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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round-up of news affecting the pharmaceutical industry.

Roche and GSK sign obesity drug deal

Swiss drug maker Roche has signed an agreement with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to co-promote obesity drug, Xenical, in the US. The agreement gives GSK's consumer healthcare division the right to promote Roche's drug in the US, where GSK already has a significantly large sales force. The companies have a history of partnering and currently have an agreement for the co-promotion of Boniva, a treatment for osteoporosis.

Peter Hug, head of pharma partnering said the deal would help Roche reach a larger proportion of patients with GSK's over-the counter (OTC) salesforce. The Xenical agreement will give GSK experience of promoting an obesity drug, while they prepare to gain FDA approval for their own version. GSK has also acquired the rights to an OTC version of Xenical, known as orlistat, in July 2004.

Wyeth rebuked for ignoring safety

Wyeth Pharmaceuticals has been forced to withdraw its information pack on anti-depressant drug, Efexor, following news that it had undermined urgent safety restrictions and misquoted official guidance in favour of its product. The government's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which has the power to prosecute companies for breaking strict rules on drug promotions, rebuked the actions of Wyeth.

ìWhen it comes to safety issues, the MHRA will not tolerate advertising material which has the potential to mislead healthcare professionals or the public. In naming and shaming Wyeth, we hope this message will be clearly understood by all involved in medicines promotion,î said Jeremy Mean, policy group manager at MHRA. Wyeth said it was challenging the safety advice given by the Committee on Safety of Medicines, which advises the MHRA.

Drug wholesalers subpoenaed in broad probe

The New York state attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, has subpoenaed drug wholesalers as part of a broad probe into the whole drug industry. Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen said the probe relates to the practice of buying products from other drug wholesalers, instead of directly from the drug maker. The two companies, which announced they had been subpoenaed by Spitzer's office last week, buy products from drug manufacturers and resell them to pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers. They also buy pharmaceuticals from other drug wholesalers.

They were among a host of others companies that had been contacted. Analysts believe counterfeit drugs could be the focus of the probe and it is likely to have a minimal impact on the industry. Shares of AmerisourceBergen fell by 1.3 per cent to $58.31, while shares of Cardinal Health were down by 2 per cent to $55.67.

AZ gains on COX-2 falls

The withdrawal of Merck & Co's COX-2, Vioxx has lifted the demand for AstraZeneca's heartburn and ulcer treatment, Nexium, while the suspension of Pfizer's COX-2, Bextra, could give Nexium a further boost, according to industry analysts.

Many arthritis patients have switched from COX-2 painkillers to a mix of older anti-inflammatories plus a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) such as Nexium. This year PPI prescriptions have grown by 5 to 10 per cent. Prior to that, the market had been in decline for months.

Paul Diggle of Code and Securities said the COX-2 issue had played into the hands of AZ, which won IS approval last November to promote Nexium specifically as a treatment to reduce ulcer risk in patients on traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which can cause stomach bleeding.

AZ is expected to report sales of near $4bn, up from $3.9bn last year for the drug. However, analysts warned that in the long-term, healthcare providers will be expected to put mechanisms in place to switch patients to cheaper generic PPIs or over-the-counter alternatives.

Pharma agrees to work with the government's new framework

The UK government and the world's largest pharmaceutical companies have committed to continue working together to give people from poorer countries access to essential medicines and treatments.

The government's new framework document, Increasing People's Access to Essential Medicines in Developing Countries, provides guidance for pharma companies on increasing access through working in partnerships with stakeholders across the world. It encourages the use of differential pricing in poorer countries, investment in certain diseases affecting developing countries, and working to support development goals set by such countries.

The framework has been developed with the support and input of many, including GSK, AZ, Merck & Co, Pfizer, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry and the American Pharmaceutical Group. Each year up to 1.7 billion people are unable to access medicines they need, while over 10.5 billion lives in the developing world could be saved if they had the medicines they required, according to the World Health Organisation.

30th September 2008

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