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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round up of news from around the industry.

Lilly disputes allegations in BMJ

Lilly has hit back at claims in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that the company had confidential documents showing new evidence of symptoms of psychological 'activation' caused by its top selling antidepressant, Prozac. Lilly said it had reviewed the data and found it did not ìreveal new clinical or scientific informationî. The company also denied allegations that the controversial documents had gone missing a decade ago during a product liability lawsuit. The US drug maker went on to accuse the journal of printing the information without validating it, to which the BMJ responded it had acted appropriately and in the interest of the public by passing the information to the US regulators.

Bristol's OTC unit may go

Bristol-Myers Squibb could close a deal to sell its consumer medicines division within a week, according to executives close to the negotiations. In line with efforts by other global drugs companies to refocus and restructure as medicines come to the end of patent, the company is believed to be in discussions with competitors and investors for the sale of its over-the-counter drugs business. This would enable it to focus on its core activities, which include drugs marketed to specialist doctors. Executives have hinted that GSK has an interest in the business, while other interested parties could include Johnson & Johnson and Bayer, both of which have significant consumer healthcare divisions. The unit, which consists of mainly Excedrin-branded (pain relieving) products and had sales of $354m in 2003, could sell for as much as $1bn. Last month, the company sold its Oncology Therapeutics Network to the private equity unit of JP Morgan Chase, as part of a reorganisation in preparation for pending patent expiries.

Scrushy lawyers seek trial delay

The defence team for Richard Scrushy, the former HealthSouth chief executive accused of directing a $2.64bn accounting fraud and now facing 58 criminal counts of fraudulent activities, have asked for a one-week delay in his trial. Due to start on January 18, Scrushy's lawyers are seeking a delay until January 25, to give them more time to look over the wealth of government evidence, which includes some 700 boxes of material plus CDs and hard drives. The defence team complained that they have been inundated with useless material from prosecutors, calling the government's methods a 'flagrant violation' of procedural rules.

Further safety concerns for AZ's Crestor

AstraZeneca admitted that a patient taking its anti-cholesterol drug Crestor may have died as a result of rhabdomyolysis - a muscle-wasting condition, associated with cholesterol-lowering drugs. However, the company added that the case was complex and the death could have resulted from the anti-spasmodic drugs the patient was also taking.

The news comes at a time when Crestor is already under the spotlight; Public Citizen, a US pressure group has called for the drug to be pulled from the market, and the company itself is struggling; it received poor trial results from cancer drug Iressa, Exanta, an anti-clotting drug, was not approved by regulators, and lawsuits have been filed in connection with false promotion of ulcer treatment, Nexium. Shares fell as much as 2.5 per cent on the news and closed at £19.32 after analysts suggested the company could be taken over.

Bayer is currently facing a large number of lawsuits relating to its withdrawn statin, Baycol (Lipobay) after more than 30 people taking the drug died from rhabdomyolysis.

30th September 2008

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