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AZ takes majority stake in cancer drug developer Acerta

Will pay $4bn for a 55% share in the Dutch biopharma company

AstraZeneca AZ 

AstraZeneca's negotiations with Acerta Pharma BV have been successfully concluded, with AZ agreeing to take a 55% stake in the Dutch biopharma company for $4bn.

The deal includes a $2.5bn upfront payment with another $1.5bn due on the US approval of acalabrutinib or at the end of 2018, whichever comes first. The terms also include an option for AZ to buy the remaining 45% of Acerta for around $3bn.

Acalabrutinib is a Bruton's tyrosine kinase (Btk) inhibitor in the same class as Janssen/Pharmacyclics/Abbvie's Imbruvica (ibrutinib) drug for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and Waldenström's macroglobulinaemia, which is tipped to become a $1bn product this year and to clear $5bn-a-year at peak.

In a statement released this morning AZ said acalabrutinib is a "potential best-in-class" BTK inhibitor, noting it is currently in phase III development for B cell cancers, as well as phase I/II testing for various solid tumours.

Acerta has previously said it 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. AZ believes acalabrutinib can also achieve annual peak sales in the region of $5bn.

AZ's chief executive Pascal Soriot said: "The investment is consistent with our focus on long-term growth and reflects the role targeted business development plays in our business model.

"Acalabrutinib provides us with a small molecule presence in blood cancers to complement our existing immunotherapy approach, in collaboration with Celgene in haematological malignancies."

AZ's agreement with Celgene, announced earlier this year, covers the development of its MEDI4736 checkpoint inhibitor for haematological malignancies including non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), myelodysplastic syndromes and multiple myeloma.

It marked the first major foray for AZ into haematological malignancies, an area that it has previously shunned but which has emerged as a major growth area for new cancer therapies.

When the deal goes through - and it is expected to do so before the end of the first quarter next year - Acerta will initially operate as a majority-owned subsidiary of AZ.

The agreement comes on the tail of a remarkably busy period for AZ in terms of M&A. This week it agreed a strategic alliance with WuXi Apptec in China and agreed to buy Takeda's respiratory portfolio.

Last month, it added to its cardiovascular portfolio with a $2.7bn deal to buy ZS Pharma and its elevated serum potassium treatment ZS-9.

Article by
Phil Taylor

17th December 2015

From: Sales



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