Friday Five - This week's key news stories

GlaxoSmithKline eyes Pfizer consumer unit

GlaxoSmithKline is reportedly in pole position to acquire Pfizer's consumer health business for around $20 billion; any deal will raise questions over the company's ambitions in the prescription pharma market, regardless of CEO Emma Walmsley's protestations to the contrary. (Note: GlaxoSmithKline said Friday it would not be acquiring Pfizer's consumer healthcare business).

The man tasked with reviving GlaxoSmithKline's pharma business - Luke Miels - is looking for his team to deliver blockbusters on smaller budgets, reports Reuters. Miels is said to have demanded budget cuts of 20 percent from the teams below him, with these funds being used to bring priority drugs to market. Having pared back the scope of its R&D pipeline, GlaxoSmithKline is now implementing a similar strategy across its commercial infrastructure.

Arena targets Celgene, but is Pfizer one step ahead in UC?

Arena Pharmaceuticals has found the obesity market a tough sell, but is undergoing a comeback of sorts, with positive Phase II data for the experimental ulcerative colitis treatment etrasimod unveiled this week.

Arena plans to initiate a Phase III study in the coming months, potentially pitching etrasimod up against Celgene's S1P modulator ozanimod, which is already in pivotal-stage testing for UC.

Assuming one or both products reach the market, they would likely compete with Pfizer's JAK inhibitor Xeljanz, which is pending approval with the FDA. Gastroenterologists we snap-polled this week appear keen to get their hands on Pfizer's drug.

More of the same from Celgene

On the subject of Celgene, despite recent scrutiny of the company's management team, it continues to pursue a slow and steady approach to strengthening the R&D pipeline, announcing this week a collaborative deal with Prothena focused on neurodegeneration.

Celgene has found itself under pressure owing to a number of significant setbacks impacting its late-stage pipeline, with investors cautious that its flagship cancer treatment Revlimid cannot deliver current rates of growth forever.

IO monopolies remain a rare retreat

In the race to claim share in the first-line non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) market, Roche suggested this week it could be the first player to deliver an immuno-oncology-based therapy for harder-to-treat patients with squamous disease.

A combination of its PD-L1 inhibitor Tecentriq with chemotherapy significantly improved progression-free survival versus chemotherapy alone, the company announced; few additional details were provided.

Roche appears to have little time on its side, however, with Merck & Co. expected to announce data from a similar trial studying its own immunotherapy Keytruda in the coming months. Roche - the world's largest cancer player in revenue terms by some margin - is yet to fully dictate its own path in the highly competitive field of IO.

The UK says 'yes' to biosimilar rituximab

Providing further evidence a biosimilar revolution is occurring in Europe, it is reported that biosimilar versions of Roche's cancer therapy rituximab (sold under the MabThera brand in the EU) now account for 80 percent of use of in the UK market; just over a year since the region's first biosimilar rituximab product (Celltrion’s Truxima) was approved. Novartis' Sandoz division sells a second biosimilar under the brand name Rixathon.

See Physician Views Poll Results: The 'Novartis' factor will increase comfort levels with Rixathon, but Roche holds some key cards in biosimilar showdown

Roche reported a steeper than expected decline in its fourth-quarter European sales of MabThera and faces the threat of biosimilar erosion to its blockbuster Herceptin franchise emerging over the course of 2018.

Further reading - ViewPoints: European payers gear up for 2018's biosimilar windfall

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