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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round-up of news affecting the industry

Roche and Novartis out in front, says Merrill Lynch
Swiss firms Roche and Novartis have been tipped to be the top European pharma performers in 2006 by investment bank Merrill Lynch.

Raising its target price for Roche from SwFr 215 to SwFr 235, it said the Basel-based company looked the most likely to capitalise on favourable market conditions such as productivity improvements and changes to the US Medicare system.

Merrill Lynch also said further growth could be driven by increased off-label use of cancer drug, Herceptin and further government contracts for antiviral, Tamiflu.

Meanwhile, Novartis was described as having ìan attractive phase III pipelineî with the potential for a ìmargin surpriseî in its generics division.

SkyePharma hit with deadline
Investors in SkyePharma have given the UK drug delivery firm just weeks to reshuffle its management team, or face a coup to oust chairman and founder, Ian Gowrie-Smith, the Financial Times has reported.

Quoting unnamed shareholders, the paper said the extended deadline comes after it was established during a meeting between leading shareholders and SkyePharma non-executives that there are currently no bids for either all or parts of the group.

Last week, SkyePharma appointed headhunters, Egon Zehnder, to find a new chief executive to replace Michael Ashton, who plans to retire this year.

Settlement for insider-trading charges
The former general counsel of Biogen Idec, Thomas Bucknum, has agreed to pay more than $3m to settle insider-trading and civil fraud charges relating to his sale of company shares last year on the day the biotech firm learned that a patient taking its new multiple sclerosis drug was sick with an infection which turned out to be fatal.

The drug, Tysabri, was eventually pulled from the market, causing shares in Biogen to nosedive.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Bucknum would also be prohibited for five years from acting as a director or officer of a publicly traded company.

GSK to file application to sell OTC Xenical
GlaxoSmithKline is set to go before a US Food and Drug Administration advisory committee on January 23 with an application to sell the prescription obesity pill, Xenical, over-the-counter (OTC).

GSK has licensed the OTC rights for the drug from Roche and will see labelling for the product that recommends it be used for only six months at a time and in patients 18 years of age or old.

The OTC capsule would contain half the prescription dose of Xenical and would be sold under a different name.

HBA European gala launch
The Healthcare Businesswomen's Association is holding a gala launch on February 3 for its first ever European affiliate. Organisers says the event, at the Palace Luzern hotel in Switzerland, will provide an opportunity for professional women in the healthcare industry from across Europe to network and learn from each other and expert advisers.

ìSince 2003, the HBA has launched 10 chapters and affiliates and we are working with groups in other parts of the US and around the world so we can continue to meet our strategic imperatives to provide programmes that address the specific needs of women in our industry nationally, regionally, and globally,î said HBA president, Barbara Pritchard.

For details, go to www.hbanet.org

30th September 2008

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