| Click for the Finfacts Ireland Portal Homepage |

Finfacts Business News Centre

   
Home 
 
 News
 Irish
 Irish Economy
 EU Economy
 US Economy
 UK Economy
 Global Economy
 International
 Property
 Innovation
 
 Analysis/Comment
 
 Asia Economy

RSS FEED


How to use our RSS feed

 
Web Finfacts

See Search Box lower down this column for searches of Finfacts news pages. Where there may be the odd special character missing from an older page, it's a problem that developed when Interactive Tools upgraded to a new content management system.

Welcome

Finfacts is Ireland's leading business information site and you are in its business news section.

We provide access to live business television and business related videos from: Bloomberg TV; The Wall Street Journal; CNBC and the Financial Times. Click image:

Links

Finfacts Homepage

Irish Share Prices

Euribor Daily Rates

Irish Economy

Global Income Per Capita

Global Cost of Living

Irish Tax 2008

Climate Change Reports

Global News

Bloomberg News

CNN Money

Cnet Tech News

Newspapers

Irish Independent

Irish Times

Irish Examiner

New York Times

Financial Times

Technology News

 

Feedback

 

Content Management by interactivetools.com.

News : International Last Updated: Mar 31, 2010 - 7:37:07 AM


Wednesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - March 31, 2010
By Finfacts Team
Mar 31, 2010 - 6:07:28 AM

Email this article
 Printer friendly page

The Irish Independent reports that the scale of the country's crippling debt mountain can be laid bare today -- and it leaves taxpayers footing the bill for a multi-billion-euro bailout of the banks, developers and Ireland's second largest insurance company.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan outlined the extent of the challenges ahead as the State took control of almost the entire banking sector. Every man, woman and child in the State will have to pay an average of €2,000 every year just to service interest payments on borrowings to pay for the bank bailout, estimated to cost €40bn.

In what will be remembered as a Black Tuesday for taxpayers: 1) Lenihan confirmed the bailout of the country's banks would cost at least €32bn. 2) The extent of the toxic loans was revealed as the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) took over the banks' bad debts. 3) And the Financial Regulator effectively took control of Quinn Insurance after discovering a massive €454m hole in the insurance company's finances.

Consumers were last night warned that they faced having a levy imposed on all insurance premiums as a result of the High Court move to put Quinn Insurance into administration. In his Dail address, Mr Lenihan launched a scathing attack on senior banking figures, accusing them of making "appalling" decisions that would cost the taxpayer dearly.

Shocking

"The detailed information that has emerged from the banks in the course of the NAMA process is truly shocking. At every hand's turn our worst fears have been confirmed," he said.

Mr Lenihan also revealed that the State may have to pump €18bn into the now-nationalised Anglo Irish Bank.

The Government will initially provide €8.5bn -- which will be paid over a number of years -- to Anglo. But it could have to inject a further €10bn over time.

This is more than twice the figure estimated by analysts.

Financial Regulator Matthew Elderfield was unable to give a firm figure for Anglo because of the scale of its losses.

The €18bn estimate was given by Mr Lenihan, who said there were still "significant uncertainties" over the losses at the disgraced bank.

AIB will have to raise €7.4bn by the end of the year to meet targets. It will have to start selling off assets in Poland, the US and Britain. Mr Lenihan said it was "probable" the country's largest bank would end up owned by the State.

However, AIB will be given time to try to devise the "preferable solution" of remaining in private hands. Bank of Ireland will need €2.7bn, but it is hoping to raise most of this from private sources.

The government is to demand a major increase in board seats at AIB and Bank of Ireland as part of the deal.

Senior government sources indicated last night that its board representation would have to increase in line with its stake in both banks.

While the government is keen to allow the institutions to be run on an "arm's length'' basis, the number of public service directors, who represent the government, will rise in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, the National Treasury Management Agency will today brief the world's major credit ratings agencies on its bank rescue plan as they attempt to head off any further damaging downgrades.

Despite the enormous bailout, Mr Lenihan claimed the country was now fiscally stable and credible.

NAMA is to pay on average 47pc less than the bank's original estimate of the value of the first loans it will acquire.

This means the agency will give the banks just over half of what the loans were worth.

It is significantly higher than the 30pc figure estimated by the Government last year.

Discount

The first batch of the loans -- consisting of 1,200 individual loans originally worth €16bn -- will be bought by the State for €8.5bn. NAMA will pay AIB €1.88bn for loans worth €3.3bn, a discount of 43pc.

It will pay Anglo €5bn for toxic loans that were originally valued at twice this amount. The discount for loans by Irish Nationwide is even higher at 58pc.

Savers' money is protected, but the building society will eventually cease to operate as a separate entity.

The discounts, or 'haircuts', for Bank of Ireland loans are 35pc, and 37pc for EBS.

In New York trade last night, Bank of Ireland managed to soar 20pc, though AIB closed down 8pc.

The Irish Independent also reports that NAMA is set to take over some of the most expensive buildings ever purchased in Ireland from today, after the first tranche of loans were moved into the toxic-loans agency.

While NAMA doesn't accept buildings and land directly, the loans being transferred into the agency are secured on tracts of land and assets accumulated by some of the country's most high-profile developers.

Irish Nationwide, in particular, is a major lender to some of Ireland's best-known developers, including Sean Mulryan, Liam Carroll and Gerry Gannon.

Yesterday, loans from EBS and Irish Nationwide went into NAMA, and Bank of Ireland will shortly follow. Once these assets are transferred, major exposures linked to AIB and Anglo Irish will follow.

This will leave NAMA holding charges over buildings from the Dundrum Town Centre to the Ritz Carlton Hotel, to the Irish Glass Bottle site.

NAMA's purpose is to purchase any property and development loan over €5m. In the case of Irish Nationwide and Anglo Irish Bank, loans worth less than €5m are being bought. All will be moved within months.

Foreign lenders often have a portion of the loans used to finance major developments, so it is not clear at this stage precisely how they will react to working with NAMA.

Properties

With loans from Irish Nationwide to some of Ireland's most prominent developers already in state hands, NAMA's planners yesterday hinted that a large portion of the top 100 borrowers the agency is dealing with have Anglo Irish debts.

The agency is offering zero consideration for some loans, where there are issues over security. This is believed to include loans advanced by AIB to developer Liam Carroll.

Some of the biggest NAMA-bound loans belong to developer Sean Mulryan, who owns a giant land bank in east London.

Also going into NAMA are land banks and assets owned by Treasury Holdings, founded by Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett. Their most well known asset is the Battersea power station in London.

Gerry Gannon, a developer based mainly in north Co Dublin, is also likely to have loans put into NAMA. His most prominent asset is a 50pc share in the K Club, where Dr Michael Smurfit is also a shareholder.

Another developer who owns well known assets is Paddy McKillen, who is a significant borrower with Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide via his various firms. He has stakes in the Powerscourt Centre in Dublin and the Jervis Street shopping Centre and London's Maybourne Hotel.

Another developer battling his way through the recession is Derek Quinlan. The former tax inspector sensationally quit Ireland for Switzerland last year after parting ways with the company he founded, Quinlan Private. That partnership claims to have €10bn under management and is determined to continue on without Quinlan.

Even fashionable hotels are likely to end up in NAMA when loans from developer Gerry Barrett are inserted into NAMA.

The former school teacher has won plaudits for his glamourous hotels like the G in Galway, but some of his companies are sitting on large losses.

Mr Barrett is pressing on with the redevelopment of Ceannt Station in Galway, and owns Ashford Castle in Cong, Mayo.

The Irish Times reports that Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has revealed that State-owned Anglo Irish Bank may require an additional €10 billion of taxpayers’ money. This is on top of the €8.3 billion committed yesterday as part of the €21.8 billion bank recapitalisation package announced in the Dáil.

The Government’s banking plan was approved by 83 votes to 68 in the House late last night.

The additional €10 billion – to meet future losses on loans going into the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) – would bring the total cost of bailing out Anglo to €22.3 billion. The State already put €4 billion into Anglo Irish last year to cover its losses up to that point and the Dáil was told yesterday it needs another €8.3 billion – to be injected this week – to cover losses of about €12.5 billion for 2009, which the bank will report today.

The additional €10 billion capital hole at Anglo only emerged yesterday morning when the bank was told that Nama would buy its first loans at a discount of 50 per cent to their original value. Anglo had expected a “haircut” of 28 per cent and based its capital requirements around this figure.

The bank will reveal the highest losses in Irish corporate history today when it publishes its long-awaited results, saying bad loans have surpassed €15 billion.

The higher discount applied by Nama surprised the bank and shocked the Dáil chamber when it was revealed by the Minister.

Mr Lenihan insisted that the cost of winding down the bank, in either the short or long term, would be greater and would generate enormous instability for the State with potentially long-term damage to the economy. The bank has put the cost of winding itself down over 10 years at between €18 billion and €22 billion. “I understand why many want us to lose this bank. I understand the impulse to obliterate it from the system but I cannot, as Minister for Finance, countenance such a course of action,” he said.

Mr Lenihan said that some institutions were worse than others, but the system “to a greater or lesser extent, engaged in reckless property development lending”.

“The detailed information that has emerged from the banks in the course of the Nama process is truly shocking. At every hand’s turn, our worst fears have been surpassed.”

In too many cases, Mr Lenihan added, there were also shoddy banking practices. “The banks played fast and loose with the economic interests of this country.”

Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton said the taxpayer was now facing a bill of €40 billion or more for bailing out Anglo Irish.

Elsewhere, the Minister said that AIB, Bank of Ireland, Irish Nationwide Building Society and the EBS would need a total of €13.5 billion in new capital. AIB would need €7.4 billion, Bank of Ireland €2.7 billion, Irish Nationwide Building Society €2.6 billion and EBS building society €875 million, he said.

Not all of this would come in the form of new investments, he said; some would be raised privately. It was “probable” that the State would take a majority stake in AIB if it could not raise sufficient capital from the sale of its UK, US and Polish businesses or from private investors, he said. However he expected the State to remain a minority shareholder in Bank of Ireland, which had a “strong future”.

The contrasting prospects facing the Republic’s two largest banks were reflected in late trading on the New York Stock Exchange after the announcement of the bank recapitalisation programme late yesterday afternoon. Despite the €2.7 billion in capital required at Bank of Ireland, shares in the bank climbed 19 per cent, while AIB, which needs “at least” €7.4 billion, fell 7 per cent.

The capital holes at the five lenders were revealed after Nama began buying their most toxic loans at far steeper discounts than it had anticipated last September. Nama is buying some €16 billion in loans owing by the 10 biggest borrowers for €8.5 billion, representing a haircut of 47 per cent, well in excess of the average 30 per cent first estimated last year. The agency chose not to buy €1 billion in loans linked to the top borrowers as the banks were unable provide sufficient security.

Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh said there had been “an explosion” in the growth of loan books across the banking sector due to property lending between 2004 and 2008. “All the good banking and lending principles went out the window,” he said.

The Irish Times also reports that the financial regulatory system will be strengthened as the result of new powers that will be granted to the proposed Central Bank Commission, according to the Department of Finance.

The comments came yesterday as the Government published the new Central Bank Reform Bill, which will dissolve the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority and place most of the regulator’s functions inside the new Central Bank Commission.

A key provision of the Bill removes the statutory responsibility of the Central Bank to promote the development of the financial services industry in the State. The Department of Finance said this role was “inconsistent with the enhanced regulatory focus” of the new regime.

The new system of regulation will help maintain financial stability and safeguard the interests of both consumers and investors, according to the Department of Finance.

Under the new integrated structure, an Oireachtas committee will receive an annual regulatory performance statement. This new mechanism is designed to increase accountability in respect of the Central Bank’s regulatory obligations.

The Central Bank Commission, which was first proposed a year ago, will be chaired by the governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan.

The Bill also gives legislative backing to the creation of two newly configured positions – a head of financial regulation and a head of central banking.

Matthew Elderfield was appointed as head of financial regulation late last year, while Tony Grimes is his counterpart on the prudential side. Both men will act as ex-officio members of the commission.

The Bill gives the commission new powers to vet people appointed to senior positions within financial institutions. Mr Elderfield will have the power to suspend senior bank executives if he believes there is sufficient reason to suspect that the person concerned is not fit for the job.

“This initiative will help restore confidence in the management of financial institutions both domestically and in international markets,”the Department of Finance said in a statement.

The Bill also transfers responsibility for consumer information and education to the National Consumer Agency and abolishes both the post of consumer director within the Financial Regulator (a position previously occupied by Mary O’Dea) and the two statutory advisory panels on consumer and prudential matters.

The Bill states that the Central Bank Commission will have to answer to the Oireachtas on consumer protection issues.

The commission will be obliged to establish a group to advise it on its consumer-related functions and powers. It will also have the authority to set up other advisory groups.

“The changes will enable increased co-operation and co- ordination between prudential supervision of individual institutions, conduct of business regulation and maintaining financial stability overall,” the Department of Finance said.

The Bill also contains measures that will allow a higher proportion of credit union loans to be scheduled over longer periods, in order to alleviate the financial stress of credit union members who have got into difficulty on their loans.

A consultation will take place on the Bill over the coming weeks.

The Bill is the first of three pieces of legislation that will effectively demolish and reconstruct the Irish system of financial regulation following criticism of its handling of the banking crisis. Details of the legal framework under which the commission will operate will be contained in the forthcoming legislation.

The removal of the Central Bank’s role as a development agency for the financial sector reflects concerns that the regulatory authorities had favoured a system of light-touch regulation in order to enhance the appeal of Ireland as a host for global financial institutions.

It was argued that this approach may have been at the expense of overall regulatory standards.

The Irish Examiner reports that Quinn Insurance policyholders have been told not to panic after administrators were appointed to Ireland’s second largest insurance company by the Financial Regulator.

The company was placed in administration following a High Court application from the regulator which is also undertaking an investigation into "certain matters that have very recently come to light".

However, the Central Bank’s new head of financial regulation Matthew Elderfield said yesterday that it has emerged that Quinn Insurance’s financial strength has been overstated to the tune of around €450 million.

The central message – from both the administrators and the Financial Regulator – was that existing policyholders should not be overly-concerned.

The administrators said that their aim is to manage the business as a going concern "with a view to placing it on a sound financial and commercial footing", adding that customers "are unaffected by our appointment and all valid claims will be met by the company".

While Quinn Insurance’s two administrators – Grant Thornton’s Paul McCann and Michael McAteer – are not likely to seek a quick sale of the company, Mr Elderfield said that there is a "reasonable prospect" that they will find a suitable buyer in time. Billionaire tycoon Sean Quinn last night accused the Financial Regulator of putting 5,500 jobs at risk after it penalised his family business for a second time.

The multinational Quinn Group, headed by the entrepreneur, wrote to Government ministers claiming the watchdog acted aggressively and unnecessarily as officials walked on to Quinn Insurance company floors. The Quinn Group has reacted angrily, calling the decision "deeply disappointing" and saying the issue "could have been resolved, to the benefit of all, in a relatively short space of time" – adding that it will work with the regulator and the administrators to resolve all outstanding matters. The group claims that all of its businesses are able to meet their cash obligations, but leading industry watchdogs – the Irish Brokers’ Association and the Professional Insurance Brokers Association – have both suggested that the regulator acted swiftly.

Besides a paid subscription , the Financial Times provides the following options:

Free Registered User

See up to 10 articles a month, access email services and portfolio tools

Occasional Reader

Read 1 article a month

Editor's Picks:

Irish banks face shortfall of €32bn  - - Government liable for up to three-quarters of black hole

China reprimanded by G20 leaders - - Coded rebuke against backsliding on economic agreements

Google blames China for blocked searches - - US group had earlier pointed to technical flaw

Sonia Gandhi takes cabinet role  - - Mrs Gandhi's new role could also help prepare public opinion for her assumption of the premiership if Manmohan Singh were unable to complete his term. Her son, Rahul, 40, the presumed heir to the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, is working on party organisation and has insisted that he is in no hurry to assume any cabinet ministry

John Kay: UK bankers can’t blame the housing market - - columnist Prof. John Kay says many people believe there was a housing bubble in the UK, that the bubble burst and the consequences took down British banks. Almost none of this is true.

Why Germany cannot be a model for the eurozone  - - Columnist Martin Wolf says the ruling idea is that the weakening of fiscal positions in peripheral countries reflects a lack of fiscal discipline. That is true of Greece and, to a lesser extent, Portugal. But Ireland and Spain had what seemed to be rock-solid fiscal positions. Their weakness lay in private sector financial deficits. It was only when the private sector corrected after the crisis that the fiscal deficit exploded.

Obama warns of Iran threat to world economy - - US and France step up push for UN sanctions during Sarkozy visit

Quarterly growth data boost recovery hopes- - The UK economy grew faster than initially estimated in the final quarter of last year, providing a boost to hopes of a more robust recovery

The New York Times reports that many biotechnology stocks fell on Tuesday as investors struggled to understand the impact of a ruling that threw out parts of two gene patents and called into question thousands more.

Stock market losses were muted, with two major indexes that track the shares of the industry falling by less than 1 percent each. In part, that was because biotechnology executives hastened to reassure their investors that the ruling would not necessarily undermine their businesses, at least in the short run.

But the executives themselves were struggling on Tuesday to figure out what the long-term impact would be. Biotech companies spend billions every year trying to develop new tests and treatments based partly on genes they have isolated and patented.

In a far-reaching ruling, Judge Robert W. Sweet anticipated a negative reaction from the industry. In a footnote of his 152-page ruling, he discounted fears that invalidating such patents would decimate the industry.

While some executives and lawyers who were interviewed on Tuesday disagreed with the judge’s legal reasoning, they conceded that the ruling, even in the worst case for them, would take years to have a significant effect.

Eventually, if the judge’s reasoning is upheld on appeal, the invalidation of genetic patents could hit diagnostics companies, agricultural biotechnology companies and perhaps even traditional drug makers, though drugs are often protected by patents on their own chemical composition.

But the industry is already moving to a period of somewhat less dependence on DNA patents for its sustenance. Diagnostic laboratories, for instance, are shifting from testing individual genes to testing multiple genes or even a person’s entire genome. When hundreds or thousands of genes are being tested at once, patents on each individual gene can become a hindrance to innovation rather than a spur.

On Monday, Mr. Sweet, a United States district judge in Manhattan, ruled that parts of patents held by Myriad Genetics covering two breast cancer genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, were invalid.

Myriad analyzes those genes in an expensive test that predicts whether a woman is at a high risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer. The plaintiffs in the case, which included various medical groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, said the patents on DNA were illegal and impeded access to the testing.

The decision invalidating the gene patents stunned many lawyers who follow such issues.

“It’s really quite a dramatic holding that would have the effect of invalidating many, many patents on which the biotechnology industry has invested considerable money,”said Rebecca S. Eisenberg, a law professor at the University of Michigan who has written widely on gene patents.

The Genomics Law Report, an Internet journal, called the decision “radical and astonishing in its sweep.” It headlined its article,“Pigs Fly.”

Although patents are not granted on things found in nature, the DNA being patented had long been considered a chemical that was isolated from, and different from, what was found in nature. But Judge Sweet ruled that the distinguishing feature of DNA is its information content, its conveyance of the genetic code. And in that regard, he wrote, the isolated DNA “is not markedly different from native DNA as it exists in nature.”

The immediate impact will be limited in part because the decision, made in a district court, does not apply to gene patents other than the ones it considered, and its value as precedent for other courts is limited.

Moreover, Myriad said Tuesday that it would appeal, and several lawyers said they expected the ruling to be overturned. Professor Eisenberg said “there isn’t a whole lot of doctrinal support” for considering DNA as information rather than as a chemical.

Even before an appeal is decided, the landscape could change in a way that would render the Myriad case moot. A ruling is expected soon from the Supreme Court in the so-called Bilski case. That case does not directly concern gene patents — it is about a fight over a method of hedging risk in commodities trading — but it gives the Supreme Court a chance to set new standards on what is patentable.

“We are still waiting, holding our breath for the Bilski case,” said Kari Stefansson, head of research at DeCode Genetics, which sells disease risk tests similar to those sold by Myriad.

If Judge Sweet’s decision were upheld on appeal, the impact could be more far-reaching. The biggest impact would be on companies like Myriad and Athena Diagnostics that offer diagnostic tests based on genes.

Some biotechnology investors and executives say that lack of patent protection for DNA could diminish investment and remove incentives to develop tests. That could slow the move toward so-called personalized medicine, in which genetic tests are used to determine which drugs are best for which patients.

James P. Evans, a professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina, said that would not necessarily be the case. There is thriving competition in areas like testing for mutations that cause cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s disease, even though no company has exclusivity.

“It’s quite demonstrable that in the diagnostic area, one does not need gene patents in order to see robust development of these tests,” he said.

The NYT also reports that with the government’s blessing, a drug giant is about to expand the market for its blockbuster cholesterol medication Crestor to a new category of customers: as a preventive measure for millions of people who do not have cholesterol problems.

Some medical experts question whether this is a healthy move.

They point to mounting concern that cholesterol medications — known as statins and already the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States — may not be as safe a preventive medicine as previously believed for people who are at low risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Statinshave been credited with saving thousands of lives every year with relatively few side effects, and some medical experts endorse the drug’s broader use. But for healthy people who would take statins largely as prevention — which would be the case for the new category of Crestor patients — other experts suggest the benefits may not outweigh any side effects.

Among the risks raising new concerns, recently published evidence indicates that statins could raise a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 9 percent.

“It’s a good thing to be skeptical about whether there may be long-term harm from healthy people taking a drug like this,” said Dr. Mark A. Hlatky, a professor of health research and cardiovascular medicine at the Stanford University medical school.

There is also debate over the blood test being used to identify the new statin candidates. Instead of looking for bad cholesterol, the test measures the degree of inflammation in the body, but there is no consensus in the medical community that inflammation is a direct cause of cardiovascular problems.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the new criteria last month for Crestor, which is made by AstraZeneca and is the nation’s second best-selling statin, behind Lipitor by Pfizer. AstraZeneca plans soon to begin a new marketing and advertising campaign for Crestor, based on the new F.D.A.-approved criteria.

Under those criteria, an estimated 6.5 million people in this country who have no cholesterol problems and no sign of heart problems will be deemed candidates for statins. That is in addition to the 80 million who already meet the current cholesterol-based guidelines — about half of whom now take statins.

The new Crestor label says it may be prescribed for apparently healthy people if they are older — men 50 and over and women 60 and over — and have one risk factor like smoking or high blood pressure, in addition to elevated inflammation in the body.

Some patients have long complained of muscle aches from taking statins. And doctors periodically check patients on the drugs to make sure liver enzymes are not abnormally high. Doctors, though, have generally seen those risks as being more than offset by the drugs’ benefits for people with high levels of “bad” cholesterol and a significant risk of cardiovascular disease.

But then came the unexpected evidence linking statins to a diabetes risk, reported last month in the British medical journal The Lancet. That report was based on an analysis of most of the major clinical studies of statins — including unpublished data and the results of the Crestor study that the F.D.A. reviewed. “We’ve had this drug for a while, and we’re just now finding out that there’s this diabetes problem with it?” said Dr. Hlatky.

The F.D.A. acknowledged the diabetes risk, and told AstraZeneca to add it to Crestor’s label. But the agency nonetheless approved the new use on the basis of the clinical study, which showed a small but measurable reduction of strokes, heart attacks and other “cardiovascular events” among people taking the statin, compared with patients taking a placebo.

“It’s an important milestone for the company and for the patient,” said Jim Helm, AstraZeneca’s vice president for cardiovascular products.“We are already discussing this with physicians.”

Dr. Eric C. Colman, a deputy director of the F.D.A. center for drug evaluation, said the decision provided an option, not a mandate, for doctors and patients. “It’s good to hear that physicians are debating the potential benefits and risks of drugs,” Dr. Colman wrote via e-mail on Tuesday.

An F.D.A. advisory committee had voted 12-4 in favor of expanding the usage in December, with some dissenters questioning the value of the test measuring elevated levels of inflammation.

The new Crestor guidelines continue a steady expansion of the number of people considered candidates for statins over the last decade. The recommendations and guidelines have been expanded by various advisory panels — many of whose members have also done paid consulting work for the drug industry.

Another of those panels is now preparing statin guidelines due next year, which are expected to further expand the number of candidates for the drugs.

The clinical trial on which the F.D.A. approved the new Crestor use was a global study of nearly 18,000 people. It looked only at patients who had low cholesterol and an elevated level of inflammation in the body as measured by a test called high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, or CRP.

It was the inventor of the CRP test, Dr. Paul M. Ridker, a Harvard medical professor and cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who persuaded AstraZeneca to pay for the statin study, which he then led.

Dr. Ridker said his proposals for such a study had been turned down by the National Institutes of Health and at least two other companies. One was Pfizer, whose statin Lipitor will lose patent protection next year and will be sold in inexpensive generic forms. The other was Bayer, whose statin Baycol was removed from the market in 2001 after it was linked to 52 deaths from a rare muscle disorder.

Compared with those companies, AstraZeneca had more of a business interest in sponsoring Dr. Ridker’s study. Crestor, which had sales of $4.5 billion last year, will not be subject to generic competition until 2016 — and so the company has more years to benefit from expanded use of the product at name-brand prices. The drug, taken as a daily pill, sells for at least $3.50 a day, compared with only pennies a day for some generic statins.

Dr. Ridker, meanwhile, receives undisclosed amounts of royalties from the CRP test. For a decade, he has argued that his test is sometimes a better diagnostic tool than cholesterol scores. And he says the Crestor study proved his case.

“We found a 55 percent reduction in heart attacks, 48 percent reduction in stroke, 45 percent reduction in angioplasty bypass surgery,” Dr. Ridker said recently. “I felt I had one shot at a controversial hypothesis,” he said,“and it worked really well.”

So well, in fact, that the study was halted after following patients an average of 1.9 years instead of the planned five years. With such improvement, a data monitoring board concluded it would have been unethical to continue the trial.

“I don’t understand the antipathy out there,” said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, who has consulted for AstraZeneca among many other companies but says he donates the money to charity.“If somebody comes into my office and meets the criteria, am I going to deny them a drug that reduces their chance of a heart attack or stroke by 40 or 50 percent?”

But critics said the claim of cutting heart disease risk in half — repeated in news reports nationwide — may have misled some doctors and consumers because the patients were so healthy that they had little risk to begin with.

The rate of heart attacks, for example, was 0.37 percent, or 68 patients out of 8,901 who took a sugar pill. Among the Crestor patients it was 0.17 percent, or 31 patients. That 55 percent relative difference between the two groups translates to only 0.2 percentage points in absolute terms — or 2 people out of 1,000.

Stated another way, 500 people would need to be treated with Crestor for a year to avoid one usually survivable heart attack. Stroke numbers were similar.

“That’s statistically significant but not clinically significant,” said Dr. Steven W. Seiden, a cardiologist in Rockville Centre, N.Y., who is one of many practicing cardiologists closely following the issue. At $3.50 a pill, the cost of prescribing Crestor to 500 people for a year would be $638,000 to prevent one heart attack.

Is it worth it? AstraZeneca and the F.D.A. have concluded it is.

Others disagree.

“The benefit is vanishingly small,” Dr. Seiden said.“It just turns a lot of healthy people into patients and commits them to a lifetime of medication.”

Related Articles
Related Articles


© Copyright 2007 by Finfacts.com

Top of Page

International
Latest Headlines
Wednesday newspaper review: December 17, 2014
Tuesday newspaper review: December 16, 2014
Monday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - December 08, 2014
Friday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 28, 2014
Thursday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 27, 2014
Tuesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 25, 2014
Friday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 21, 2014
Thursday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 20, 2014
Wednesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 19, 2014
Tuesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 18, 2014
Monday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 17, 2014
Friday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 14, 2014
Thursday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 13, 2014
Wednesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 12, 2014
Tuesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 11, 2014
Monday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 10, 2014
Thursday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 06, 2014
Tuesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 04, 2014
Monday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - November 03, 2014
Friday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 31, 2014
Thursday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 30, 2014
Wednesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 29, 2014
Tuesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 28, 2014
Friday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 24, 2014
Wednesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 22, 2014
Tuesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 21, 2014
Monday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 20, 2014
Friday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 17, 2014
Thursday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 16, 2014
Wednesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 15, 2014
Monday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 13, 2014
Friday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 10, 2014
Thursday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 09, 2014
Wednesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 08, 2014
Tuesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 07, 2014
Monday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 06, 2014
Thursday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 02, 2014
Wednesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - October 01, 2014
Monday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - September 29, 2014
Friday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - September 26, 2014