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Pfizer's copy of J&J, Amgen's anemia drug approved; Novartis top lawyer to exit

Top news

* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer Inc.'s Retacrit, a biosimilar of Johnson & Johnson's Procrit and Amgen Inc.'s Epogen, to treat anemia.

* Felix Ehrat, group general counsel at Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG, is stepping down after details emerged on the $1.2 million contract the company struck with U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen.

* Parsippany, N.J.-based animal health company Zoetis Inc. agreed to buy Union City, Calif.-based veterinary diagnostics company Abaxis Inc. for $83 per share in cash, or about $2 billion.

On the policy front

* Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general's office and the Government Accountability Office urged the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee to increase oversight of the controversial 340B drug discount program for hospitals.

* The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made some long-awaited updates to the agency's online databases that provide Americans information about the government's spending on prescription drugs.

* FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb provided more clarity about the types of information his agency will disclose on a public website about brand-name drug manufacturers that have tried to block generic competitors.

* Gottlieb told CNBC in an interview that European countries' policies of price controls and utilization restrictions are not sustainable for long-term success and were leading to higher drug prices in the U.S.

M&A and capital markets

* Jacksonville, Fla.-based TapImmune, Inc. will acquire fellow cancer therapy developer Marker Therapeutics, Inc. to create a company that will be equally owned by each of their existing shareholders.

* South Africa's Competition Tribunal approved German chemical and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer AG's proposed $62.5 billion acquisition of Monsanto Co., subject to certain conditions.

* Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. increased its stake in Israeli drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd by 21,663,989 shares in the first quarter. Berkshire owned 40,539,710 Teva shares worth about $692.8 million as of March 31.

* Singapore-based SciGen Ltd said China's YiFan International Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd made a preconditional offer for all its ordinary shares.

Drug and product pipeline

* The U.S. FDA approved Gilead Sciences Inc.'s Truvada to reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV-1 in adolescents.

* The French drugmaker Sanofi and Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. said the phase 3 trial of Dupixent in adolescents with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis — a type of eczema — met its main goals.

* The U.K. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommended Teva Pharmaceutical, Biogen Inc. and German drugmaker Merck KGaA's multiple sclerosis drugs after the companies cut the therapies' prices.

* Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. said its HIV vaccine Pennvax-GP showed a durable immune response of 12 months in a phase 1 study.

Operational activity

* U.S. state attorneys general of six states launched lawsuits against Purdue Pharma LP for the unlawful marketing and promotion of its prescription painkillers, including OxyContin.

* Arcturus Therapeutics Ltd. founder and former CEO Joseph Payne said an Israeli court sanctioned an extraordinary general meeting of the San Diego-based biotechnology company's shareholders.

* Japan's Eisai Co. Ltd., which has recently teamed up with Biogen, Merck & Co. Inc. and others, said it will continue to rely on partnerships to fuel innovation.

* Germany's Merck KGaA is looking for partnerships to develop some of its pipeline drugs even as sales are starting to flow in from new products.

Other features

* Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie Inc. reversed a decision to triple the price of blood cancer drug Imbruvica, following criticism from cancer doctors, The Washington Post reported.

* Japan has approved the world's first clinical trial to test induced pluripotent stem cells for treating heart failure by layering newly created cardio muscle cells on the patient's heart, the Nikkei Asian Review reported.

* STAT featured the transition of Clayton, N.C. "from farm to pharm" as Denmark's Novo Nordisk A/S constructs its $1.8 billion plant in the small town to expand its production of diabetes medicines.

The day ahead

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

In Asia, the Hang Seng fell 0.13% to 31,110.20, and the Nikkei 225 was down 0.44% to 22,717.23.

In Europe, as of midday, the FTSE 100 was up 0.13% to 7,732.64, and the Euronext 100 had fallen 0.09% to 1,070.51.

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