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J&J, Sanofi, Novo Nordisk raise US prices; Sanders, Dems target drug costs

Top news

* Johnson & Johnson raised U.S. list prices of about two dozen drugs, including some of its top-selling products, Reuters reported, citing data from Rx Savings Solutions. The list price increases were between 6% and 7% and included psoriasis treatment Stelara, prostate cancer drug Zytiga and blood thinner Xarelto.

* Sanofi and Novo Nordisk A/S also increased the U.S. prices of their insulin products, Financial Times (London) reported. Sanofi raised the prices of its three main insulin brands by 4.4% to 5.2% last week, while Novo Nordisk increased insulin prices by just under 5%.

* Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and a number of Democratic lawmakers said they were tired of their colleagues on Capitol Hill proposing ideas to lower drug costs, only to see those measures go nowhere. One of the bills Sanders and the Democrats introduced would allow the government's Medicare Part D prescription drug program for seniors and disabled Americans to negotiate prices directly with biopharmaceutical makers, while a second bill would let Americans import cheaper medicines from Canada and other industrialized nations.

Trump met earlier this week with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to discuss what the administration can do to ensure its strategic plan to lower drug costs does not fail — a meeting that came after a number of drugmakers upped the prices of their medicines Jan. 1.

On the policy front

* The House adopted a spending bill that would fully open the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has no plans to bring the measure up in his chamber, all but assuring the longest shutdown in the agency's history. Over the past three weeks, the FDA has been operating without more than 7,000 of its employees, or 41% of the agency, causing it to severely restrict its services and work activities.

* Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, meanwhile, urged the Department Health and Human Services to move on the administration's pledge to revamp the country's drug rebate system, The Wall Street Journal reported.

* New California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed $144.2 billion in general fund spending for the state, marked by an 8% increase in health and human services spending compared to the current fiscal year, Reuters reported.

* Mutual of Omaha, one of the U.S.' largest insurers, agreed to stop denying life and long-term care insurance to residents of Massachusetts who are using Gilead Sciences Inc.'s Truvada, a medicine used to prevent HIV infection, after the insurance provider faced legal pressure from the Massachusetts Attorney General and the nonprofit organization GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.

Operational activity

* Eli Lilly and Co. is laying off 250 employees in a plant in Fegersheim, France, as part of a modernization effort in the facility, FiercePharma reported.

* AstraZeneca PLC is also cutting 210 workers as it closes down two manufacturing facilities in Colorado, Endpoints News reported. The move is part of the company's consolidation of its biologics supply chain, and it is unrelated to recent organizational changes.

* The U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware ruled that Actavis LLC's generic version of opioid-addiction medicine Zubsolv infringed on Orexo AB's patent. The court's decision stops Actavis from marketing its Zubsolv generic products in all dosage strengths in the U.S. until after Sept. 18, 2032. Actavis is now owned by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

Our features

Wis. governor advances Medicaid expansion, but Republican support still needed: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers used his first full day in office to advance his goal of expanding the state's Medicaid program, but the Democrat still has to win over Republicans in the state legislature to make his campaign promise a reality.

Intuitive Surgical CEO touts positive 2018 fueled by da Vinci success: Speaking at the 2019 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on Jan. 10, Guthart said procedures for the robotic surgery system da Vinci increased 18% in 2018 compared with the prior year.

Other features

* Former Apple Inc. CEO John Sculley said the tech giant's impact on healthcare technology will be similar to the company's disruption of wireless technology, CNBC reported.

* Emory University reported on a screening test developed by its researchers, which uses immune cells to identify which substances can modify the immune system to fight tumors.

* Financial Times writes about the strong appetite of big drugmakers for mergers and acquisitions, and how it affects biotechnology companies.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng increased 0.55% to 26,667.27, and the Nikkei 225 increased 0.97% to 20,359.70.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 0.24% to 6,926.01, and the Euronext 100 was down 0.07% to 935.47.

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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