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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round-up of news affecting the industry

Early Vioxx risk?

Claimants in the ongoing court trial against Merck and its actions over Vioxx plan to focus on one particular aspect in their attack - that regular Vioxx users were at an increased risk of adverse cardiovascular diseases much earlier than Merck's `18-month claim', according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. A document released in the continuing Texas trial claims that patients using Vioxx daily for a duration of 18 months were not at risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke until beyond this point, however according to preliminary results that Merck kept unpublished, patients may have been at heightened risk after just six months. The company maintains that unless the probability is proven to be 'statistically significant', plaintiffs will be unable to demonstrate that any `early' heart attacks were not due to chance.

Schering bounces back

German drugs group Schering beat analysts' expectations by revealing Q2 results that reflect the results of its intensive year-long cost-cutting programme, as well as a rise in sales of key drugs. Just last June, the company announced that it was to close 24 factories and shed 900 jobs as part of a ruthless refocusing drive that saw it knuckle down on its most profitable areas, pulling out of several under-performing sectors. However, with operating profit up by 17 per cent (to Ä236m) and sales of Betaseron, its multiple sclerosis drug, up by 14 per cent (to Ä223m) in the quarter, analysts are impressed, yet some have questioned the company's lack of future drug launches coming through the pipeline.

Brazilian AIDS deal eludes Abbott

The Brazilian government and US firm Abbott Laboratories have yet to reach a concrete deal over the cost of AIDS drugs, Kaletra. Brazil had threatened essentially to break a drug patent, if a cost deal cannot be cut, by enabling local firms to make a cut-price version of the drug for around 40 cents per pill. Abbott currently sells the drug to the government for around $1.20 per pill. However, negotiations are understood to be ongoing and Abbott has made clear its openness to discounts or technology transfer. It is hoped that the recent arrival of Brazil's new health minister will inject new momentum into the talks. According to Abbott, the South American country's government has pledged to nearly triple the number of patients treated with Kaletra in six years.

Roche boosted by cancer and flu sales

Swiss pharma firm Roche reported a rise in net income of 4 per cent (to Ä2.05bn) for the first half of the year, beating market hopes and lifting the share price by a sniff over 4 per cent. Strong sales (up 14 per cent) of cancer products and flu drugs have bolstered the firm's performance and have helped it counter opinions that the company wouldn't be able to sustain a burst of profits growth related to one-off items last year.î It shows that we are not a one-off firework and are different from other companies,î said CEO Franz Humer. The star performer was flu drug Tamiflu which was in high demand due to a late flu season and concerns over an outbreak of avian flu in humans. More than 25 governments globally have placed orders in a bid to stockpile the drug, on the advice of the World Health Organisation.

New NHS/pharma framework

A new revised framework document explains ways in which the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS can work together as well as provide mutual safeguards at a time when the relationship is under close scrutiny. The document, which lists more than 12 case studies that exemplify constructive ways in which specific pharma/NHS tie-ups have born fruit for patients in the past, is agreed to and supported by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC), the NHS Alliance and the NHS Confederation. One key provision made within the framework is that joint working should ìnot be seen as an endorsement or promotion of a specific medicine or technologyî. A copy of NHS and Pharmaceutical Industry Working Together for Patients can be obtained free of charge from: publications@abpi.org.uk.

30th September 2008

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