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Company News: Drugmakers, Starz, Apple, Coca-Cola

Pharma: A fast track for breakthrough drugs

Drugmakers may win approval from U.S. regulators for breakthrough therapies after a single round of studies, rather than three, in an effort to speed life-saving medicines to patients. Three experimental medicines have been granted the fast-track designation—including two cystic fibrosis treatments made by Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX). And 18 additional drugs, many cancer-related, have been submitted, according to Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. In contrast, Woodcock said the agency is taking its time considering whether to approve copies of biotechnology medicines, or so-called biologics.

Starz: A deal with Sony Pictures

Edging out Netflix (NFLX), Starz (STRZA) secured an extension of a contract with Sony Pictures Entertainment (SNE) for first-run movie rights through 2021. Starz, which operates premium cable channels and online streaming services, has about 55 million TV subscribers. Terms of the deal with Sony weren’t disclosed. The agreement guarantees a library of movies for Starz, which was spun off from John Malone’s Liberty Media (LMCA) in January. Walt Disney (DIS) plans to end a first-run rights deal with Starz in 2016 and then shift to Netflix.

Apple: A watch in the works

Apple (AAPL) has a team of about 100 designers working on a wristwatch-like device that may perform some of the tasks now handled by the iPhone and iPad, according to two people familiar with the project who asked not to be named because the plans are private. The group includes managers, members of the marketing group, and software and hardware engineers who worked on the iPhone and iPad. Apple’s shareholders have been clamoring for a revolutionary new gadget to ease concerns about shrinking margins and rising competition.

Carmakers: Detroit bonuses approach records

Detroit automakers plan to hand out more than $750 million in profit-sharing checks to about 122,000 workers, thanks to the companies’ record North American profits. Ford Motor (F) is giving workers $8,300 each, the most ever by a Detroit automaker, and Chrysler Group is paying hourly workers an extra $2,250. Workers at General Motors (GM) could be getting $6,600 apiece. In Michigan alone, the checks will contribute $350 million to the economy, figures Donald Grimes, a researcher at the University of Michigan.

Coca-Cola: Profit from Powerade

Coca-Cola (KO) said fourth-quarter profit rose 13 percent, to $1.87 billion, as rising sales of noncarbonated drinks in North America helped counter lower demand in Europe. CEO Muhtar Kent is working to meet growing demand for healthier beverages with products such as Simply Orange and Honest Tea. North American sales of sparkling beverages fell 2 percent by volume, while those of noncarbonated drinks advanced 8 percent, driven by demand for Powerade, a sports drink that competes with PepsiCo’s (PEP) Gatorade.

On the Move

— Alcatel-Lucent: CEO Ben Verwaayen leaves

— Goldman Sachs: Gregg Lemkau to co-head M&A

— Legg Mason: Joseph Sullivan named CEO

— WellPoint: Joseph Swedish named CEO

— RadioShack: Joseph Magnacca to be CEO


Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @kyweise.

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