Ian Ellul

As I am writing this editorial I am recovering from appendicectomy with severe uvulitis as a post anaesthesia aftermath, which is constantly reminding me of my endotracheal intubation. So reading an article which suggested that influenza vaccinations may be safely administered to patients with egg allergies, was effectively distracting me from my pains. The research, which seeems to apply to both seasonal and H1N1 vaccines, was presented last month at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology meeting, and apparently concluded that egg-allergic patients can get the vaccination if its egg protein content is 1.2 mcg/mL or less. The vaccinations should, however, be given in graded doses under the evaluation of an allergist.

We are indeed experiencing extraordinary times. One one hand we are seeing Norway gear up for the pandemic by allowing pharmacists, even if for a limited time only, to give the prescription-only Tamiflu and Relenza, to patients in pharmacies, in order to increase access to drugs. On the other hand we are sadly recognising that with all good intentions and efforts most probably next year we will be experiencing simultaneous pandemics / epidemics in many countries. A case in point is Sudan which is currently also struggling with a visceral leishmaniasis epidemic,with cases in the country continuing to rise. And the predicted economic recovery is seriously being undermined by Dubai’s current financial meltdown, with many analysts predicting a double-dip recession in 2010.

The answer to such challenging times maybe has been found by pharmaceurtical companies in their mergers, take-overs and other restructuring strategies. And the following are two sterling examples of such diverse restructuring. In addition to the reduction of 6,500 employees in the first nine months of this year, last month Pfizer announced further staff cuts and closure of 6 of its 20 research sites, less than a month after closing its $68 billion deal for Wyeth. On the other hand it has unveiled plans to build up its research activities in China. Furthermore it has partnered with GSK to launch a HIV joint venture, ViiV Healthcare. Another strategy adopted by Pfizer which seems to be paying off is the reduced dependency on ‘white pill/western markets’ (coined by GSK’s CEO Andrew Witty).

Another sterling example of such diversification is Sanofi-Aventis which has completed its $4 billion acquisition of the 50% interest in Merial, a biomedical veterinary research company, acquiring the stake from its joint venture partner Merck & Co. Sanofi-Aventis has also announced that it has bought a 74% stake in Bioton-Vostok, a Russian manufacturer of insulins, becoming Sanofi-Aventis’s first production facility in Russia. The company is also to acquire the French R&D company Fovea Pharmaceuticals in order to expand its ophthalmology business and has recently signed a exclusive cancer drug development licensing deal with Merrimack Pharmaceuticals. The latter two deals are worth almost $1 billion. Sanofi-Aventis’s drug pipeline is also being boosted by an additional $1 billion which are being paid over eight years to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals for the discovery of new monoclonal antibodies.

I sincerely wish you and your loved ones a joyful Christmas and a new year filled with happiness and good health.