Company news

May 23, 2011

Well, here’s some consolation for the nightmarish year WellPoint Inc. had in 2010: Its legal department was one of three finalists for “Best Legal Department” honors from Corporate Counsel magazine. The Indianapolis-based health insurer lost that competition to Google Inc., with UPS also a finalist. But WellPoint still got this praise from the magazine: “WellPoint’s lawyers had a tumultuous year, having to deal with political reaction to its Anthem Blue Cross subsidiary’s proposed California rate hikes, filed just as health care reform passions began to flare. Even after the Affordable Care Act was signed, the nation’s largest health benefits company continued to take heat from the president on down, while it struggled to interpret and comply with the new law.” Many regarded WellPoint’s headaches as self-inflicted, but that criticism was aimed at its former general counsel and now CEO, Angela Braly, not the current legal team.

Eli Lilly and Co. has agreed to license the U.S. marketing rights of its disappointing sepsis drug Xigris to a newly created biotech company that will seek to reinvigorate it. The new company, BioCritica, will be based in central Indiana and will be jointly owned by Lilly and two private investment firms: New Jersey-based Care Capital LLC and North Carolina-based NovaQuest Capital Management LLC. The company will be led by David Broecker, who managed Lilly manufacturing operations in Germany and Ireland before becoming CEO of Alkermes Inc., a Massachusetts-based drug development firm. Within Lilly, Xigris was well down the priority list to get time from scientists and other staff. In 2010, it generated sales of just $104 million, which was down 18 percent from the previous year. Xigris was the first drug Lilly launched after it lost patent protection on its bestseller Prozac in 2001. Expectations for the drug initially were huge, with some Wall Street analysts predicting annual sales of $2 billion. But the drug struggled after U.S. regulators issued a strong warning about its bleeding side effects and because hospitals struggled to identify which patients and in which situations the drug was appropriate. BioCritica hopes results from a new clinical trial of Xigris will establish clarity on how to use it, thereby reenergizing sales. BioCritica has an option to acquire the international rights to Xigris at a later date, as well as options to acquire other critical-care drugs that are in Lilly’s pipeline. BioCritica also hopes to acquire critical-care drugs from other drugmakers.

Riley Hospital for Children lost its CEO last week, but got a fresh round of positive publicity to help it find a new one. Dan Fink resigned on Friday, according to Indiana University Health, the parent organization for Riley. IU Health said it would launch a national search for a replacement. Meanwhile, Riley was once again ranked as one of the top 50 children’s hospitals in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Riley was nationally ranked in each of the 10 specialties included in the report. Its only top 10 ranking is in urology. The complete rankings can be viewed online here.

A team led by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine has identified a potential new way to target the incurable disease of emphysema with drugs. The researchers identified a lung protein in mice that appears to play a role in smoking-related emphysema and have created an antibody that blocks the protein’s activity, according to an article posted on the website of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The lead author on the study is Matthias Clauss, a research professor of cellular and integrative physiology at the IU med school. Mice exposed to cigarette smoke that received an inhaled version of the antibody had significantly less cell death and inflammation and improved lung function compared to the mice that did not receive the treatment. The benefits to the treated mice continued even after the treatment stopped.