PHARMACEUTICALS

Novartis to pay US$678m

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp agreed to pay US$678 million to resolve a whistle-blower case accusing the drugmaker of paying kickbacks to thousands of doctors who prescribed its medicines and wooing them with lavish dinners, ending almost a decade of litigation. The US in 2013 sued the Swiss drugmaker, joining in a case filed two years earlier by a former sales representative who accused the company of using its speakers’ programs to bribe doctors to write prescriptions for its products. Novartis paid “exorbitant speaker fees to doctors who gave no meaningful presentations, and provided expensive meals and alcohol to doctor attendees and their guests,” federal prosecutors in Manhattan said in a statement on Wednesday. As part of the accord, Novartis is to change how it markets its drugs to doctors as part of a “corporate integrity agreement,” the drugmaker said in a statement.

UNITED STATES

House extends PPP

The House of Representatives on Wednesday gave final last-minute congressional approval to extending the popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses until Aug. 8, hours after the deadline for applications lapsed with more than US$130 billion still available. The Senate on Tuesday passed the extension, shortly before the Small Business Administration (SBA) was to stop accepting new loan applications at 11:59pm. Both chambers used expedited procedures to send the bill to President Donald Trump for his signature. The program was enacted in March as part of the US$2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The US$669 billion program approved more than 4.8 million loans, totaling US$520.6 billion by Tuesday night, the SBA said. The remaining US$134.5 billion would eventually have been returned to the Treasury if Congress did not extend the program.

EUROZONE

Jobless rate ticks up

The unemployment rate in the 19 countries that use the euro in May inched higher to 7.4 percent from 7.3 percent in April, as governments used support programs to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on workers. The figures released yesterday by statistics agency Eurostat show how governments have held down the rise in unemployment through programs that pay part of workers’ salaries in return for companies not laying them off. In Germany, the eurozone’s largest economy, 6.7 million people last month were still on wage support programs. The program pays at least 60 percent of missing pay when workers are put on shorter hours or no hours.

TECHNOLOGY

Takeover faces scrutiny

Global regulators should closely scrutinize the takeover of fitness tracker Fitbit Inc by Alphabet Inc’s Google, because it would strengthen Google’s already dominant position in digital markets, privacy and consumer groups said yesterday. A coalition of 20 organizations sent a statement to antitrust authorities in seven jurisdictions, including the US and the EU, which is on July 20 to rule on the US$2.1 billion deal. “This will be a test case for how regulators address the immense power the tech giants exert over the digital economy and their ability to expand their ecosystems unchecked,” the groups said. The EU can extend its review by four months if it sees antitrust issues that need more scrutiny. The US Department of Justice is also investigating, while Australia’s merger authority last month flagged preliminary concerns over Google’s access to health data.

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