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Betting the Estate On Inhaled Insulin

Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, flopped miserably with a seemingly can’t-miss idea. But Alfred E. Mann is so certain he can succeed that he is betting nearly $1 billion of his own money on the effort.

Pfizer’s failure was a form of insulin that people with diabetes could inhale rather than inject. But last month, after selling only $12 million worth of inhaled insulin in the first nine months of the year, Pfizer said it would take a $2.8 billion charge and abandon the product.

But Mann, the 82-year-old chief executive and controlling shareholder of MannKind Corp., is not deterred. He says his company’s inhalable insulin is a way to avoid needles and is medically superior to Pfizer’s product and to injected insulin.

If he is right, he could help change the way diabetes is treated.

“I believe this is one of the most valuable products in history in the drug industry, and I’m willing to back it up with my estate,” Mann said at his 23,000-square-foot mansion overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The interview took place on a Saturday evening, which Mann said was the only chance in his seven-day work schedule.

Despite Mann’s remarkable entrepreneurial career — he has founded more than a dozen aerospace and medical device companies — there are people who wonder whether he has so much invested in this latest effort, both financially and emotionally, that he cannot see any odds against him.

Justices Move Again To Delay Execution

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the execution of a Florida inmate, less than five hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection for killing an 11-year-old boy.

It was the fifth time in two months that the court has issued or upheld a stay of execution, strongly signaling once again that it intends to block all executions by lethal injection until it rules on the central issue in a case from Kentucky: whether the three-drug “cocktail” commonly used to execute prisoners is so likely to produce needless pain and suffering as to be unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court’s ruling capped a two-day series of seesawing court rulings in the Florida case.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Orlando ordered a stay of the execution of theinmate, Mark D. Schwab, who had been scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Thursday for the rape and murder of his victim in 1991. The judge cited the pending lethal injection case before the Supreme Court as a reason for delaying the execution.

But that stay was vacated Thursday morning by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said in a written opinion that the evidence in the case did not prove that Florida’s lethal injection methods “pose an unnecessary risk of pain.”

Gap Campaigns Against Child Labor in India

Gap has begun an effort to rebuild its reputation after a damaging child-labor scandal in India, announcing a package of measures on Thursday intended to tighten its commitment to eradicating the exploitation of children in the manufacture of its goods.

Embarrassed by reports that some GapKids clothes had been hand-embroidered by child workers in Delhi, Gap said it would refine its procedures to ensure that items made in textile workshops in India are not being produced by children.

It also announced a grant of $200,000 to improve working conditions here and said it would be holding an international conference next year to come up with solutions for issues related to child labor.

The statement from the company came after an internal investigation by a British newspaper, The Observer, which printed pictures in October of children making clothes for Gap in a sweatshop. The newspaper reported that children, some as young as 10, were working up to 16 hours a day to embroider clothes, some of them bearing Gap labels and bar codes.

British Bank’s Debt Complicates Its Sale

Two months after Northern Rock was put up for sale to fix Britain’s largest victim of the subprime crisis, the mortgage lender is still causing headaches.

Potential bidders, who include Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, are scheduled to submit takeover proposals on Friday but potential problems with a Northern Rock purchase are likely to give any buyer an upper hand in negotiations.

Northern Rock owes the Bank of England about 23 billion pounds ($47 billion), and the bill is growing as customers continue to withdraw money, analysts said. Any buyer would need to have access to that amount of money, a difficult task given the tight credit markets.

What is more, according to a leaked document put together by the investment banks in charge of finding a buyer, one possible solution involves refinancing the loan, but it would also mean that Northern Rock would still owe about 6 billion pounds by 2010.

“The longer it goes on without a formal offer, the more people will think that there is no real value involved,” said Colin Morton, a fund manager at Rensburg Fund Management in Britain.

Investors have already abandoned Northern Rock. The shares have not traded above 3 pounds since they dropped 55 percent in two days in September after Northern Rock ran into trouble when the credit markets, on which its business model strongly depends, closed.

At stake is not only London’s reputation as a financial center, already shaken by the earlier run on Northern Rock’s branches; the failure to find a solution for the bank can also have political repercussions.