings.

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said if he led the FDA, he would work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to move government reimbursement for drugs to a value-based, outcomes-based system. If he were FDA commissioner, Novartis AG CEO Vasant Narasimhan said he would "take on the tobacco industry in a big way" as the key effort to tackle cancer in the U.S.

Scott Gottlieb, who exited the FDA on April 5 after less than two years as commissioner, said the agency "struck the wrong balance" with e-cigarettes, acknowledging the youth vaping epidemic surged after he decided in 2017 to delay the premarket application reviews for those products until August 2022.

On the policy front

* Negotiating costly surprise medical bills should be the responsibility of healthcare providers and insurance companies, and patients should be protected from the process, according to healthcare experts testifying before Congress. While some federal regulation is needed, multiple witnesses told a U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means subcommittee that state governments should lead the way.

* South Korea's government is raising its annual research and development spending for the biotechnology sector to 4 trillion South Korean won by 2025 from 2.6 trillion won, the Financial Times reported. As part of efforts to boost growth amid economic headwinds, Seoul is also hiking funding for biotech from state lenders by 2 trillion won over the next five years and removing regulatory hurdles.

* Seth Berkley, CEO of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, said misinformation that creates doubts about vaccines should be taken offline by digital platform operators, Reuters reported. During a U.S.-sponsored event on the sidelines of the World Health Organization's annual assembly in Geneva, Berkley said false information on social media spreads rapidly and could result in deaths due to poor vaccination coverage.

* Chinese health data company iCarbonX is being forced by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to back out of investments in U.S. healthcare companies PatientsLikeMe and HealthTell, insiders told the Financial Times. The federal agency, which can block deals that could pose a potential threat to national security, is sending a "chilling effect" through both Silicon Valley and China's tech industry, according to Christian Davis of Washington-based law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

M&A and capital markets

* Merck & Co. Inc.'s $1.05 billion acquisition of private company Peloton Therapeutics Inc. is a relatively small bolt-on deal, but one that aligns with the company's trajectory in the oncology space, which has been largely reliant on blockbuster Keytruda for half a decade.

"While maybe not the size of deal that some have been hoping Merck to pursue, Peloton's initial focus on renal cell carcinoma is complementary to where Merck is already finding success with the recent approval of Keytruda and Pfizer's Inlyta in first-line renal cell carcinoma based on the positive Keynote-426 trial," Credit Suisse analyst Vamil Divan said.

* Amgen Inc. launched a public cash offer to acquire all shares of Danish biotechnology company Nuevolution AB (publ) at 32.50 Swedish kronor each. The offer has a total value of 1.61 billion kronor, or about $167 million.

Drug and product pipeline

* Array BioPharma Inc.'s stock gained over 17% after a drug combination of two of its medicines, Mektovi and Braftovi, with Eli Lilly and Co.'s Erbitux was shown to reduce tumor size and increase survival duration in certain cancer patients. Boulder, Colo.-based Array was studying the regimen in a late-stage trial called Beacon CRC, which enrolled previously treated patients with BRAF-mutant colorectal cancer that starts in the colon and spreads to other parts of the body.

Operational activity

* Shanghai-based Zai Lab Ltd., which has five ongoing in-house drug discovery programs and more than 200 employees in the in-house R&D division, plans to add over 100 staff to the segment by the end of 2019, Chairman and CEO Samantha Du said. "With capital investment, more talent moving to China and supportive policies, I think it is possible that China could become the second-largest country for drug innovation in about 15 years," Du added.

* Sino Biopharmaceutical Ltd.'s profit attributable to the owners of the parent for the first quarter ended March 31 rose 11.1% year over year to 856.7 million Chinese yuan from 771.1 million yuan. EPS attributable to ordinary equity holders of the parent was 6.80 fen, compared to 6.44 fen in the year-ago period.

* India's Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. plans to invest in developing patented medicines instead of making only generic therapies, Bloomberg News reported. Sun Pharma founder Dilip Shanghvi, who also holds a 55% controlling stake in the company, said he hopes that half of the company's revenue would be from patented medicines.

* The Competition Commission of India found that Bayer AG unit Monsanto Co. abused its dominant position in the genetically modified cotton seeds market to fare better than rivals, Reuters reported, citing three sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, Hang Seng gained 0.18% to 27,705.94, while the Nikkei 225 ticked 0.05% higher to 21,283.37.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 rose 0.43% to 7,359.80, and the Euronext 100 increased 0.10% to 1,050.06.

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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