Friday Five - This week's key news stories

Will Celgene pick up the M&A pace?

Investors were hoping Celgene would announce a deal or two last week; its punt on Impact Biomedicines was slim pickings.

Only time will tell if rumours of Celgene's interest in acquiring Juno Therapeutics prove to be true, but one issue is definitive; if Celgene is committed to being a key player in CAR-T, an acquisition is likely sooner or later - ViewPoints: Is Celgene plotting its long awaited move into CAR-T proper?

See also - ViewPoints: Sink or swim- Poseida lines up its best shot at a crowded CAR landscape and US, EU regulators grant fast track reviews for Novartis' Kymriah filings.

Merck & Co. delivers again

In the hyper-competitive market for lung cancer immunotherapies, Merck & Co. has enjoyed the lion's share of success by under-promising and over-delivering.

This week, Merck confirmed its much anticipated Keynote-189 trial has shown significant overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival benefits for the combination of Keytruda and chemotherapy versus chemotherapy alone in first-line lung cancer patients.

Having amended Keynote-189 to elevate OS to a co-primary endpoint in October, confirmation of a positive outcome - from an interim analysis - comes much earlier than expected, simultaneously raising expectations for full data, which will be presented at a forthcoming meeting - ViewPoints: Merck & Co.'s winning streak could prove decisive in front-line NSCLC chase.

See also - ViewPoints: Merck & Co. delivers Keytruda win at key inflection point.

Roche's profit warning

Merck's gain was pain for a number of competitors. Shares in Bristol-Myers Squibb fell 3 percent - with analysts suggesting the company is under increased pressure to deliver positive results for its Opdivo/Yervoy combination in first-line lung cancer - while shares in Roche dropped 4 percent.

The Swiss company had appeared to gain some ground on Merck late last year when it presented positive results from its own IMPower-150 trial, but any advantage was eliminated by the surprise readout for Keynote-189. Furthermore, Merck's announcement coincided with Roche CEO Severin Schwan warning that biosimilar competition will squeeze profitability in 2018.

Roche can at least take consolation in securing EU approval for its multiple sclerosis therapy Ocrevus - Physician Views Results: Five key questions answered ahead of Ocrevus' EU launch.

AstraZeneca extends PARP lead

AstraZeneca's ability to compete in the first-line lung cancer market appears largely dependent on its MYSTIC study showing an OS benefit for the combination of Imfinzi and tremelimumab. With this pairing having failed to demonstrate a progression-free survival benefit versus chemotherapy from an earlier readout of MYSTIC last year, expectations have been lowered.

AstraZeneca will be looking to offset any disappointment from MYSTIC with growth from a number of oncology assets in different indications, including its PARP inhibitor Lynparza, now partnered with Merck.

Late last week, Lynparza became the first drug in this class to be approved in a tumour type outside of ovarian cancer, securing clearance in the US market as a treatment for BRCA mutation breast cancer. This indication may not represent a particularly lucrative market, but approval validates AstraZeneca's belief that Lynparza holds therapeutic potential across a broad range of cancer types.

See also - ViewPoints: AstraZeneca and Roche start 2018 as they mean to go on.

Johnson & Johnson stung by Zytiga patent rebuke

Last year, Johnson & Johnson took the unusual step of filing its new prostate cancer therapy apalutamide with the FDA - for the treatment of non-metastatic patients - prior to publishing positive data from the Phase III SPARTAN trial. Results will be presented next month at the ASCO-GU meeting.

The decision was likely inspired by competitor dynamics, with Pfizer and Astellas also seeking to expand labelling for Xtandi into earlier-stage patients; they too have top-lined positive late-stage data, though it remains unclear how these two products stack up against each other.

And now a US court has thrown another fly in the ointment, by dismissing the last unexpired patent on Johnson & Johnson's marketed prostate cancer therapy (and chief competitor to Xtandi) Zytiga. Annual sales of the franchise exceed $2 billion on a global basis - ViewPoints: Patent setback threatens momentum loss for Johnson & Johnson ahead of prostate cancer showdown          

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