Abbott's pharma unit retools as US boss retires

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Abbott Labs' US pharmaceuticals business is undergoing some hefty changes: about 1,500 layoffs, a merger with the international division and the retirement of its SVP.

Abbott said it's combining its US and international pharma units into a new operation called the proprietary pharmaceuticals division. Donald Patton, who headed the US unit as SVP since January 2010, will retire effective Feb. 28, Abbott confirmed.

The proprietary pharma unit will be led by Carlos Alban, who previously led international pharmaceuticals as SVP, and will preside over patent-protected, brand-name drugs, according to Dow Jones, which first reported the moves. An established products business, being led by Michael Warmuth, will have commercial responsibility over branded generics, mostly in emerging markets.

Patton came out of the company's nutrition and diagnostics businesses, as well as TAP Pharmaceutical Products, Abbott's former joint venture with Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. which paid $875 million to settle a government investigation of Lupron.

In January, Abbott announced it would lay off 1,900 as part of a reorganization, and roughly 1,500 of those positions are in the pharma group, primarily in commercial operations and manufacturing in the US, Scott Stoffel, an Abbott spokesperson, told MM&M.

Like all big pharma companies, Abbott has felt pressure to trim costs. US sales of its anti-inflammatory blockbuster Humira surged 14% last year to $2.9 billion, close to expectations. But analyst are wondering how long that can last, as investors ponder the arrival of oral agents for rheumatoid arthritis and potential biosimilars, both of which could impinge on Humira's long-term growth.

The heart franchise last year was a mixed bag. The TriLipix/TriCor franchise, approved to lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol in the blood, came in at $1.4 billion for the year, a 1% increase over 2009. Niaspan, a medicine which raises HDL cholesterol, reached $927 million, an 8.4% surge.

But a government-run trial called Accord showed that TriCor, which is similar to TriLipix, failed to best a placebo at staving off heart attacks, strokes and deaths. Usage fell—the drug was prescribed 9.5 million times a year, down nearly 22%, according to data from Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions.

In December, Abbott and AstraZeneca scrapped plans to develop a pill that combined TriLipix with AstraZeneca's statin Crestor, saying it was no longer commercially attractive. The FDA had rejected the pill, called Certriad, last March and, although the agency declined to say why, questions about TriLipix's benefits may have been a factor.

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