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AstraZeneca Asks U.K. to Encourage Use of Blood-Thinner Brilique

AstraZeneca Plc asked the British government to encourage the National Health Service to increase use of its blood-thinning medicine Brilique, whose sales growth remains lackluster.

U.K. Science Minister David Willetts, a Conservative, discussed Brilique with the state-run NHS on AstraZeneca’s behalf, the government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The move was first reported by The Times newspaper.

The U.K.’s second-biggest drugmaker aims to bolster sales of Brilique, which is also known as ticagrelor and sold under the brand name Brilinta in the U.S., after sluggish revenue growth last year and amid competition from a generic form of Plavix, the blood thinner sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Sanofi. The drug won the backing of the U.K.’s health-cost adviser as a treatment option to prevent heart attacks and strokes in patients with unstable angina in October 2011.

“Despite this recommendation and the NHS target of reducing the mortality rate from cardiovascular disease, it is currently only routinely available to patients in some parts of England,” Vanessa Rhodes, a spokeswoman for AstraZeneca, said in an e-mailed statement. “We share the NHS and the government’s objective of broadening patient access to innovative medicines.”

Jobs Cut

Willetts is the minister with “strategic relationship management responsibility” for several pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said in the statement.

“He regularly meets with companies to discuss issues of importance to them, and has a strong interest in making sure that the environment for the life-sciences industry is conducive to innovation and growth,” according to the release.

AstraZeneca is in the midst of a strategic review and new chief executive Pascal Soriot is expected to present part of his restructuring plan along with fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 31. Last year, the company said it would cut 7,300 jobs worldwide, including 2,200 in research and development, as drugs that account for more than 40 percent of sales lose patent protection by the end of 2014.

Soriot yesterday said the head of research and development and the senior executive responsible for global commercial operations would leave the company at the end of this month after their jobs were cut in a management reorganization.

Lagging Estimates

The British government has been concerned about preserving research jobs after Sanofi and Pfizer Inc. shuttered laboratories and reduced their U.K. workforce. Pfizer let go 2,000 workers in 2011 when it closed its biggest research lab in Sandwich, where Viagra was discovered. The U.K. introduced a tax incentive in March to encourage businesses to locate there.

It’s anti-competitive for a government to step in and lobby for locally made products, according to Stefan Haefliger, a lecturer in strategic management and innovation at London’s Cass Business School.

“They are supposed to support the best drug for the patient and not promote local jobs,” Haefliger said in an interview.

Brilique generated sales of $51 million during the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2012, lagging analysts’ estimates.

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