Astra Zeneca loses heart drug patent

The price of shares in Astra Zeneca plunged in London Wednesday after the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical group lost a fight to retain patent protection in the US over its top-selling heart drug Toprol XL.

Shares in the pharmaceuticals giant sank 3.79 percent to 2.694 pence in early afternoon trading, while London’s FTSE 100 index of top shares slipped 0.85 percent to 5,650.60 points.

The company, the third-biggest European drugmaker, said in a statement on Wednesday that it was “disappointed” by the judgement delivered by a Missouri court and would appeal.

The news prompted a raft of earnings downgrades from analysts, who were expecting the product to remain exclusive until September next year, when the patents were due to expire.

The decision means cheaper, copycat versions of the drug are likely to arrive 18 months earlier than expected, affecting sales and earnings in the next few months.

Toprol XL, a treatment for angina and high blood pressure, generated sales of 1.3 billion dollars in the United States last year. It accounts for around 5 percent of the group’s total sales.

But the generic drug makers it was fighting – KV Pharmaceutical Co, Andrx Corp and Eon Labs, part of Novartis AG – were likely to hurry to get their cheaper versions to the market, analysts said.

“We anticipate near term approval of one or more of the generic challengers leading to collapse in both Astra Zeneca’s US market and pricing,” broker Morgan Stanley told clients this morning.



Norway to send 200,000 AstraZeneca doses to Sweden and Iceland

Norway, which has suspended the use of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine until further notice, will send 216,000 doses to Sweden and Iceland at their request, the Norwegian health ministry said Thursday.

Norway to send 200,000 AstraZeneca doses to Sweden and Iceland
Empty vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

“I’m happy that the vaccines we have in stock can be put to use even if the AstraZeneca vaccine has been paused in Norway,” Health Minister Bent Høie said in a statement.

The 216,000 doses, which are currently stored in Norwegian fridges, have to be used before their expiry dates in June and July.

Sweden will receive 200,000 shots and Iceland 16,000 under the expectation they will return the favour at some point. 

“If we do resume the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, we will get the doses back as soon as we ask,” Høie said.

Like neighbouring Denmark, Norway suspended the use of the AstraZeneca jab on March 11 in order to examine rare but potentially severe side effects, including blood clots.

Among the 134,000 AstraZeneca shots administered in Norway before the suspension, five cases of severe thrombosis, including three fatal ones, had been registered among relatively young people in otherwise good health. One other person died of a brain haemorrhage.

On April 15, Norway’s government ignored a recommendation from the Institute of Public Health to drop the AstraZeneca jab for good, saying it wanted more time to decide.

READ MORE: Norway delays final decision on withdrawal of AstraZeneca vaccine 

The government has therefore set up a committee of Norwegian and international experts tasked with studying all of the risks linked to the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which is also suspected of causing blood clots.

Both are both based on adenovirus vector technology. Denmark is the only European country to have dropped the AstraZeneca
vaccine from its vaccination campaign, and said on Tuesday it would “lend” 55,000 doses to the neighbouring German state of Schleswig-Holstein.