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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round-up of news affecting the industry

Shareholder pressure ousts SkyePharma chairman
The founder of UK drug delivery specialist, SkyePharma, Ian Gowrie-Smith has resigned as chairman after a group of investors led by North Atlantic Value called for an emergency shareholder meeting aimed at ousting him.

ìI have decided to resign in the interest of all shareholders,î Gowrie-Smith said in a statement. ìIt is unfortunate that the short-term interests of a small group of shareholders can cause such disruption to the development of a company where real achievements are often measured in decades.î

The group of rebel shareholders are now pushing for Bob Thian to be installed as Gowrie-Smith's replacement, saying they have amassed the support of over 50 per cent of investors.

sanofi to sell Plavix in Japan
Japanese regulators' decision to approve sanofi-aventis' best-selling anti-stroke drug, Plavix, has brought to an end a two-year wait for the French company.

sanofi-aventis spokesman Jean-Marc Podvin told the Financial Times: ìWe believe the drug should be close to blockbuster potential in Japan.î

Plavix has annual sales of more than Ä4bn. sanofi-aventis had sought to license the drug with its partner Daiichi but the agreement ended last year after concerns that the Japanese authorities would launch antitrust investigations into the French company.

FDA backs OTC version of Xenical
A US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) health advisory panel has endorsed the idea of selling GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) anti-obesity pill, Xenical, over-the-counter.

The FDA will consider the panel's advice as it decides whether to approve the low-dose version of Xenical, known as Alli. The panel voted 11-3 to support the drug and the FDA usually follows panel recommendations.

Panel chairman Dr Alastair Wood said risks with the drug were low, and people would be better off taking GSK's drug than any of the countless, unapproved dietary supplements on the market.

If approved, Alli would be the first US-endorsed weight-loss drug to be given OTC status, at a time when two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

Generics bite into Pfizer profits
Generic competition bit hard into Pfizer's profits as the world's largest pharma company recorded an 8.9 per cent drop in revenue to $13.59bn from $14.92bn.

Net income fell 3.3 per cent to $2.73bn, or 37 cents a share, from $2.83bn. Prescription drug sales in the quarter fell by 11 per cent to $11.66bn.

Antibiotic Zithromax was the Pfizer product most affected by generics. The drug lost patent protection last year and sales slid 40 per cent to $402m in the quarter compared with $675m in the corresponding period a year earlier.

FDA to review Tysabri
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to review the status of suspended multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri on March 7 according to manufacturer Elan and its US partner Biogen.

The drug was withdrawn in February 2005 after a fatal case of the rare brain and spinal chord progressive infection multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). Two more cases emerged after the withdrawal, one of them fatal.

Analysts said that while the news was positive, it was in line with what the company had previously been indicating. Tysabri is seen as crucial in reviving the flagging fortunes of Elan, which almost went bankrupt in 2002.

Merck dismisses Altana rumours
Merck KGaA has shrugged off rumours that it could be poised to make a bid for fellow German firm Altana.

ìWe are open to acquisitions, and we have already said that in the past,î Merck's pharma unit chief, Elmar Schnee told Reuters. ìThe fact is that we have said: Acquisitions but under suitable conditions and at the right price.î

Altana recently hired Goldman Sachs to explore options for its pharma unit, which analysts strongly expect will lead to a sale of the business.

30th September 2008

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