Business briefs: Shire, AthenaHealth, GSK, Novartis

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Shire expanded its pipeline for the second time this month, today with the $160 million purchase of independent SARcode Bioscience. The purchase brings with it access to LIFITEGRAST, which is being tested for dry eye disease, but a closer look at the purchase suggests larger potential. The experimental treatment focuses on T-cells and inflammation. SARcode's description of the integrin inhibitor notes “chronic T-cell mediated inflammation is central to many diseases, including dry eye, uveitis, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.” Shire said in a statement that the SARcode deal was part of its push to fill its pipeline with “new, well-differentiated assets.” It also follows the March 12 Premacure AB purchase, which gave the company a Phase II treatment for a rare blindness-inducing infant disorder. Although a relatively new field for Shire, the eye care category is familiar territory for Flemming Ørnskov, who officially becomes the company's CEO next month. Ørnskov's background includes two years as global president, pharmaceuticals and OTC, at Bausch & Lomb.

AthenaHealth's news tear continued Monday, with the announcement that it has synced up with Aetna's mobile health group iTriage, reported Mobihealth News. The move will put AthenaHealth's database of 40,000 providers in the hands of around 8 million iTriage users who use the app to research medications and conditions, as well as to find healthcare providers and book appointments. Patient access is contingent upon one other bit of information: it's available to healthcare providers who also use the scheduling and interaction service athenaCommunicator. Aetna bought iTriage in 2011.

FDA has delayed approval of GSK's H5N1 bird-flu vaccine citing “an administrative matter that needs to be verified,” the British drugmaker said in a statement today. In November, an FDA panel voted unanimously to approve the vaccine. Since that advisory nod, new data has surfaced showing a relationship between GSK's H1N1 vaccine, Pandemrix, and narcolepsy. A company spokesperson, however, said that the delay was unrelated to the narcolepsy data.

On Friday, Novartis gained approval of its cystic fibrosis inhaler, TOBI Podhaler, which delivers antibiotics more quickly than liquid formulations. Its approval followed a 13-1 advisory nod this past September and a study that demonstrated an increase of 12.5% on a breathing test compared to .9% on placebo. Inhaled antibiotics help combat persistent lung infections in patients with cystic fibrosis.

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