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Pharma news in brief

Our weekly round-up of the news in brief

Merck to revamp sales and marketing
Merck & Co has instigated a number of pilot schemes in the US, as part of a major revamp of its promotional techniques for medicines, in order to explore different ways in which to spend its marketing budgets. The company plans to reduce the amount of time and level of resources it puts into direct-to-consumer television advertising, which senior executives believes has limited impact now, due to a saturation of the marketplace and viewers' tendencies to channel hop frequently around TV advertising in general. Merck seeks to make a more cost-effective use of is marketing budget, examine more closely how marketing messages work and become more targeted, albeit to a more diverse audience, in the promotion of its drug.

Good Q3 results for Bayer
Earnings in full for 2006 look promising for Bayer based on its forecast-beating third-quarter financial results. The figures were due in part to the firm's acquisition of rival Schering, which contributed approximately Ä80m during the quarter, though Bayer also puts the positive results down to a strong performance by its healthcare unit. For the full year, Bayer estimates that it will achieve earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation of approximately Ä5.7bn, compared with Ä4.8bn for the same period in 2005.

Back to the old ways
Old schizophrenia drugs are just as effective as the new generation of treatments for the condition, according to research from Manchester University, which has revealed that patients respond just as well to older medicines. The findings of the Archive of General Psychiatry contradict the widely held view that newer, expensive atypical antipsychotics are more effective. Critics of the research assert that not only are the new drugs better and have fewer side effects, but that patients prefer them. The research supports the findings of work carried out in the US, which suggested that it might be better to return to prescribing the older drugs to cut growing healthcare costs. Antipsychotics cost at least 10 times more than their predecessors. The team in Manchester, together with colleagues from the University of Cambridge, Institute of Psychiatry and Imperial College London, studied 227 patients with schizophrenia for whom a change of medication was being considered. The findings revealed that atypical drugs showed no advantage in side effects or effectiveness over older drugs.

FDA wants public's opinion
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced plans to hold a public hearing to get comments on the electronic submission of product information. The agency is also said to be interested in hearing the public's thoughts on issues related to creating an electronic information exchange platform. The meeting will focus issues related to an all-electronic environment, including: feasibility issues related to the electronic submission of pre-market submissions and other regulatory information; issues relating to the concept and feasibility of an electronic platform that would aid the exchange of clinical research data and other regulatory product information; the role of a public-private partnership in the creation and assessment of the platform, and the management of the platform by a private entity. The hearing will take place on December 18.

Guidance on GP-Patient survey
The Department of Health has issued guidance for Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs), Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and GP practices regarding the GP-Patient survey. The GP-Patient Survey: Your Doctors, Your Experience, Your Say has been introduced in response to claims that patients want greater say in their ability to access GP services. The results of the survey will be used to reward GPs offering good access to services and in effect enable patients to decide what proportion of a possible £8,000 income surgeries will receive. The government will carry out a survey of five million patients in January. The British Medical Association has criticised the move, saying biased questions discredit the survey.

Cut it out
Smokers who want to minimise the risk of developing smoking-related illnesses need to kick the habit completely, as merely cutting down on the number of cigarettes they smoke each day does not reduce the risk of premature death. A study of more than 51,000 men and women aged between 20 and 34 years old, conducted in Norway, revealed that stopping smoking was the only way to cut the risk. Study participants were assessed for cardiovascular risk factors at the start of the study and then monitored for an average period of more than 20 years. They were grouped as non-smokers, moderate smokers (up to 14 per day) and reducers - those who smoked more than 15 a day at the start of the study but had halved their intake when they were checked for a second time. Men who had cut back had slightly lower death rates from all causes than heavy smokers during the first 15 years. However, women who cut back had higher death rates than heavy smokers, although researchers have admitted that this could be a chance finding.

New regulatory body NHS
Competition in the market for NHS services will be regulated by a new health and social care body that will replace the NHS and social care inspectorates, the Department of Health has revealed. In addition, all NHS hospitals will be `registered' for the first time under a single regime covering both NHS organisations and the private sector. This will enable the regulator to demand the withdrawal of any or all of the services provided by a hospital if they are deemed dangerous. The proposals have been set out in a consultation paper detailing the new framework, which will follow the merger of the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission.

30th September 2008

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