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AZ confirms interest in Acerta takeover

Possible acquisition of Netherlands-based cancer drug developer may be worth more than $5bn

AstraZeneca headquarters 

AstraZeneca (AZ) has confirmed that it is negotiating the possible acquisition of cancer drug developer Acerta Pharma BV.

Rumours of AZ's interest in the Netherlands-based company emerged late last week, with some reports suggesting a deal valued at more than $5bn may be on the cards. 

This morning, AZ confirmed it was exploring "potential strategic options" with Acerta, but added: "there can be no certainty that any transaction will ultimately be entered into, or as to the terms of any transaction."

AZ has made no secret of its interest in bolt-on acquisitions of late, adding to its stable with a $2.7bn deal to buy ZS Pharma last month, giving it access to a treatment for excess potassium levels in the blood. 

If consummated, the deal with Acerta would be AZ's second in the haematological malignancy category this year, after it linked with Celgene to develop its MEDI4736 checkpoint inhibitor candidate for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), myelodysplastic syndromes and multiple myeloma.

Acerta - which also has operations in California - reported results from a phase I/II trial of its lead candidate acalabrutinib (ACP-196) at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) conference in Orlando earlier this month.

Acalabrutinib is a Bruton's tyrosine kinase (Btk) inhibitor in the same class as Janssen/Pharmacyclics/Abbvie's Imbruvica (ibrutinib), which is on course to become a $1bn product this year as a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and Waldenström's macroglobulinaemia. 

Ibrutinib is tipped to become a $5bn-plus product at peak, and was the driver for AbbVie's $21bn acquisition of Pharmacyclics earlier this year.

In the phase I/II trial, acalabrutinib achieved an overall response rate (ORR) of 95% in CLL patients who had received around three prior therapies after a median follow up of 14 months, with the remaining 5% of patients showing stabilisation of the disease.

Acerta believes acalabrutinib may have an advantage over ibrutinib because it is more selective - the latter also inhibits other kinases which could compromise its therapeutic index. The drug is in two phase III trials, including a head-to-head study against ibrutinib in previously-treated patients with high-risk CLL. 

Acalabrutinib has already agreed with Merck & Co to test acalabrutinib alongside cancer immunotherapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab) in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), head and neck cancer and haematological malignancies, among others, but has no formal partnership in place.

Analysts have speculated that AZ's interest in Acerta could draw other possible suitors out of the shadows.

Article by
Phil Taylor

14th December 2015

From: Sales

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