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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round-up of news affecting the industry

Merck eyes Hepatitis C vaccine

Merck is to use Dutch biotech firm Crucell's gene technology PER.C6 to develop a vaccine against hepatitis C. Under the terms of the deal, Crucell will receive a $1m exercise fee with the prospect of annual fees and milestone payments, plus royalties on net sales. Merck is already using PER.C6, which aims at using human cells as a platform to produce drugs and vaccines, for its adenovirus-based HIV vaccine, currently in Phase II trials. Shares in Crucell shot up 6.9 per cent after the news.

Pfizer moves to quell plurality fears

Pfizer is one of several leading US companies to have amended their corporate governance policies in response to growing criticism over so-called `plurality' systems for electing directors. Shareholders have been incensed over rules that allow directors to be elected on to boards on a minority of votes cast at annual meetings. Currently US shareholders cannot vote against a nominee: they may vote ìforî a director or ìwithhold supportî, which has no impact on the result. Experts believe the changes could increase shareholders' opportunities to boost their influence in matters such as executive compensation.

Wyeth posts positive Q3 outlook

Wyeth has forecast third-quarter earnings per share in the mid to upper 70-cent range, exceeding analysts' average expectations of 72 cents per share. Wyeth chief financial officer Kenneth Martin said the company decided to issue the new outlook ìbecause business continues to be very good and because we resolved certain tax issues in the quarterî. He cautioned that fourth-quarter earnings might be down compared to the previous year, because the company was still planning ìsignificantî research and development spending in the quarter.

Merck in Vioxx trial setback

Merck suffered an early blow in its second Vioxx trial when New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee ordered the testimony of the company's first witness, research executive Briggs Morrison to be struck from the record. Judge Higbee said Morrison's testimony had gone ìway beyondî his role as a fact witness as stated by the Merck defence team and ordered that Merck could only use portions of his video-taped deposition testimony. The decision prompted a shouting match between the judge and Merck defence attorney Diane Sullivan. Merck is being sued by Frederick Humeston, an Idaho postal worker who blames Vioxx for his 2001 heart attack.

Don't buy Tamiflu over the net, says Roche

Swiss firm Roche has urged consumers worried about a bird flu pandemic not to purchase its flu drug Tamiflu over the internet to avoid the risk of buying counterfeit pills. Media reports have hinted that some consumers have begun to build up reserves of the drug, after experts predicted that millions could die if the bird flu strain H5N1 mutates into a human flu virus. Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is neither a vaccine nor a cure for influenza and is only effective in infected people if taken relatively soon after symptoms appear.

30th September 2008

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