In this week’s edition of the Innovation Partners BioBlog, we look at two stories related to pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca has identified two potential antibodies against COVID-19 and expect to move them into the clinic by August. However, this means that AstraZeneca’s merger with Gilead is off the table for now as the company focuses their efforts on the battle against COVID-19. More of the week’s top health industry news may be found in this week’s Innovation Partners BioBlog.

Innovation Partners Weekly BioBlog June 12

CVS study: Broad-panel sequencing lowers long-term cancer care costs

A CVS study shows that broad-panel genetic sequencing may lower the long-term costs for cancer patients. CVS Health released a study analyzing 45 lung cancer patients who were given broad-panel sequencing and 399 who received narrow-panel sequencing. The results indicate that while broad-panel sequencing is more expensive in upfront costs, the total costs for cancer care were lower as the genomic testing allowed for more targeted interventions than narrow-panel sequencing.

Innovent and Roche Partner to Develop Bispecific Antibodies and Cell Therapies for Cancer

Roche and Innovent Biologics have announced a strategic research and development collaboration to discover and develop bispecific antibodies and multiple cell therapies for the treatment of hematological and solid cancers. Few details of the partnership were revealed, but some facts are known. China-based Innovent will pay Roche an undisclosed upfront fee for access to certain Roche technologies that enable the discovery and development of specific 2:1 T-cell bispecific antibodies (TCB) and the universal CAR-T platform. Roche could receive more than $2 billion from the deal if all regulatory and commercial barriers are overcome.

AstraZeneca ditches plan for Gilead merger amid industry skepticism: report

The Times of London reported that the potential AstraZeneca merger with Gilead may be cancelled. AstraZeneca has decided to focus instead on its COVID-19 research, putting more effort behind the quest for a vaccine and treatment. Wall Street analysts had already voiced skepticism about the potential merger, stating the belief that Gilead is already moving ahead with a better management team and increasingly bright prospects that would make the merger less attractive to them.

Blues plans sue CVS for allegedly inflating generic drug prices

Six Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers have sued CVS Health, seeking millions of dollars for alleged over-inflated generic drug prices. The insurers claim that for over a decade, CVS submitted fraudulent claims for payment at artificially inflated prices and concealed the true cash price of the drugs. Lawsuits were filed in Alabama, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota and Missouri. CVS had created a health discount program, the Health Savings Pass and the Value Prescription Savings Card, to provide cash discounts. Insurers claim that CVS used the discount program to deliberately hide the true prices of the drugs from third-party payers and to get payers to pay more for the drugs.

COVID-19 could cost insurers up to $547B through 2021: report

An updated report estimates that the cost of COVID-19 to insurers could top $547 billion through 2021. A consulting firm, Wakely, was commissioned by insurance lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) to produce the report. Wakely analyzed insurers operating in commercial, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care markets.The firm estimates that the pandemic could cost insurers between $30 billion and $547 billion. The study used estimated infection rates of 10%, 20%, and 60%.

AstraZeneca aims to get COVID-19 therapy into clinic in 2 months

AstraZeneca announced its intention to test a potential COVID-19 therapy within two months. The company signed a deal for an exclusive license to six anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies identified by researchers at Vanderbilt University. The company began their research with 1,500 candidates identified by Vanderbilt University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, using genetic sequencing to identify antibodies. From this research, two molecules have been moved into the clinic. AstraZeneca plans to begin testing these two antibodies by August. The molecules target different parts of the receptor-binding domain found on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.