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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round-up of news affecting the industry

Genzyme revenue up
Biotech firm Genzyme has reported a 22 per cent rise in fourth-quarter revenue to $722m, boosted by healthy sales of its drugs for chronic and genetic diseases.

The Cambridge, Massachusettes-based company said it expects net earnings in 2006 to remain strong, ranging between $1.78 a share and $1.88 a share. Fourth quarter revenue for Renagel, the firm's drug for patients with end-stage kidney disease, rose 12 per cent to $111m while sales of Fabry disease treatment, Fabrazyme, rose 27 per cent to $81m.

Full results for the company will be released on February 15.

Slower growth in healthcare spending
New US government data shows that national spending on healthcare slowed in 2004, partly due to a reduction in prescription drug sales.

Health spending by both public and private payers grew 7.9 per cent in 2004, the most recent years' figures available. That constitutes the smallest increase since 2000, but spending continues to outstrip economic growth, reaching close to $1.9 trillion - $6,280 per person.

Spending on prescription drugs grew just 8.2 per cent, the first year of single digit growth in ten years, due mainly to the increased use of generic drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

Hospital spending was higher than usual, due mainly to compensation costs, liability costs and a higher volume of services.

Fourth Vioxx trial for Merck
Merck & Co will start its fourth Vioxx trial on January 24, in a Texas state courtroom. The case of Mr Leonel Garza was set for February 2005, but has been postponed until this month. To date, Merck has won one case, lost one and had one ending in mistrial.

Plaintiff attorney Jose Escobedo believes Mr Garza's case is ìvery strongî. Weeks before his death a scan demonstrated normal blood flow to an area where fatal blood clots later formed. His doctors also described his condition as stable. Garza was prescribed Vioxx for one month before dying of a heart attack.

Ted Mayer, Merck's lead outside defence counsel told the Wall Street Journal: ìWe'll be ready when the bell rings.î

Bird-flu fears and virus spread through Turkey
Turkish officials have announced that at least 14 people, two already dead, have tested positive to the deadly strain of bird flu. The number of patients now hospitalised with similar symptoms has grown to 70.

The United Nations Health agency has confirmed just four cases as the deadly H5N1 strain, but warned that every new case increases the likelihood of a mutation into a human form.

Most alarmingly, it seems that the virus has spread from the east coast, to the north and central areas of the country.

AZ heart drug patent in danger, says bank
AstraZeneca faces a 40 per cent risk of losing US patent protection on its heart drug Toprol XL, according to analysts at Deutsche Bank.

The bank, which acts as broker to the company and rates the stock a `buy', calculates that losing the Toprol XL patent could reduce near-term earnings per share estimates by 8-9 per cent, although the outlook for 2008 would be unchanged.

AZ is hoping its exclusivity on the drug will last until September 2007, when the US patents expire. The patents are being challenged by generic firms KV Pharmaceutical, Andrx and Eon Labs, a unit of Novartis.

30th September 2008

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