Company news from the 1/23/07 news brief

Schering-Plough and its Schering Sales Corp. division were officially sentenced to pay $435 million as part of its settlement with the Justice Department over accusations the companies engaged in off-label marketing and lied about drug prices. Under the settlement first announced in August, Schering Sales Corp. pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to pay a criminal fine of $180 million. Parent company, Schering-Plough agreed to pay another $255 million to resolve civil aspects of the case. The sentencing ends an investigation by the Justice Department and the US Attorney’s office in Boston that began in 2001. Teva Pharmaceuticals is suing several other generic drug companies that seek to challenge its position as the lone maker of non-branded Zoloft. Companies named in the suits include Novartis AG’s Sandoz and Lupine Laboratories. Zoloft (sertraline), an antidepressant marketed by Pfizer, lost patent protection in June. Teva began selling a generic version in September and has sole rights to do so until Feb. 6, the expiration date for its 180-day exclusivity period on producing sertraline. The FDA gave its tentative nod for several others to receive approval to make generic copies on that date, including Sandoz and Lupine. The Teva suits, filed in New Jersey and Delaware, target would-be sellers of generic Zoloft, plus companies that make the active ingredient, according to Bloomberg. Other companies Teva is suing are Apotex, Copal, Cadila Healthcare’s Zydus-Cadila Healthcare, Merck KGaA’s Genpharm, and Watson Pharmaceuticals’s Andrx, as well as manufacturers Invagen Pharmaceuticals, Hetero Drugs and Torrent Pharmaceuticals, according to court records cited by Bloomberg. Information and media group VNU is changing its name to The Nielsen Company. Among the changes to come along with the rebranding effort will be the launch of a new corporate Web site and graphic identity, the company said. The rebranding will be rolled out progressively by all of Nielsen’s units during 2007. Nielsen owns PERQ/HCI, which reports on advertising expenditures and content in healthcare journals in the US. Nielsen’s Business Media unit is the parent of magazines Adweek, Brandweek, Mediaweek and numerous other publications. VNU was founded over 40 years ago through the merger of two Dutch publishing companies. The company was taken private in 2006 after six private equity firms acquired it in a leveraged buyout for $9.85 billion. AstraZeneca announced a $100 million research investment to boost work in the infectious disease area and continue its incremental growth in cancer research at its R&D center near Boston. The expansion of AstraZeneca’s research facility will accommodate up to 100 additional researchers to join the 400 existing employees already in engaged in work-related to infectious disease and cancer treatments. The new investment calls for construction of a 132,000 square foot facility to begin during the first quarter of 2007, with scheduled completion by mid-2009. The Department of Health and Human Services has awarded GlaxoSmithKline Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics and Iomai all a total of $133 million in funding for development of H5N1 Avian Flu vaccines. GSK's contract will total $63 million over 5 years. Novartis receives $55 million over the same period. Iomai was awarded $14 million over 15 months for the completion of Phase I trials of its skin patch, designed to stimulate the immune system when used along with vaccines. The company can be awarded a further $114 million if the study shows positive results. Under the terms of the contracts, each of the three companies is expected to be able to provide 150 million doses of the vaccines within 6 months of the start of an Avian Flu pandemic. Evotec has signed two contracts with Solvay Pharmaceuticals. In the first agreement Evotec has been chosen as Solvay's partner for fragment-based drug discovery. Solvay will access Evotec's proprietary fragment-based screening platform and fragment library to identify fragment hits against a high priority target. Evotec will produce 3-dimensional co-crystals of the fragment hits bound to the protein and then will use their track record in fragment-to-lead activities to further optimise the fragments. Financial terms include an access fee payable by Solvay for accessing Evotec's fragment-based screening technology. Further details were not disclosed. The second agreement extends an existing library synthesis contract for a further 12 months from Jan. 1, 2007. Evotec has been synthesizing and supplying chemical libraries to Solvay, for screening against targets in its drug discovery programs, since January 2001. Acumen Pharmaceuticals announced that its collaboration with Merck has achieved a $5 million milestone in the antibody program. The milestone was triggered by development activities. The two companies signed a license agreement in 2003 to research and develop disease-modifying therapeutic drugs for Alzheimer's disease and other memory-related disorders. Under the terms of the original agreement, Merck obtained an exclusive license to research and develop antibody products, an option to develop vaccine products and certain diagnostic rights. In November, Merck amended the collaboration agreement to include an exclusive license grant to Merck for the diagnostic related rights.