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Abbott's Covering The Bases

The market cap of Dow component Johnson & Johnson is a whopping $200 billion. Abbott Labs is valued at less than half that.

But think of ABT as kind of a mini-me JNJ because like Johnson & Johnson, ABT has cobbled together a similar three-siloed business of drugs, devices and consumer products.

And today the Chicagoland company announced it's beefing up its drug portfolioby striking a deal with AstraZenecato co-promote the cholesterol fighter Crestor in the U.S. Abbott also sells Niaspan for the heart.

According to analysts who are closely monitoring daily prescription trends of statins or cholesterol medicines in the wake of the controversial studies of Vytorin and Zetia from Merckand Schering-Plough this year, Crestor has picked up about one percentage point of market share since the first and most significant V-Z clinical trial results came out.

But like JNJ, ABT is now a player in the $5 billion-a-year stent business. Last month, it won approval of a new drug-coated stent that many analysts believe will quickly become the artery-opening tube of choice. Based on a previous business deal, Boston Scientific is selling the same new stent, but under a different brand name.

Coincidentally, AZN and ABT unveiled the Crestor partnership the morning after another study came out showing that a cocktail of drugs, including statins, eventually have nearly the same impact on quality of life as stents. "The New England Journal of Medicine" also ran an editorial once again urging doctors to go with drugs first before putting in a stent or stents. The recommendation applies to about half a million people in the U.S. who annually undergo a stent procedure, but who are not in an emergency situation. They simply have stable, chronic angina or chest pain.

The main professional group for interventional cardiologists--the docs who put in stents--says the devices are invaluable and have proven benefits. The doctors who did the NEJM study and wrote the editorial say that's true for people in the throes of a heart attack, but not for everyone else. One of the study authors, Dr. Bill Boden, says physicians and patients need to quit thinking drugs are "a cheap and inferior alternative to a whiz-bang stent." Dr. Boden has received consulting fees from Pfizer,Merck, PDL BioPharma,Bristol-Myers Squibb,Abbott and CV Therapeutics. He's also collected speaking fees from Sanofi-Aventis, Kos Pharmaceuticals and Novartis.

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Whether or not the latest study changes clinical practice, Abbott Labs is now cushioned on either side.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com