With its patent portfolio looking well protected and there being no need to cut thousands of jobs as some drugmakers are, Bayer believes that being a mid-sized company is a good place to be right now.

Speaking at the firm’s autumn press conference in Leverkusen last week, Arthur Higgins, chairman of Bayer HealthCare told PharmaTimes World News that the vast majority of the firm’s key drugs were not facing any major exposure on the generics front except to its oral contraceptives Yasmin (ethinyl estradiol/drospirenone) and Yaz, a lower dose version of the latter. Regarding Yaz, Bayer has just filed a patent infringement suit against Watson Pharmaceuticals.

That move followed an announcement from Watson last month that it had filed an application with the US Food and Drug Administration seeking approval of a generic version of Yaz and the drug is also the subject of another suit, against Barr Laboratories, the trial for which is set to start later this week. Barr had already admitted that the marketing of a generic version of Yasmin would infringe the patent and noted that Yaz is protected until March 2009.

Bayer is confident of winning of winning these cases, saying it is “deeply committed to maintaining its leadership position in oral contraception” and the firm will “continue to vigorously defend its rights in this litigation”. This strong position in terms of patents means that no big earners are likely to disappear any time soon, thus reducing the pressure to cut costs and/or jobs.

Mr Higgins noted that Bayer has been through that painful process fairly recently, what with the withdrawal of the cholesterol drug Baycol/Lipobay (cerivastatin) in August 2001. Cutbacks had to be made but now the firm is actually rebuilding, especially in emerging markets. However, he also told PharmaTimes World News that he is not convinced by the current trend that is seeing other drugmakers looking to transfer research to supposedly cheaper sites away from centres in Europe and the USA, saying that the cost of closing state-of-the-art facilities and the upheaval involved may not necessarily be worth it.

As for Bayer’s acquisition plans, Mr Higgins said that in the past Bayer was as guilty as many other firms in sourcing interesting technologies and “we got a bit carried away” in looking to buy early-stage firms or purchase their wares. Such an approach was not the best, he argues as “we do not sell technology,” adding that Bayer is also not interested in buying a firm “if it’s just a financial transaction”, as such deals create little long-term value.

He concluded by saying that “we don’t sit on our assets” and cited the way in which the firm is looking to get the most out of its compounds, notably Nexavar (sorafenib), which is approved for kidney and (recently in Europe) liver cancer. It is also being looked at in clinical trials for malignant melanoma, breast and lung cancer. By Kevin Grogan