FiercePharmaAsia—Coronavirus drugs?; Sanofi Korea vaccine bribery probe; Novartis' China plan

Amid an ongoing outbreak of a deadly new coronavirus in China, AbbVie's HIV drug ritonavir and Gilead Sciences' remdesivir have emerged as possible treatments to fight it. A Sanofi executive in Korea was arrested as authorities dig into alleged vaccine procurement bid-rigging. Novartis is aiming to double its sales in China by 2024 from $2.2 billion in 2019.

1. China repurposes AbbVie HIV drug as Big Pharma rallies to combat deadly coronavirus

Gilead mulls repositioning failed Ebola drug in China virus 

As China tries to rein in the deadly new coronavirus, researchers are busy working on possible treatments. In its recently updated guidance, China’s National Health Commission recommends AbbVie’s HIV drug Kaletra (Aluvia) to treat pneumonia caused by the virus, officially called 2019-nCoV.

Gilead Sciences is also considering turning its Ebola drug remdesivir against the new pathogen. Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Wuhan Institute of Virology recently found that remdesivir, chloroquine and ritonavir (a component in Kaletra) had shown good anti-2019-nCoV activity in lab dishes.

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2. Sanofi exec in Korea arrested in vaccine bribery probe: report

A Sanofi executive in South Korea was among seven people arrested in a bribery probe over vaccine procurement, MLex reports. Authorities are investigating an alleged cartel involving public and military immunization programs. The probe could expand to other companies and involve billions of dollars of purchases.

3. Novartis touts strong Zolgensma performance and an ambitious plan for China

In its fourth-quarter earnings report, Novartis started reporting China sales figures separately. China contributed $544 million to Novartis’ top line in the fourth quarter, up 21% at constant currencies, bringing its full-year haul in the country to about $2.2 billion. CEO Vas Narasimhan said the Swiss drugmaker aims to double that sales number by 2024.

4. FDA faults Biocon small molecule API facility during preapproval review

Biocon said it received a Form 483 with five observations following a preapproval and good manufacturing practices inspection last week of a small molecule API facility.

5. Aurobindo receives tough news about FDA inspection

An FDA inspection of an Aurobindo Pharma manufacturing facility last fall noted more than half a dozen concerns. Now, the Indian company said it has received a letter labeled “Official Action Indicated,” which means the inspectors will recommend further regulatory action.

6. Monitoring emerging coronaviruses with next-generation sequencing

In a new study published in mSphere, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology, an international team of scientists, including from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Center for Biosafety Mega-Science in Wuhan, suggest that next-generation sequencing-based targeted enrichment can increase sensitivity and reduce cost for monitoring emerging coronaviruses.

7. WuXi Biologics says coronavirus will not halt flow of critical drugs

Chinese CDMO WuXi Biologics said it will continue to supply the critical drugs it produces amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. It said it has assembled a team of more than 100 R&D staffers to work on a variety of “neutralizing antibodies” from some of its biotech clients that may be used against 2019-nCoV.