Oscient shrinks workforce by one-third; Alcon plans to lay off 260;

> Oscient Pharmaceuticals plans to slash one-third of its employees--100 of 305--in an effort to save cash and reduce its debt; the cuts will hit hardest on its sales team. Release l Report

> Alcon, an eye-care company headquartered in Fort Worth, said Wednesday sluggish U.S. drug sales and competition were prompting it to lay off 260 workers. Report

> Bayer Schering Pharma plans to strengthen its global R&D capabilities by investing €100 million into a global research center in Beijing, China. Report

> Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Centocor Ortho Biotech said a lower-dose formulation of anti-HIV med Prezista is now available for pediatric patients. Release

> Otsuka America Pharmaceutical appointed Mark Altmeyer as its president and CEO; previously, Altmeyer worked at Bristol-Myers Squibb as a senior vice president. Release

> Abbott received 510(k) clearance from the FDA for its new, compact hematology instrument, Cell-Dyn Emerald. Release

> Amid concerns of a possible human bird flu outbreak, China's Food and Drug Administration announced that the state has already begun building stockpiles of the human bird flu vaccine Panflu as a precaution. Eight cases of human bird flu have been reported since December, including five fatalities. Report

> Novartis Vaccines is reporting progress with a new meningitis B vaccine that could be on the market in two years. The company says the vaccine should be up for a license in Europe next year. Report

> CNN is reporting that a special court at the Justice Department will hand down a decision later today on whether certain vaccines cause autism. Report 

> Just a few days before Vertex CEO Joshua Boger (photo) announced plans to step down in May, he worked out a new "transition agreement" that's worth millions of dollars. Vertex will now hand over $2.85 million in cash in November while accelerating his stock vesting schedule and stock awards. Report

> Tustin, CA-based Peregrine Pharmaceuticals says its lead program, bavituximab, has hit its primary endpoint in a Phase II study for advanced breast cancer. Report

> The Malaysian government is backing its bid to broaden the country's biotech base with $3 billion for R&D and enhanced healthcare. And it believes that working more closely with Indian developers could be a key to its success. Report

> Belgium's ActoGenix has returned to the venture capital well for $17 million in fresh funds. The fledgling developer is a spin-off of VIB and Ghent University. And it says it expects to see a significant amount of new data on its two lead programs this year. Report

> Chicago-based Advanced Life Sciences has handed out pink slips to nearly a third of its staff as it concentrates its efforts on gaining an approval on a new antibiotic--cethromycin. Report

> Denmark's NeuroSearch says it's shelving a pain program after a mid-stage trial for the experimental pain med ABT-894 failed to deliver the data it was hoping for. Report

And Finally... Russian scientists working at a "graveyard" of extinct mammoths and woolly rhinos in Siberia claim to have found a bacterium that could prolong human virility and life span. Report