The Health October 2020 - Page 7

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07

Healthcare mega deals boost M & A market

After adapting to

working from home in the Covid-19 pandemic , cash-rich technology and healthcare companies have now mastered deal-making from home .
Recently , Nvidia Corp unveiled a $ 40 billion agreement to acquire chip maker Arm Ltd from SoftBank Group Corp , while Gilead Sciences Inc inked a $ 21 billion deal for biotech company Immunomedics Inc .
They are the latest examples of companies whose business is minimally affected by , or in some cases benefiting from , the pandemic ’ s financial fallout and which are embarking on big acquisitions .
“ They ’ ve largely learned to do work from home for their own business , and now it ’ s about strategic deployment of capital ,” said Tom Miles , co-head of mergers and acquisitions ( M & A ) for the Americas at Morgan Stanley .
To be sure , US M & A volume so far in 2020 is down nearly 50 per cent on the same period in 2019 , Refinitiv data showed . But of the $ 715.9 billion spent on acquisitions this year , 41 per cent has gone towards either a technology or healthcare transaction .

New , rare genetic form of dementia discovered

A new , rare genetic form of dementia has been discovered by a team of University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine ( Penn Medicine ) researchers . This discovery also sheds light on a new pathway that leads to protein build up in the brain – which causes this newly discovered disease , as well as related neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer ’ s disease – that could be targeted for new therapies . The study was published today in Science .
Alzheimer ’ s disease ( AD ) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by a buildup of proteins , called tau proteins , in certain parts of the brain . Following an examination of human brain tissue samples from a deceased donor with an unknown neurodegenerative disease , researchers discovered a novel mutation in the Valosin-containing protein ( VCP ) gene in the brain , a buildup of tau proteins in areas that were degenerating , and neurons with empty holes in them , called vacuoles .
The team named the newly discovered disease Vacuolar Tauopathy ( VT ) --a neurodegenerative disease now characterized by the accumulation of neuronal vacuoles and tau protein aggregates .
The researchers noted that the tau protein they observed building up looked very similar to the tau protein aggregates seen in Alzheimer ’ s disease . With these similarities , they aimed to uncover how this VCP mutation is causing this new disease -- to aid in finding treatments for this disease and others .
The researchers first examined the proteins themselves , in addition to studying cells and an animal model , and found that the tau protein buildup is , in fact , due to the VCP mutation . — News Medical
Tech deals account for 27 per cent of deal volume , the highest level for this point in a year in the last 23 years and are up 37 per cent year-on-year .
“ August was the busiest month ever for us . For tech and healthcare , the regular cadence of M & A is coming back ,” said Marc-Anthony Hourihan , global co-head of M & A at UBS .
Technology and healthcare have historically the most active M & A sectors . But many companies in this sector have also fared better in the downturn , either because their offerings are accelerating the transition to digital workplaces and big data , or because they are benefiting from increased investment and spending on healthcare .
As a result , many of the companies are flush with cash , and if they also want to borrow to do deals , they can do so at very low interest rates .
Some smaller companies in these sectors have also emerged as popular targets for special purpose acquisition companies ( SPACs ), which have already spent a record sum to acquire companies to take public this year . The largest SPAC deal ever was July ’ s $ 11 billion purchase of healthcare services firm MultiPlan Inc by Churchill Capital Corp III . — Reuters

Multiple sclerosis : Drug shown to repair nerve coating

Doctors believe they are closer to a treatment for multiple sclerosis ( MS ) after discovering a drug that repairs the coatings around nerves that are damaged by the disease .
A clinical trial of the cancer drug bexarotene showed that it repaired the protective myelin sheaths that MS destroys . The loss of myelin causes a range of neurological problems including balance , vision and muscle disorders , and ultimately , disability .
While bexarotene cannot be used as a treatment , because the side-effects are too serious , doctors behind the trial said the results showed “ remyelination ” was possible in humans , suggesting other drugs or drug combinations will halt MS .
“ It ’ s disappointing that this is not the drug we ’ ll use , but it ’ s exciting that repair is achievable and it gives us great hope for another trial we hope to start this year ,” said Prof Alasdair Coles , who led the research at the University of Cambridge .
Funded by the MS Society , bexarotene was assessed in a phase 2a trial that used brain scans to monitor changes to damaged neurons in patients with relapsing MS . This is an early stage of the condition that precedes secondary progressive disease , where neurons die off and cause permanent disability .
The drug had some serious side-effects , from thyroid disease to raised levels of fats in the blood , which can lead to dangerous inflammation of the pancreas . But brain scans revealed that neurons had regrown their myelin sheaths , a finding confirmed by tests that showed signals sent from the retina to the visual cortex at the back of the brain had quickened . “ That can only be achieved through remyelination ,” said Coles . — The Guardian

Briefs

Nasal spray that could stop Covid-19 virus replicating
A nasal spray is under development that could nip a coronavirus infection in the bud , with promising results already seen in ferrets , researchers have revealed .
Scientists have released the results of initial work on a drug-like molecule they say interacts with cells in the nasal cavity to activate the body ’ s innate immune system .
While immune responses triggered by vaccines involve the generation of antibodies and T-cells geared towards particular pathogens , the innate immune system responds to a wide range of microbes .
“ It kicks in like a defence shield , which is broad-spectrum and non-specific ,” said Roberto Solari , a visiting professor within the infection in airway disease research group at Imperial College London and an adviser to the Australian biotech company Ena Respiratory , which is developing the drug-like molecule for use in a nasal spray . – The Guardian
Aktana touts a nextgeneration form of AI for commercial interactions
Aktana has had significant success in recent years in winning over pharma companies who want to add AI power to their salesforce automation tools ; half of the top 20 pharma companies currently use its systems .
Now , the company is introducing a next-generation version , branded as the Contextual Intelligence Engine , and claiming that better recommendations for sales and marketing actions will come out of this engine .
Commercial life sciences AI , generally , relies on gathering as wide a variety of data points as possible on the activities and intentions of healthcare professionals , such as the conferences they attend , the peer relationships they have , their prescribing activities and the like . When all goes well , this data , analyzed by the right algorithms , should produce recommendations and projections on next steps sales and marketing teams should take . — Pharmaceutical Commerce
Novartis says data confirms benefit of Zolgensma gene therapy for babies
Novartis said new interim data from an ongoing phase clinical trial for its $ 2.1 million-per-patient gene therapy Zolgensma showed spinal muscular atrophy patients experienced significant therapeutic benefit .
Nearly two-thirds of patients aged less than six months in the STR1VE-EU study have already achieved developmental motor milestones not observed in natural history of SMA type 1 , a rare genetic disease , at a mean duration of followup of 10.6 months , Novartis said in a statement .
The Swiss drugmaker said recently the US Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) had requested an additional study to examine the therapy ’ s efficacy in older children receiving the treatment via a spinal infusion , which could delay broader approval of the gene therapy . – Reuters