Company news: GSK, Novartis and Boehringer Ingelheim

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GlaxoSmithKline continues to shed businesses, but it can't shake its weight-loss drug Alli (orlistat). The company announced Monday that it had sold off international rights to several OTC drugs, including Zantac and Phillips MOM, to Aspen Pharmacare Holdings for $265 million. The company said in a statement that it expects the deal to wrap by the end of the second quarter, if it glides through regulatory approvals. GSK also said the deal would let the drugmaker pocket $145 million after taxes. The company announced last year that it wanted to put some distance between itself and its OTC brands, triggering a $660-million sale to Prestige Holdings in 2011, and a second one to Omega Pharma for $630 million this year. Alli is proving tougher to lose. Sales of the OTC version of Roche's prescription drug, Xenical, haven't lived up to expectations, and GSK says third-party supply problems have hampered its sell-off efforts. Monday's announcement gives a positive set-up for tomorrow's first-quarter results, somewhat balancing out last week's news in which Human Genome Sciences publicly rejected GSK's $3-billion offer to join the firm.

Novartis' first-quarter net sales fell 2% to $13.74 billion, due mainly to slower sales of top seller Diovan along with manufacturing glitches at a Nebraska plant. Revenue from blood-pressure pill Diovan was down 15% due to European generic competition, and the loss curve should steepen in the third quarter, when the drug is scheduled to lose US exclusivity. The Swiss firm also had to suspend production at a Lincoln, Nebraska manufacturing site. The plant, which makes Excedrin headache pills and NoDoz stimulant, accounts for about 25% of OTC sales, according to a Bloomberg report, so the malfunction dragged sales in the consumer health division down 20% to $299 million. Novartis is outsourcing some production and hopes to be able to ship limited OTC quantities in the second half. Compounding matters, generics unit Sandoz felt the impact of increased competition for its off-patent version of Lovenox, with net sales declining 10% to $2.1 billion, and vaccines sales were weaker. Offsetting the setbacks, pharmaceutical net sales grew 2% to $7.8 billion, boosted by newly launched oral MS drug Gilenya, growth of which has been hampered of late by safety concerns, and eye drug Lucentis, which was up 28% to $567 million.

Boehringer Ingelheim reported a 5.5% surge in global sales for fiscal year 2011, to €13.2 billion ($17.4 billion) from €12.6 billion ($16.5 billion). The family-owned company added that its ongoing US launch of oral anticoagulant Pradaxa contributed to the strong showing, hitting sales of sales of €629 million ($830 million) in 2011 and achieving blockbuster status in the March 2011-Feb. 2012 period, according to a Dow Jones report. Sales of top seller Spiriva grew 13%, while Micardis was up 6.6%. Going forward, the firm expects sales to rise by a high-single-digit percentage this year.

Merck KGaA said it would shutter its Geneva Serono site, shedding 500 jobs in Geneva in the process. The firm, which acquired Serono for $13.3 billion in 2006, will transfer 750 positions to units elsewhere, Bloomberg reported.

The American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation launched Cities for Life, a family medicine-based diabetes management program, in Birmingham, Alabama. AAFP has marshaled a host of local care providers and community health programs though the University of Alabama-Birmingham to serve as partners in the effort, which is being sponsored by Sanofi US.

Janssen announced the three finalists of its crowdsourcing Connected Care Challenge, each of whom were awarded $50,000 to further develop tech meant to improve patient care post-hospital discharge. They include two systems aimed at helping hospital staff identify patients at risk for readmission and a risk assessment tool that helps design a customized, 30-day post-discharge care plan.

Everyday Health Studios, the video arm of the health portal, made several hires, including that of Stephanie Sy, who joins the firm from ABC News, where she was a correspondent on shows including Good Morning America and Nightline. Sy will serve as senior editor and correspondent on the site.  Everyday Health hired ABC News' new media chief Paul Slavin back in September, and a few weeks ago, the company launched a YouTube channel with ten hours of programming and plans to produce 90 minutes of original content for the channel every week. Also joining from ABC is Joanna Breen, a three-time Emmy winning TV producer who will lead the Everyday Health Studios team as VP, video and television programming. The firm also named Orlando Reece VP, head of broadcast and digital video sales.

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