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Biotech startups land superbug funding; Ryan supports ACA insurance payments

* The Trump administration is likely to continue payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act after U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., signaled that his party would not take steps that could destabilize the market, The Wall Street Journal reported.

* Democrats called on Republicans to drop their pursuit of trying to sink the Affordable Care Act and urged their rivals to instead join them in taking on the biopharmaceutical industry. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and 15 Democratic senators have co-sponsored a bill in the Senate called Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act, which they are promoting as a way to improve the Affordable Care Act.

* About a dozen small biotechs, most of them startups, landed $24 million in immediate funds and the potential to earn another $24 million in milestone-based payments from the Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator, or CARB-X, to advance new medicines and diagnostics aimed at treating superbugs.

* Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed a bill to expand the state's Medicaid program to Kansans below 133% of the poverty level, projected to be between 150,000 and 180,000 people. In a statement on the veto, Brownback said changes would be "unwise" when efforts to overhaul the Affordable Care Act are still ongoing and Medicaid funding changes could be on the horizon.

M&A and capital markets

* Indian generic drugmakers Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Lupin Ltd., Cipla Ltd. and Zydus Cadila are interested in acquiring Novartis AG's respiratory drug portfolio, which could fetch as much as $500 million, The Economic Times of India reported.

* Guanhao Biotech Co. Ltd. plans to raise 1.8 billion Chinese yuan in a private placement of its common stock, Sina Medical News reported. The funds will be used toward buying out a partially owned subsidiary.

* Bellicum Pharmaceuticals Inc. raised $69 million via an underwritten public offering of 5,750,000 common shares priced at $12 per share.

* Johnson & Johnson's main tender offer to acquire Actelion Ltd. shares for $280 apiece expired March 30. The company now owns 77.20% of the voting rights and the share capital of Actelion.

Drug and product pipeline

* The U.S. FDA granted full approval to AstraZeneca PLC's lung cancer drug Tagrisso. Tagrisso is the first approved treatment in the U.S. for patients with non-small cell lung cancer who tested positive for a T790M mutation in the epidermal growth factor receptor gene.

* Janssen Biotech Inc. decided against advancing the phase 2 study of DARZALEX in three types of relapsed or refractory non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The Johnson & Johnson unit is collaborating with Genmab A/S on advancing the drug, and the decision does not affect other ongoing or planned studies.

* Aeterna Zentaris Inc. plans to submit a new drug application with the U.S. FDA to approve Macrilen to evaluate growth hormone deficiency in adults. Previously, the phase 3 clinical trial of Macrilen failed to achieve its objective of validating a single oral dose of the drug, using the insulin tolerance test as a comparator.

Operational activity

* Merrimack Pharmaceuticals Inc. stockholders approved the sale of its oncology assets to Ipsen. The deal includes Merrimack's commercialized pancreatic cancer product Onivyde and generic injection Doxil which is under a development, license and supply agreement with Actavis LLC.

* U.S. District Court of Delaware Judge Richard Andrews ruled that Lannett Co. Inc. and Lannett Holdings Inc. infringed on two of Impax Laboratories Inc.'s valid U.S. patents protecting the Zomig nasal spray for migraine attacks. Impax and certain AstraZeneca PLC units had sued for alleged patent infringement based on Lannett's abbreviated new drug application for a generic version of Zomig.

* ProMetic Life Sciences Inc. and Shenzhen Royal Asset Management Co. Ltd. seek to establish a joint venture, Prometic ChinaCo., to develop, manufacture and commercialize three drugs in China, excluding Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Shenzhen will provide C$23 million in 2017 to secure an initial 17% ownership of the new unit, which will enter the Chinese market with a focus on treatments for diabetic kidney disease and lung and liver fibrosis.

* TerSera Therapeutics LLC acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to AstraZeneca PLC's cancer drug Zoladex for an up-front payment of $250 million and up to a further $70 million in milestone-related payments and royalties on the drug's sale. AstraZeneca will continue to manufacture the drug and retains commercialization rights in other countries.

* Activist investor Sarissa Capital Management LP is seeking a reduction in the compensation of Innoviva Inc.'s CEO and board. The demand comes amid a proxy fight between the activist investor and the company, which Innoviva deemed "unnecessary and distracting."

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* FDA urges lawmakers to back medical-device user-fee agreement with industry: Failure to reauthorize the medical-device user-fee program would lead to a reduction of one-third of the staff that regulates devices, FDA's head of device arm, Jeffrey Shuren, told lawmakers at a March 28 hearing.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng dipped 0.78% to 24,111.59, and the Nikkei 225 declined 0.81% to 18,909.26.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.55% to 7,328.85, and the Euronext 100 was down 0.27% to 978.67.

The Daily Dose is updated as of 6:30 a.m. ET. Some external links may require a subscription.