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The Merck and Company Pharmaceutical and Services building in Duluth, Georgia.TAMI CHAPPELL/Reuters

Cardiome Pharma Corp. is cutting 85 per cent of its workers as it eliminates all of those focused on internal research and certain support functions.

The move comes after the global pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc. said earlier this year it was terminating development of the oral version of a heart medication with Cardiome.

An intravenous version of Cardiome's flagship product is marketed as Brinavess IV, which is approved in Europe for treating abnormal heart rhythm in adult patients.

Vancouver-based Cardiome said Monday it expects up to $5-million in severance and other charges related to the restructuring over the remainder of the year.

"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 IV," Cardiome interim chief executive William Hunter said in a statement.

Cardiome lost $27.9-million or 56 cents per share in 2011, compared with a profit of $35.5-million or 58 cents per share for the year ended Dec. 31, 2010.

The loss for fiscal 2011 was largely due to spending on clinical development efforts, pre-clinical research projects and other normal operating costs. The net income for fiscal 2010 was largely due to recognition of a $30-million milestone payment from Merck related to a marketing approval in Europe.

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