Canada's Cardiome Pharma Corp is slashing 85% of its workforce, eliminating "all positions focused on internal research", as a result of Merck & Co's decision taken in March to discontinue further development of the oral formulation of the anti-arrhythmic vernakalant.

Cardiome says it expects to incur up to $5.0 million in severance and other charges related to the restructuring. Interim chief executive William Hunter said "we believe this action was necessary to maximize shareholder value by effective management of Cardiome's cash resources and continued focus on our ongoing partnership with Merck on Brinavess".

The latter is the intravenous version of vernakalant, which is approved in the European Union and Latin America for the rapid conversion of recent onset atrial fibrillation. The firms are looking to launch the product in 30 additional countries in 2012.

Over a third of jobs to go at Savient

Meantime, Savient Pharmaceuticals has unveiled plans to reduce its work force by 35% as it aims to reduce its operating costs as it focuses on the continued roll-out of its gout drug Krystexxa (pegloticase).

Savient says the move should generate annual operating cost savings of about $56 million by 2013, including roughly $6.5 million in 2012. The company will take restructuring and employee severance charges of about $4.7 million, including $3.6 million during 2012.

The company also announced that Louis Ferrari, head of its North American operations, will succeed John Johnson as chief executive. The latter left Savient earlier this year to become CEO at Dendreon Corp.