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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round-up of news affecting the industry

The prosecution case that accuses former HealthSouth CEO, Richard Scrushy, of masterminding a $2.7bn fraud took a blow when a judge replaced a sick juror in the trial, forcing the jury to go back to the drawing board almost five weeks after closing arguments were made. In the latest setback in the trial, in which the prosecution seeks to find Scrushy guilty under the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate disclosure law, jurors were instructed by Judge Karon Bowdre to destroy their notes and pay no heed to any agreements they had reached through earlier deliberations. Fresh deliberations over the 36 charges levelled at Scrushy will recommence with a replacement for the sick juror.

Brennan likely for AZ top job

Investors awaiting information from AstraZeneca (AZ) regarding its succession plans for Sir Tom McKillop may be surprised to discover that the reported current favourite is David Brennan, who has headed the firmís North American operations since 1999. Many have tipped executive director, John Patterson, or chief financial officer, John Symonds, to replace Sir Tom, who will retire soon and is understood to be in talks with the Royal Bank and Scotland. A final decision on the future CEO of the company is expected to come at the end of July.

Abbott in Brazilian patent dispute

The government in Brazil has taken a controversial stance regarding enforced price cuts to a patented AIDS drug made by US firm Abbott Laboratories. Brazil gave Abbott an ultimatum that if the company did not agree within 10 days to accept a 42 per cent price cut for Kaletra, a $1.17 anti-retroviral pill that may be effective against resistant strains of the virus, it would permit local producers to start manufacturing the drug; a state-owned laboratory claimed it could sell a generic version of the drug for just 68 cents. World Trade Organisation rules allows countries to break patents in certain ëemergencyí situations, though Abbott has criticised the move, claiming that a low price robs pharma firms of money with which to fund future research. ìWithout innovation and new therapies, in the end it is patients who will lose,î the firm stated.

GSK ready to return ësplití drugs to market

GlaxoSmithKline has re-launched antidepressant Paxil CR, and will be ready to return diabetes drug, Avandamet, to the US market in a matter of weeks, almost five months after the FDA pulled them from the market having discovered substandard items being produced by a manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico. The drugs were splitting during the manufacturing process, and therefore could not be guaranteed to contain the correct amount of active ingredient. GSK signed a legal agreement with the FDA to fix the problem, but escaped without a direct fine. However, the firm may be fined up to £5m a year if it fails to ensure again that all manufacturing and other safety and quality procedures comply with the law.

Pfizer sheds unwanted generics arm

Global pharma leviathan Pfizer has sold the marketing and distribution arm of its generic drugs unit, Heumann PCS, to a mid-sized Indian company, Torrent Pharmaceuticals. Pfizer said that it has sold the unit ìbecause generic drugs are not part of our strategic optionî, yet the unit will strengthen significantly Torrentís offering in Europe. The acquisition of Pfizerís generics marketing and distribution provision ñ Pfizer has kept hold of the Heumann manufacturing plant ñ is the first step in Torrentís strategy to break into the European generics sector. The move means that the contribution from international business to the firmís overall offering has doubled (to 50 per cent), and the company predicts that its global annual sales should now reach $230m (approx £126.3m).

30th September 2008

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