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Bristol CEO sees fruits of company transformation

Bristol CEO sees fruits of company transformation

January 11th, 2012 by LINDA A. JOHNSON, AP Business Writer in News

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s CEO said Tuesday that the company's five-year transformation into a biopharmaceutical company has already brought five new product launches and soon could bring two more approvals, for a new blood thinner and a diabetes drug that could be big sellers.

Lamberto Andreotti said the New York-based company's revamped pipeline also has added to revenue, and increased productivity - with about $2.5 billion in annual savings achieved so far - has boosted profit.

Speaking at the 30th Annual J.P. Morgan Global Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, he said Bristol's "String of Pearls" strategy of acquiring smaller biotech companies and experimental drugs is paying off. The company has already sold all its non-pharmaceutical businesses.

The results, Andreotti said, validate Bristol's unusual strategy. Most of its rivals have been diversifying by adding new types of businesses such as vaccines and over-the-counter medicines to smooth out the boom-and-bust cycles of brand-name prescription drugs generating billions in sales that suddenly crash when generic competition arrives.

"Diversification can take many forms. We have not felt the need to diversify into OTC or generics or diagnostics," Andreotti said.

Instead Bristol-Myers has a mixture of chemical-based pills and biologic drugs "manufactured" in living cells, across a range of diseases from diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis to cancers and the HIV and hepatitis C viruses.

"Business development remains our top priority," Andreotti told the analysts, although the company is still doing share repurchases - like most big drugmakers seeking to boost their stock price.

As an example, he said Bristol is aiming to replace the current tough-to-endure mix of injections and pills for hepatitis C, which causes nasty, flu-like symptoms over several months and still doesn't cure many patients. Bristol has four experimental hepatitis C drugs in development "that have the potential to change the standard of care in patients," to a pill-only regimen that works better and is easier to tolerate, he said.

That goal is behind Saturday's news that Bristol plans to buy hepatitis C drug developer Inhibitex Inc. of Alpharetta, Ga., for $2.5 billion, Andreotti said.

He said Bristol's key new products include Yervoy, launched last March. It's the first drug to significantly increase survival in patients with advanced melanoma. Andreotti said a big study released last summer showing blood thinner Eliquis reduced strokes, internal bleeding and death significantly should bring approvals for large patient groups.

Eliquis, or apixaban, was developed jointly with Pfizer Inc. and approved in Europe in May for preventing clots in patients getting hip or knee replacement surgery. The companies now hope to get it approved in the U.S. for stroke prevention - which would include millions more patients - after the Food and Drug Administration announced a priority review with a March 28 target date for a decision.

Meanwhile, dapagliflozin, a new type of drug for Type 2 diabetes, could get a ruling from the FDA at the end of this month, but agency advisers have raised concerns about higher rates of bladder and breast cancer in study of patients getting the drug.