Johnson & Johnson has kicked off its restructuring programme in Europe by announcing that almost 700 jobs are to go at the Belgian facilities of its Janssen Pharmaceutica unit.

Janssen is cutting 521 full-time jobs and 167 temporary posts from its plants in Beerse and Geel in a move that should reduce costs by 15%. Over

4,700 people presently work for the company in Belgium and the move is part of a bid by J&J to reduce its global work force by up to 4%, or around 4,800 jobs.

The cuts have been brought about by J&J’s need to deal with the loss of patent protection that some of its drugs will be facing, notably its biggest-seller, the schizophrenia drug Risperdal (risperidone) and the antiepileptic and migraine agent Topamax (topiramate). Further details of the restructuring programme are expected to be disclosed when J&J releases its third-quarter 2007 results on October 16.

Prezista matches Kaletra in HIV trial

Meantime J&J has presented results at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Chicago from a Phase III study which show that 84% of treatment-naïve HIV-1 infected adults taking an investigational dose of the firm’s Prezista (darunavir) 800mg (two 400mg tablets) with 100mg ritonavir once daily with Gilead Sciences’ Truvada (emtricitabine/ tenofovir) reached an undetectable viral load at week 48, compared with 78% taking Abbott Laboratories’ Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) 800mg/200mg once daily (or 400mg/100mg twice daily) with Truvada.

Prezista was cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration in June 2006 for use in combination with other antiretroviral agents but filing it as a first-line treatment now seems a distinct possibility. Edwin DeJesus, medical director of the Orlando Immunology Center in the USA, said this new data is important “because it provides information regarding the potential use of a once-daily Prezista regimen for the treatment of adult patients who have never taken HIV medications before".

Abbott was less impressed and said that “this study provides no new information to change Kaletra's use as a first-line protease inhibitor''.