Business Briefs: Amgen and Astellas; GSK; Teva; Novo; Livestrong

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Astellas and Amgen announced a Japanese alliance today. The two drugmakers will co-develop and commercialize five Amgen pipeline medicines and develop a Tokyo-based joint venture company to be dubbed Amgen Astellas BioPharma KK, which will be led by Eiichi Takahasi as general manger. The joint venture will begin operations on October 1, 2013. The five treatments have lead indications in cardiovascular disease, bone diseases and cancer. Robert A. Bradway, chairman and chief executive of Amgen, said in a statement: “With Astellas' strong capabilities and excellent reputation, this alliance will help accelerate development and commercialization of Amgen medicines for patients in Japan.”

GlaxoSmithKline picked up Swiss vaccine developer Okairos AG today for $324 million, in an effort to broaden its vaccine portfolio. Okairos, according to a GSK statement, has a unique platform which allows genetic material to be delivered directly to cells that, in turn, help stimulate immune responses. The platform has been tested in Phase II trials for hepatitis C and malaria. Okairos is also developing vaccines for malaria, HIV, respiratory synctial virus and cancer.

Ireland now supports generics-for-brand swaps, reports PharmaTimes, which says the new legislation is expected to kick in next month. Until now, prescriptions were always dispense-as-written, meaning generics couldn't edge in at the pharmacy counter, but the new rules will allow such swaps if the Irish Medicines Board deems a brand and a generic interchangeable. Patients have the option to stick with brands, but the new rules indicate that they will have to cover the price differential on their own, unless clinical reasons get between a patient and a generic. PharmaTimes notes that Ireland's generics use is about a quarter of that in the neighboring United Kingdom, and Teva has launched a generics awareness campaign.

Novo A/S, a limited liability company owned by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, is betting $125 million that biotech Ophthotech's wet age-related macular degeneration drug will be the springboard of a new standard of care. The company bought up rights on future royalties of the Phase III drug named Fovista that is meant to be used with Lucentis. Phase IIb results showed patients gained 10.6 letters of vision using the combined treatments compared to 6.5 when using only Lucentis.

Livestrong has not only lost Lance, it has also lost the line of Nike-branded products that go along with it once January rings out the 2013 holiday season. The company said in a statement that it will continue to financially support the research organization behind the scenes and says it has been part of the foundation's ability to raise more than $100 million. The Associated Press says Nike was behind the break, a move which comes almost six months after Armstrong admitted to doping his way to Tour de France wins. Livestrong and then poster-boy of cancer survival Lance Armstrong split after the United States Anti-Doping Agency released a report in October in which it concluded the cyclist doped during his races and orchestrated his team's use of the illicit drugs.

A RAND study that shows corporate wellness programs, which encourage employees to pursue healthier habits through a variety of inducements such as gift cards, are a failure was found and reported by Reuters Friday, only to disappear that same day. The report was mandated by the Affordable Care Act and was submitted to federal agencies – Reuters says the report was deleted from the internet because the agencies claim they weren't ready to release the details. What did surface, however, were details that indicate the health and wellness programs are a bust. Reuters said researchers found that workers who took advantage of the programs shaved $2.38 off monthly healthcare costs in the first year of participating and $3.46 less by the fifth, a finding that is considered statistically insignificant. Researchers also found that workplace wellness programs also failed to catch warning signs of diseases and did not improve employees' overall health. Reuters notes that these programs are a $6 billion industry and medium-to-large companies pay out around $521 per employee per year.

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