The chief executive of AstraZeneca has said that the company intends to reduce the number of diseases for which it develops new drugs and concentrate on acquisitions and licensing deals in its core areas.

David Brennan told the Financial Times of the firm's intention to withdraw from hypertension, functional gastro-intestinal disorders, inflammatory bowel diseases, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, addiction, insomnia and stroke. From now on, it will concentrate on diabetes and obesity, infection, inhalation projects, analgesia and oncology.

"Our primary focus is in areas where we have existing therapies... (and) are most likely to get a hit. Right now we are much more focused on areas where we are strong, rather than in diversity," Mr Brennan said.

His comments seem to rule out any future bid for Shire, as had been rumoured, since it specialises in attention deficit disorder, gastro-intestinal and renal diseases and human genetic therapies.

Mr Brennan also told the FT any further cost-cutting to maintain operating margins at 30% would not come from reduced R&D investment, which he wants to increase to 18-20% of sales by 2010.

US retailers issue Losec/ Nexium lawsuit

Meantime a number of major US retailers, including Walgreen and Safeway are suing AstraZeneca accusing the drugmaker of using illegal tactics to maintain its dominant position in the antiulcerant market by switching patients from Losec/Prilosec (omeprazole) to the follow-up drug Nexium (esomeprazole), even after the former’s patent expired in 2001.

The retailers have filed a civil suit in a District of Columbia court, alleging that the firm used fraud and "exclusionary conduct," saying that "while this product-switching strategy was enormously successful and profitable for AstraZeneca, it was an economic disaster for American consumers." The company said that it denies the claims and will vigorously contest them.