PHARMACEUTICAL

Royal appointment for Pfizer

Pfizer has agreed to buy King Pharmaceuticals for $3.6 billion (£2.3 billion) in cash, equivalent to $14.25 per share. According to the US pharma giant, the deal represents a 40-per-cent premium based on the price on 11 October.

‘We are highly impressed by King’s innovative products and technology in the pain relief disease area, as well as by its success in advancing promising compounds in its pipeline,’ said Jeffrey Kindler, Pfizer chief executive. The company says the deal will bring cost savings of at least $200 million by the end of 2013.

King is a traditional pharma company that works with small molecules, which makes this an interesting move for Pfizer. The big pharma players are typically chasing biotechs to refill their pipelines. The reason? The large molecule drugs developed at biotechs are arguably likely to be less adversely affected by generic competition. King is perhaps best known for buying Alpharma for $1.6 billion in 2008, giving it access to Embeda (morphine-naltrexone), a pain reliever for patients in need of around-the-clock treatment.

Abiraterone improves survival

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has announced results from a Phase III study that shows abiraterone, its candidate for the treatment of metastatic advanced (castration-resistant) prostate cancer, improved patient survival. The drug increased by 36 per cent median survival among patients who had already received some form of chemotherapy – from about 11 months to about 15.

The company gained access to the drug in May 2009 when it paid just under $1 billion for Cougar Biotechnology. It will file for marketing approval in the US and Europe before the end of the year.

Meridia no more

It might finally be the end of the road for Abbott’s troubled obesity drug Meridia (sibutramine). The US pharma major has withdrawn the drug from the US market at the request of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In January, the European Medicines Agency recommended its withdrawal following trial data that suggested increased risk of cardiovascular events. But the FDA was initially more cautious. In September, the advisory committee was evenly split over what action to take.

Three obesity drugs are awaiting regulatory approval for sale on the US market: Lorqess (lorcaserin), developed by Arena Pharmaceuticals; Qnexa (phentermine-topiramate), from Vivus; and Contrave (naltrexone-bupropion), from Orexigen. Qnexa and Vivus have received negative appraisals from FDA advisory committees, making approval in these two cases unlikely.

ImmunoGen teams up with Novartis

Drug giant Novartis has agreed to pay $45 million upfront for rights to the ImmunoGen targeted antibody payload (TAP) technology. In a TAP compound, a monoclonal antibody is attached to a cell-killing agent, which goes to work when the antibody binds specifically to its antigen, the target. Under the terms of the deal, the US biotech will also receive milestone payments of up to $200 million for any drugs developed as a result.

CHEMICAL

LyondellBasell gets NYSE approval

The New York Stock Exchange has agreed to list LyondellBasell shares. The company emerged from chapter 11 bankruptcy in April. Since then, it has issued 566 million ordinary shares to cover $18 million in debt. Until now, those shares have been trading on the over-the-counter market: they have been bought and sold through direct interactions between in each case just two parties. LyondellBasell entered chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2009 when falling demand and failure to renegotiate debts forced it to seek protection.

Big retailers ‘in breach of Reach’

Large retailers are failing to comply with their obligations under European rules on chemicals by not responding to consumer requests for information, according to a new report.

Under the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (Reach) regulation, companies must respond to consumers in certain situations. If their products contain substances of very high concern (SVHC), as defined by a list of 38 chemicals, they must respond to requests from consumers within 45 days – with at least the name of the chemical.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) – which represents a group of over 140 environmental organisations – submitted 158 requests to 60 retailers across Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Sweden and the Netherlands. It found that 50 per cent of those went unanswered. In addition, less than half of the answers returned were deemed ‘satisfactory’ by the EEB, which gets 45 per cent of its funding from the European Commission.

Enforcement of Reach takes place at the national level. In the UK, for example, companies that fail to comply with Reach can face fines and prison sentences. Indeed, some companies have already been penalised by the Health and Safety Executive.

Red-mud disaster: update

An aerial photo of the red mud

The state will take control of the company at the centre of the red mud disaster in Hungary, according to a speech given to parliament on Monday by the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán. The assets will be frozen and the management of MAL Magyar Alumínium will come under state supervision. In addition, Orbán said that one of the government’s priorities was to get the alumina plant running again to prevent the loss of thousands of jobs in the region.

Also on Monday, the Hungarian National Bureau took into custody Zoltán Bakonyi, who is, according to the company website, the MAL managing director. He is facing criminal charges of public endangerment leading to mass fatalities and harming the environment.

Andrew Turley

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