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Business news in brief

In the Region

Pa. Senate votes to extend malpractice subsidy

A unanimous vote yesterday by the Pennsylvania Senate would extend a malpractice-insurance subsidy for doctors and hospitals through next year. However, the chamber rejected an effort by Democrats to divert a surplus from a malpractice reserve fund to pay for adult health insurance. Still, the extension of the subsidy may remain in limbo past its Dec. 31 expiration. Gov. Rendell says he will not approve another year of malpractice aid unless some of the surplus pays to expand the state's adult health insurance program.

- AP

Merck heralds 2 new drugs, 5 others in pipeline

Merck & Co. Inc. will seek regulatory approval for new cholesterol and obesity drugs next year, and the pharmaceutical company said five other drugs were in final testing. Merck has major operations in the region. During their annual briefing with analysts, Merck executives said strong sales from several new products, and existing drugs such as allergy and asthma treatment Singulair, should offset declining revenue from its top-seller, Fosamax. The osteoporosis treatment, which loses its patent protection early next year, is expected to have 2007 sales of $2.3 billion.

- AP

Canada study warns of risks from 2 diabetes drugs

Older people taking GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C.'s Avandia and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.'s Actos had a higher risk of heart attacks, heart failure and death than those taking other diabetes pills, a study by Canadian researchers showed. Diabetics over 65 on the drugs were 40 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The medicines raised the risk of heart failure 60 percent, while the likelihood of death increased 29 percent. GlaxoSmithKline, which has a U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia, said the JAMA report had "significant limitations and generates misleading conclusions" about heart attacks and death.

- Bloomberg News

Air Products to sell venture interest to partner

Air Products & Chemicals Inc., Allentown, said it agreed to sell its interest in a joint venture with Wacker Chemie AG to Wacker for $265 million. The joint venture produces vinyl acetate ethylene (VAE) polymers for use in adhesives, paints, paper and carpet. Air Products also will take full ownership of production facilities in Elkton, Md., and Piedmont, S.C. Wacker, Munich, Germany, will take over facilities in Calvert City, Ky.; South Brunswick, N.J.; Cologne, Germany; and Ulsan, Korea, as well as commercial and research facilities near Allentown and in Burghausen, Germany.

- Reid Kanaley

Pa. CHIP enrollment up 10 percent this year

Pennsylvania's Children's Health Insurance Program enrolled a record 166,151 children this year, Gov. Rendell announced. That is an increase of 10 percent since last year and 32 percent since 2003, when Rendell took office. CHIP is funded by the state and federal governments for children who are not eligible for Medical Assistance, the insurance program for the poor. Pennsylvania early this year expanded it to include all uninsured children, regardless of family income. Wealthier families pay monthly fees for the insurance. At the national level, Congress and President Bush have been unable to agree on funding for the program.

- Stacey Burling

Russian firm to buy Claymont Steel Holdings

Evraz Group, a steelmaker owned in part by billionaire Roman Abramovich, agreed to buy Claymont Steel Holdings Inc. for $564.8 million, the Russian company's second all-cash acquisition in the United States within a year. Moscow-based Evraz will pay $23.50 a share and take over debt from the Claymont, Del., steel-plate producer, it said in a statement.

- Bloomberg News

Davidson Capital is acquired by Boston Private

Davidson Capital Management, Devon, was bought by Boston Private Financial Holdings Inc. for an undisclosed amount, the companies said. The deal to buy Davidson, which manages $1 billion in assets for high-net-worth clients, is Boston Private's entry into the Philadelphia-area market. The publicly traded Boston company operates a private banking and wealth-management business. James M. Davidson, founder and chief executive officer of Davidson Capital, will continue with the firm as chairman. Alvin A. Clay III, who was chief executive of Pitcairn Financial Group, Jenkintown, for 14 years, will be its chief executive. Clay also will buy a minority interest in the firm, whose business consists of Davidson Trust Co. and Davidson Investment Counsellors L.P. The two units will be merged under the Davidson Trust Co. name. Shares of Boston Private closed down $1.04 at $27.63 in Nasdaq trading.

- Paul Schweizer


House votes to make do-not-call permanent

The House voted to make permanent the program protecting people from telemarketer calls, relieving consumers from having to renew their participation in the do-not-call registry. A second bill passed by the House makes permanent a funding system under which the Federal Trade Commission collects fees from telemarketers to operate the registry. Consumers participate in the registry free of charge.

- AP

House approves raising pilot retirement age

The House voted unanimously to extend the retirement age for commercial pilots to 65, changing a 1960 Federal Aviation Administration regulation forcing pilots to leave the cockpit at age 60. The bill, if approved by the Senate, would put the U.S. retirement age in line with international standards. The International Civil Aviation Organization adopted an age-65 retirement age in November 2006. "Each day that passes without raising the retirement age to 65, approximately five of our senior, most experienced pilots will be forced to retire," Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D., Minn.) said.

- AP

Inquiry sought into Fla.'s subprime-tainted debt

Florida's top finance official asked for an investigation of policies that led the state's local-government investment pool to invest in securities tied to the subprime-mortgage market. State chief financial officer Alex Sink, in a letter Monday to Florida's inspector general, Melinda Miguel, asked for a probe of whether the state Board of Administration's securities purchases violated its investment guidelines. Cities and schools withdrew $13 billion from the $27 billion fund last month after learning it held subprime-tainted debt that had defaulted or been downgraded.

- Bloomberg News

Some NBC advertisers get ratings-miss refunds

NBC has reimbursed some advertisers who paid in advance for commercials aired during prime-time shows that did not live up to ratings projections, the network said. It is the first time in years a network has compensated advertisers with cash for missing ratings targets, media buyers said. "This happens once in a blue moon," said Brad Adgate, vice president and director of research at New York-based advertising agency Horizon Media Inc.

- AP