Business Briefs: AstraZeneca, Amgen, BMS and Merck

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AstraZeneca inked a deal with cancer biomarker developer Oxford Cancer Biomarkers. The agreement will help AstraZeneca identify which patients will respond to an unnamed oncology treatment. Quintiles is the primary investor in OCB, a spin-off of the University of Oxford. AstraZeneca noted that it's utilizing a personalized approach for over 20% of its product pipeline and for every active therapy area it's involved in.

Weeks after India gave the go-ahead to crank out generic versions of Novartis' still-patented oncology drug Gleevec, a new knock-off is in the works. The country has given the go-ahead for sale of a generic version of Amgen/Pfizer's RA drug Enbrel, reported PharmaTimes. The biosimilar is produced by the Chinese manufacturer Cipla, and will be sold under the name Etacept. PharmaTimes says the biosimilar will sell for about 30% less than Amgen's biologic, and quotes Cipla's medical director as saying the segment's high prices have been preventing patients from being able to purchase prescriptions. India has been a source of a great deal of IP angst, with a seemingly scattershot approach to which patents will actually stand. A recent emerging markets analysis by Booz & Co describes India's healthcare policy as one in which “further erosion of patent jurisdiction can be observed.” Booz also noted that the country of 1.2 billion potential patients is one in which less than half have access to healthcare and that the term affordable is relative. As examples, Booz said cancer treatments, which would cost around $10,000 a year in India would be within reach of about 23 million people, whereas 290 million people could afford to treat anemia which costs around $2 a year. Within this measure, around 9 million patients could afford to pay for rheumatology treatments, which Booz prices as around $3,900 a year. Researchers also said companies have found ways to make peace with some IP incursions. Among the examples: BI's decision not to prosecute manufacturers of generic version of its HIV drug Viramune as long as the marketed products are quality ones, as well as Roche's decision to work with local Emcure Pharmaceuticals to make Herceptin for a lower price under a different name.

Bristol-Myers Squibb and private biopharma Santaris have signed a deal to develop treatments using Santaris' locked nucleic acid platform. Santaris specializes in disease-related mRNAs and microRNAs. The deal includes an immediate $10 million payment from BMS and up to $90 million in additional milestone payments as well as discovery and research payments. This is in addition to a share of royalties on worldwide sales. According to Santaris' company description, the platform can be used to develop targeted treatments for diseases including cancer, a discipline in which BMS is heavily invested.

Merck opened a new manufacturing site in Hangzhou, China, the company announced Tuesday. The site is not a new one for the drug maker, which unveiled its first facility in the area in 1994, but the latest investment, which cost about $120 million, includes 75,000 square feet which the company said can be filled with “16 high-speed lines to package pharmaceutical tablets and sterile Merck medicines.” The site will make products for its diabetes, cardiovascular, infectious disease and respiratory diseases, among others. Merck also has an R&D center in Beijing, three manufacturing sites in the country and a sales and marketing service headquartered in Shanghai.

Advocacy network USAgainstAlzheimers' has a spin-off: WomenAgainstAlzheimer's. The network describes the new group as “the first national network of women in leadership positions working to speed the pace of research.” The group is supporting research that addresses sex-based differences. The founding members include an honorary Congressional Committee which includes Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representatives Annie Kuster (D-NH) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). Collins co-chairs the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer's Disease and is a ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Thursday's announcement was paired with an ad in Beltway pub Roll Call asking the women in both houses to participate. The group's first action will be a May conference.

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