Company news: Merck, Pfizer and Dendreon

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Merck said Tuesday that it has agreed to acquire specialty pharmaceutical company Inspire for about $430 million. Inspire, which has its own US eye care sales force, develops and sells ophthalmic products and is co-developing glaucoma eye drop Saflutan with Merck. Beverly Lybrand, SVP and GM of neuroscience and ophthalmology at Merck, said in a statement that Inspire's commercial organization will strengthen Merck's ophthalmology business. In January, a cystic fibrosis drug that Inspire was developing, denufosol, failed in late-stage trials.

Pfizer reached a deal to sell its Capsugel manufacturing unit to KKR & Co. for $2.4 billion. The unit, which makes wholesale pill casings and had been acquired in Pfizer's 2000 purchase of Warner-Lambert, had $750 million in sales last year. Pfizer said it will use proceeds to buy back additional shares, and it lowered 2011 revenue expectations, to $65.2 billion to $67.2 billion, down from $66 billion to $68 billion. Pfizer, facing the loss of revenue from Lipitor when its patent expires later this year, could be looking to trim the revenue base to $35-40 billion by selling or spinning off additional business units, wrote Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson yesterday in an investor note: “To achieve this, Pfizer's nutritionals, consumer health, animal health, and Established Products drug division may be jettisoned.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed covering the $93,000 cost of Dendreon's prostate cancer drug Provenge. A final decision is set for June 30 following a 60-day public comment period. The proposal means the government is likely to continue paying for on-label use of the drug in men with asymptomatic/minimally symptomatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer. With government reimbursement, analysts predict Provenge sales could reach $1 billion next year.

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