The Other Shoe Has Finally Dropped: Merck to Eliminate 8,500 Jobs

Posted in BioBusiness, BioJobBuzz

After Merck rehired Roger Perlmutter to replace Peter Kim as head of R&D (he left Merck about 10 years ago to lead Amgen R&D), it was pretty obvious that reorganization and job cuts were likely. However, it was not clear, until today, how extensive the cuts would be and what exactly what would be changing at Merck.

Today, Merck revealed plans to eliminate about 8,500 jobs–mainly in R&D, marketing and sales–in an attempt to save $2.5 billion by the end of 2015. In addition to the job cuts, R&D focus will be shifting and Merck’s headquarters will be relocated again (it was moved from Whitehouse Station to Summit several years ago) to Kenilworth, NJ (the former headquarters of Schering Plough which Merck purchased for roughly $41 billion in 2009)

According to a post at the Pharmalot Blog, while it is not exactly clear where the job cuts will take place, most industry insiders expect that the majority of them will likely take place in NJ.  The shift in R&D focus is intended to emphasize oncology, diabetes, acute hospital care, vaccines, oncology and a greater effort in biologics. Further the company intends to either license or discontinue research on “selected late-stage compounds” and reduce its investment in “platform technologies.”

Once one of America’s preeminent pharmaceutical companies, Merck has stumbled over the past decade (with the Vioxx scandal and the Vytorin and Zetia controversies) and it continues to struggle with regulatory approval of some of its new medicines. Perlmutter was hired to transform R&D and bring his expertise in oncology to bear at Merck.

Time will tell.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

Abbott Laboratories and Progenics to Cut Jobs

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Abbott Laboratories today announced it is eliminating 160 jobs in an attempt to shore up its diagnostics business. Most of the job cuts (150) will take place at the company’s Santa Clara, CA production facility. The remaining jobs will be eliminated at Abbott’s North Chicago corporate headquarters. 

Similarly, Tarrytown, NY-based Progenics announced that it was undergoing a strategic reorganization and it will reduce headcount by 38 or 26% of its staff. The company recently closed it manufacturing facility and discontinued work in virology and infectious diseases, the therapeutic areas that the company was founded on almost 25 years ago. The company is now working in the oncology area and has a prostate cancer diagnostic monoclonal antibody in early clinical development. 

Progenics has one approved product, RELISTOR (methylnaltrexone bromide) a subcutaneous injection treatment for opioid-induced constipation. Regulatory approval is pending for the use of RELISTOR to treat chronic, non-cancer pain. A Phase III clinical trial of an oral formulation of methylnaltrexone is in progress.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!


The Cannabis Genome Is Sequenced

Posted in BioBusiness

 A Massachusetts start up company called Medicinal Genomics announced late last week that it had sequenced the cannabis genome. Kevin McKernan the head of Medicinal Genomics and former leader of Life Technologies Corp Ion Torrent DNA-sequence program decided to undertake the project after he read a paper in Nature describing the possible tumor shrinking effects of marijuana. 

The project, which cost about $200,000, may lead to the development of treatments for cancer, pain and inflammatory diseases said McKernan. He is making the making the data public using Inc. (AMZN)’s EC2 cloud- computing system. McKernan called the work a “draft assembly” and has yet to publish the data in a peer reviewed journal.

 While sequencing the cannabis genome is not a novel feat, McKernan said his company’s goal is to allow researchers to find ways to maximize the cannabis plant’s therapeutic benefits and minimize its psychoactive effects. Cannabinoids, a class of chemicals that includes tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, are the main psychoactive substance in marijuana. Another compound called cannabidiol, or CBD, has shown promise in shrinking tumors in rats without the psychoactive effects, McKernan said. 

Companies including England-based GW Pharmaceuticals have used THC and CBD to create cannabis-based medicines like Sativex; indicated for muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis. McKernan contends that the sequence data may help to modify the cannabinoid pathways in the plant or introduce the pathways into other hosts to optimize biological production. “It may be possible through genome directed breeding to attenuate the psychoactive effects of cannabis, while enhancing the medicinal aspects” he said. 

Like it or not, marijuana has a variety of outstanding medicinal properties that can help patients suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses. The politicization of the drug and the impact of its legalization on the US law enforcement and prison systems have prevented the use of marijuana as a bonafide therapeutic agent.  It is troubling to think that highly addictive pain medications like oxycodone and hydrocodone/paracetamol are legal but marijuana is not.

 Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!


More M&A in the Life Sciences Sector: Valeant Pharmaceuticals Attempts Hostile Takeover of Cephalon

Posted in BioBusiness

It seems like hostile takeover bids in the life sciences industry may be de rigueur (how can anyone forget the Sanofi-Aventis/Genzyme hostile takeover saga that dragged on for almost a year). Interestingly, there have been 219 acquisitions of U.S. pharmaceutical companies in the past 12 months, with an average disclosed price of $153.7 million and an average premium of 44 percent!

Late yesterday, Valeant Pharmaceuticals announced plans for a hostile takeover bid for Cephalon, a 24 year old Pennsylvania-based biopharmaceutical company with eight products on the US market and more than 100 products worldwide. The takeover bid became “hostile” after Cephalon’s management team rejected earlier proposals.

Cephalon’s main focus is on nervous system disorders, pain and cancers. It is one of the world’s top 10 and most profitable biopharmaceutical companies. The company had revenues of $2.81 billion last year from sales of its narcolepsy treatment Provigil ($1.2 billion) and its leukemia treatment Treanda ($393 million). Also, according to the Cephalon website, there are several oncology products (lung, melanoma and solid tumors) in its development pipeline. In 2010 Cephalon announced seven acquisitions many of which were intended to bolster its oncology expertise.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, long a struggling speciality pharma company, merged with Biovail Corporation late last year and re-emerged as a re-invented company with substantial financial resources at its disposal. Prior to the Biovail merger, Valeant had a long history of acquiring smaller companies to bolster its R&D capability and its flagging drug development pipeline. The new company specializes in neurology and dermatology and has a diverse product portfolio that consists of branded pharmaceuticals, branded generics and over-the-counter medicines. In 2009, its revenues were $1.65 billion and 2010 revenues (to be released) are likely to exceed $2.0 billion. 

According to Bloomberg News, Valeant has offered to buy Cephalon for $5.7 billion in cash. Under terms of the offer, Valeant would pay $73 a share in cash; a 24 percent premium on Cephalon’s Tuesday closing stock price or a 29 percent premium to company’s 30 day trading average. Not surprisingly Cephalon executives summarily rejected the offer as “too low.” Several financial analysts concur with Cephalon and contend that the $73 per share cash offer undervalues the company’s true worth. Valeant and Cephalon are main competitors in the oncology and neurology markets.

Unlike the Sanofi/Genzyme bid, where it was clear at the outset to most observers that Sanofi would ultimately prevail, it isn’t clear whether or not Valeant will be successful in its attempt for Cephalon. While Cephalon has had its share of trouble with FDA over the past few years (for a variety of infractions including off-label marketing of Provigil), the company is in much better shape than Genzyme and the current management team has more resources at its disposable to ward off Valeant’s hostile takeover bid.

The downside of a Valeant-Cephalon merger would be job loss for many current Cephalon employees. This is because Valeant’s bid for Cephalon appears to be a “pipeline grab” rather than an R&D play. Typically, these types of acquisitions result in reorganization and downsizing of personnel because of duplication of effort. Only time will tell if Valeant will prevail.

Stay tuned for more late breaking news!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!


At Long Last: Sanofi and Genzyme May Be Close to a Deal!

Posted in BioBusiness

After a five month-long series of  very public and often acrimonious negotiations, it appears that Sanofi-Aventis and Genzyme may be close to deal that would enable the French drug maker to acquire one of the world’s largest public biotechnology companies.

According to the NY Times and a number of life sciences blogs, both companies have agreed in principle on a framework for a takeover deal. The major sticking point in the negotiations is Sanofi’s tender offer of $69 per share of Genzyme stock. Genzyme executives and industry analysts view the offer as “too low” and believe that a stock share price in the mid-70s is more reasonable and likely in the end. Another sticking point is the success of Genzyme’s leukemia treatment Campath (alemtuzumab, which is in clinical development to treat multiple sclerosis but will be marketed under the brand name Lemtrada if approved). Genzyme believes that Campath will likely be a winner whereas Sanofi executives are not so sure. Consequently, the deal will likely include additional payments to Genzyme if the drug meets or exceeds certain sale targets for either or both indications.

Persons with knowledge of the negotiations suggest that the specifics of a deal will likely be worked out of the next week or so. This is because, on Monday, Sanofi signed a nondisclosure agreement with Genzyme to conduct due diligence for the deal. Really? What has Sanofi been doing for the past 5 months?

The Genzyme deal is critical for Sanofi which desperately needs to quickly get into the biotechnology game, particularly in the areas of oncology and neurological disorders. Last week, Sanofi’s experimental drug to treat breast cancer, iniparib failed to meet clinical endpoints in a late stage clinical trial. Also, Plavix, Sanofi’s top-selling anti-clotting drug will lose patent protection in May 2012 (FDA recently gave Sanofi an additional six months of marketing exclusivity based on a newly awarded pediatric indication). Plavix is the world’s second best selling prescription medication.

I don’t know about you, but I hope that this deal gets done soon! From the outset, it was apparent to most life sciences pundits and industry insiders that Sanofi would prevail and ultimately acquire Genzyme. Unfortunately, Genzyme’s ongoing manufacturing woes provided Sanofi with an excuse to “lowball” its initial offers. And, surprisingly, Genzyme’s management team had the chutzpah and wherewithal to push back hard.  The bottom line: it is a great deal for both companies—“Just Do It.”

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!


What Ever Happened to Amgen?

Posted in BioBusiness

Five years ago Amgen was the world’s largest biotechnology and was, by many accounts, the darling of Wall Street. But, today, there is little mention of the once formidable biotechnology company that many startups attempted to emulate. Like other companies, Amgen ran into pipeline problems, medical issues with existing blockbuster drugs (remember the whole hematocrit brouhaha over Epogen and Aranesp its flagship anemia products), lower drug sales and ultimately the perception that the company had lost its innovative edge. However, it now appears that Amgen is making something of a comeback and may have been quietly preparing itself for its  “rebirth” over the past few years.

According to an article in today’s NY Times, Amgen agreed to purchase BioVex, a closely held oncology company for $425 million and as much as $575 million in milestone payments. BioVex’s lead product, an experimental cancer vaccine Oncovex, is in late stage clinical development. It was developed to treat metastatic melanoma. Oncovex is also being evaluated for head and neck cancer.  Over the past five years, Amgen has acquired seven companies (with an average deal value of about $264 million) in oncology and other therapeutic areas indicating a willingness to create new drugs to treat diseases rather than symptoms commonly associated with them.

In other news, the company announced that it was raising it price for some of its largest selling drugs including Aranesp, Neupogen and Neulasta. Another sign that the once mighty company may be trying to get back into the game and compete with archrival Genentech (now a subsidiary of Roche) for the title of the world’s largest biotechnology company.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!.


Sanofi-Aventis' Oncology Push

Posted in BioBusiness

It is no secret that Sanofi-Aventis is facing a steep “patent cliff” in 2013 when some of its top selling drugs, most notably Plavix, will lose patent protection. Some analysts contend that the company can lose as much as a quarter of its annual revenue because of generic encroachment on blockbuster brands. Sanofi is narrowing its business to three areas — diabetes, heart problems, and cancer — and is seeking partnerships and acquisitions.

This past June, Sanofi inked a $398 million deal with US-based Ascenta Therapeutics to gain access to two experimental cancer drugs that are in preclinical development. Later that month, the company purchased TargeGen a privately held US biopharmaceutical company focusing on oncology R&D. Two months later, Sanofi announced that it had entered into a partnership with the Belfer Institute of Applied Cancer Science (part of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute) to gain access to additional experimental cancer treatments.

Today, Sanofi announced that it had reached an agreement with Germany-based  Merck KGaA to jointly study experimental cancer treatments. Both companies Merck will conduct early stage human trials of Merck’s MSC1936369B and Sanofi’s SAR245409 and SAR245408 experimental drugs. Under the terms of the agreement, each company will carry out an early-stage dosing test of the drug candidates. Sanofi will be granted a license to study the safety and effectiveness of the Merck compound when used with SAR245408. Merck will be given a license to work with Sanofi’s other medicine to study its use in combination with its experimental compound. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Yesterday, Sanofi announced that it had signed an agreement with Oxford University to conduct multi-phase clinical and translational research in oncology with INDOX, a network of cancer research centres established across India in partnership with the university’s Institute of Cancer Medicine five years ago. According to the terms of the agreement Sanofi-Aventis has agreed to provide financial support to Oxford University in managing the INDOX network of eight cancer research centres across India. 

Based on this spate of activity over the past six months it would appear that Sanofi is executing its new long term strategic plan. Stay tuned for more news!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!


Mirror, Mirror on the Wall Who's the Most Ambitious Big Pharma Company of Them All?

Posted in BioBusiness

Since I don’t have a magic mirror, I can only go on what I read in the Internet. And, it appears that Roche may be the most ambitious pharma company of them all; at least by 2013. According to a post on PharmLive, “Roche’s late-stage pipeline is progressing well with potentially ten regulatory submissions of new molecular entities until the end of 2013.”

So what drugs make up this rather full pipeline?

  1. T-DM1 (trastuzumab-DM1)-antibody-drug conjugate for Her-2 positive breast cancer
  2. Pertuzumab/trastuzumab (Herceptin)-monoclonal antibody cocktail to treat Her-2
  3. positive breast cancer
  4. MetMab-a unique monovalent monoclonal antibody for non-small cell lung cancer
  5. GA101/RG7159-the first glycoengineered type II humanized anti-CD20 monoclonal for relapsed/refractory progress non-Hodgkins lymphoma
  6. RG7204-anti-BRAF protein monoclonal antibody for BRAF-mutation-positive metastatic lung cancer
  7. RG1678-first-in-class glycine reuptake inhibitor that normalizes glutamate neurotransmission for schizophrenia and other psychiatric indications
  8. RG1594 (ocrelizumab)-humanized anti-CD20 monoclonal for multiple sclerosis

Not surprisingly, many of these molecules were developed at Genentech, the world’s largest biotechnology company that was purchased by Roche almost two years ago.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!


A Novel Alternate Career Choice

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Several years ago a television show appeared on the BBC entitled “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” which follows the life of a seemingly ordinary, but struggling, student named Hannah aka Belle de Jour who, unbeknownst to family and friends, secretly moonlights as a prostitute to make ends meet. The BBC series (which starred the British actress Billie Piper) was based on an anonymously written blog (later books) that began appearing in 2003.

Last November, the author behind the blog and bestselling books revealed herself to be none other than Brooke Magnanti, PhD a researcher in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology at a hospital in Bristol, England. And, while a doctoral student in 2003, actually worked as a prostitute (£300 per hour) for an escort service to help pay rent and make ends meet when writing her PhD thesis. At the time, she was already an experienced science blogger and began writing about her experiences on a blog entitled ‘Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl’ which was later adapted into the books and the television series. 

Magnanti said she was working on a doctoral study for the department of forensic pathology of Sheffield University in 2003 when she began her secret life. "I was getting ready to submit my thesis. I saved up a bit of money. I thought, I’ll just move to London, because that’s where the jobs are, and I’ll see what happens. She added "I couldn’t find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn’t have my PhD yet. I didn’t have a lot of spare time on my hands because I was still making corrections and preparing for the defense and I got through my savings a lot faster than I thought I would"

Dr. Magnanti has no regrets about the 14 months she spent working as a high priced call girl. "I’ve felt worse about my writing than I ever have about sex for money," she said. "I did have another job at one point, as a computer programmer, but I kept up with my other work because it was so much more enjoyable" she added. Interestingly, Magnanti has kept her day job as a researcher and writes in her spare time.

While this alternate career option may not appeal to most, it certainly was a creative choice that demonstrated at least one scientist’s commitment to “doing whatever it takes” to pursue a scientific career!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!


Pharma Edges Closer to Using Social Media for Non-Promotional Purposes

Posted in Social Media

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and MedTrust Online, an online oncology information site announced the development of CancerTrials App, the first free geo-locating oncology clinical trials application for the Apple iPhone and iPad platforms.

According to a press release, oncologists can easily find and share information about experimental therapies in clinical trials with their patients. CancerTrials App provides a quick search menu based on 12 common cancers and more advanced features that refine searches based on criteria such as gender, age, trial status and more. Once relevant clinical trials are found, results can be mapped relative to the location of the iPhone or iPad running the application. These features should help oncologists connect patients to appropriate regional and local clinical trials for which they may be eligible. Obviously, the app will help to bolster clinical trial enrollment in the oncology space.

While not a full blow geo-based social media platform like FourSquare,the Cancer Trials app is a step in the right direction and demonstrates the power of mobile medical applications and the potential of social media to improve clinical drug development. 

CancerTrials App for the iPhone and iPad is the first release of the application that connects to MedTrust Online’s proprietary databases of oncology information. Other apps for RIM’s BlackBerry and Google’s Android operating systems will be released over the next several months.

Hat tip to GSK which has boldly gone where no other pharma company has gone before!

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!