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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round-up of news affecting the industry

Biota sees change at the helm

Biota, the Australian biotech firm that developed anti-flu drug Relenza, has appointed a new chief executive. Peter Cook takes over from US-based chief executive Peter Molloy, who stepped down after the company decided to consolidate its operations in Australia. Cook was previously CEO of engineering firm Orbital Corporation. Demand for Relenza is growing as governments continue to stockpile it to fight avian flu. Biota is currently suing marketing partner GlaxoSmithKline for allegedly failing to promote and support Relenza after its launch.

Shire patch gets FDA nod

Shire Pharmaceuticals' skin patch to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children has received a positive opinion from a US Food and Drug Administration panel. However, the panel said labelling for the drug should contain a strong recommendation to doctors that they try oral drugs first until more information is known about skin reactions to the patch. One clinical study showed that about 20 per cent of patients experienced skin irritation from the patch, which would be placed near the hip. The patch contains the active ingredient methylphenidate and would be attached for up to nine hours daily.

Novartis in licensing deal with Astex

Novartis has signed a deal with British biotech firm Astex Therapeutics to research, develop and market new cell cycle control treatments for cancer and other diseases. The Swiss drugmaker said it had obtained worldwide licensing rights to Astex's experimental cell cycle inhibitor AT9311, and had an option for a global licence to AT7519, currently in Phase 1 clinical trials. Novartis will make an upfront payment and deferred equity payments totalling $25m, which could eventually rise to $520m in fees and equity, option payments and milestones.

J&J-Guidant deal back on ice

Johnson & Johnson's proposed purchase of medical devices maker Guidant could yet be scuppered. Boston Scientific has launched a $25bn bid for Guidant, threatening the $21.5bn cash-and-stock offer that J&J made last month. Analysts said Boston Scientific, which is primarily in the business of making heart stents would have to shoulder $10.5bn in new debt and issue significantly more shares to pay for Guidant. The move puts J&J in a difficult situation. If it raises its bid, it would be paying more for a company it said wasn't worth its original purchase price while walking away from the deal could lead to questions about its growth strategy.

UK Vioxx claimants forced to turn to US

Lawyers representing British patients, who claim to have been harmed after taking Merck's withdrawn painkiller Vioxx, have had to concede defeat in suing the company in the UK. London law firm, Leigh Day and Co and two other UK firms had hoped to take on Merck on a ìno win, no feeî contingency basis. However, they have been forced to abandon this approach after failing to secure either insurance or state-funded legal aid to cover the legal costs. Leigh Day said the firms were now planning to seek compensation in the US.

30th September 2008

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