Friday Five - The week in review

Walmsley's wager

Will the potential acquisition of Pfizer's consumer healthcare business prove too enticing an opportunity for GlaxoSmithKline to turn down?

CEO Emma Walmsley did little to play down this possibility when asked during the company's third-quarter earnings call on Wednesday, but could offer no assurances such a deal would not risk the dividend payment.

Bulking out in consumer could also harm GlaxoSmithKline's aspirations and credibility in the pharmaceuticals market; just six months into her tenure, Walmsley has a big decision to make – see ViewPoints: GlaxoSmithKline's dilemma

Should Celgene stick to smaller deals?

Celgene has made a name for itself by casting a wide net where early-stage licensing deals and collaborations are concerned. It has also demonstrated, however, that betting big on externalisation is no guarantee of success.

Late last week, the company confirmed it will end late-stage development of mongersen in Crohn's disease, three years after in-licensing the asset from little known Nogra Pharma for an upfront fee of $710 million. Celgene also shelled out $1.4 billion in upfront investment as part of collaborations with AstraZeneca and Juno Therapeutics in 2015. Those alliances continue, but both have suffered clinical holds.

Perhaps the company should stick to smaller deals with a longer term impact? – perhaps, but reduced guidance for 2020 – announced on Thursday – suggests larger M&A could be back on the menu – see ViewPoints: Still a pace-setter, but Celgene loses some sheen

Europe shows the way on biosimilars

Roche's third-quarter results provide further evidence that adoption of biosimilar products in Europe is gathering pace. Sales of the oncology treatment Rituxan/MabThera declined 16 percent year-on-year for the quarter, with biosimilar erosion blamed for two-thirds of this reduction.

Reporting its third-quarter results on Tuesday, Novartis said that uptake of its biosimilar Rixathon – one of two Rituxan/MabThera biosimilars launched in Europe – had exceeded expectations, with some accounts switching entire patient cohorts from the branded biologic.

By comparison, such enthusiastic adoption in the US market remains something of a pipe dream. It was therefore not surprising to see the FDA launch a biosimilar physician education programme this week – see ViewPoints: The FDA's biosimilar offensive

Biogen, Eisai signalling aducanumab confidence?

Despite a depressingly poor track record in pivotal-stage successes, pharma's commitment to Alzheimer's disease R&D is undiminished. On this front, aducanumab is seen by many as the industry's most expensive coin flip, and the Street's current estimates give the asset a roughly 50 percent chance of succeeding in Phase III testing. Moves made by Biogen and Eisai over the past week, however, suggest the partners like their odds now more than ever.

What cannot be argued is how critically important the success of aducanumab is for both Biogen, which is developing the agent, and for Eisai, which until this week owned an exclusive option to license certain rights.

Analysts have long suspected it was a matter of when, not if, Eisai decided to opt in on aducanumab, so the news on October 23 that the Japanese drugmaker has taken the plunge will not come as a shock, but will nevertheless build expectations around the drug. As too will a new agreement signed by Biogen with Neurimmune – the original inventor of aducanumab – which has seen Biogen pay $150 million to reduce a future royalty rate by 15 percent.

Alexion back on track

Less than 12 months ago Alexion Pharmaceuticals could seemingly do no wrong; indeed the company's success provided a blueprint for aspiring orphan drug developers. Then came an internal investigation into sales practices for flagship product Soliris, the fallout from which included wholesale replacement of Alexion's senior management team. More recently the company said it will cut its workforce by a fifth and relocate its headquarters to Boston.

Such has been the dramatic change in Alexion's fortunes, label expansion for Soliris to include generalised myasthenia gravis was considered a 'must win' outcome; one dependent on clinical data shown to be compelling, but which nevertheless fell marginally short against some endpoints. Putting Alexion back on the front foot, FDA approval was secured this week.   

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