Business briefs: AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Valeant, Merck, Novo Nordisk

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AbbVie's Niaspan pricing strategy is coming under pressure: Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that the drug maker levied a 37% increase on the cholesterol drug to compensate for falling sales, after studies suggesting the drug wasn't doing all that much for patients. As Bloomberg BusinessWeek notes, boosting prices to make up for diminishing volume isn't an unusual practice for pharma, and in fact, increasing drug costs to cushion falling sales was a general theme during first-quarter earnings reports. However, what makes this tactic unique from, say, raising prices on poorly-selling sweaters is that the price gets passed through a variety of payers. Then there is what appears to be a lack of resistance to higher prices, despite standoffs like that over Sanofi's colorectal cancer treatment Zaltrap that forced the drug maker to offer Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center a price break after doctors said they weren't going to write prescriptions for a high-priced cancer medication that didn't best anything that was already on the market. Bloomberg quotes a spokesperson from PBM Express Scripts as expressing wonderment for why payers have been going along with higher prices for a drug that was found to be less than reported. “You'd think they'd say ‘Come on!'” he says.

AstraZenca said Tuesday that it has scooped up specialty company Omthera, adding the smaller company's Phase III cardiovascular therapy to its portfolio for $323 million, which can rise to $443 million if the omega-three drug Epanova clears certain hurdles, Reuters reports. Epanova is reported to reduce triglyceride levels and enhance levels of good lipids in the process. Reuters notes that an approval would pit Epanova against GSK's Lovaza and Amarin's Vascepta.

Valeant, which recently purchased skin care company Medicis, is now buying eye care company Bausch & Lomb for $8.7 billion. The New York Times notes that the deal, which breaks out into a $4.5-billion payment to investor group Warburg Pincus and paying down $4.2 billion of B&L's debt, means Warburg walks away with a return of about three times what it put in when it bought the company in 2007. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter.

Unsatisfactory Phase III results have prompted Merck to halt development of its Parkinson's disease drug, preladenant. Merck said a in a statement Thursday the decision was based on lack of efficacy, not safety concerns. The news follows an FDA panel's decision on Wednesday to endorse its novel sleep drug, suvorexant. Market entry would put it in a crowded field peppered with known brand names such as Ambien, Lunesta, and Intermezzo, among others.

Novo Nordisk is inching closer to a weight-loss indication for its diabetes drug liraglutide, aka Victoza. The company said Thursday that a 56-week Phase III trial showed overweight and obese patients dropped 8% of their weight, compared to 2.6% among patients in the placebo group. The Danish company said 69% of the patients who qualified as pre-diabetic left without showing signs of pre-diabetes, and patients also showed “statistically significant improvements in obesity-related risk factors,” such as blood pressure and cardiovascular risk indicators.

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