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UCB gets bigger in rare diseases with $2.1bn purchase of Ra Pharma

Deal will bolster UCB’s drug discovery capabilities


Belgium’s UCB has agreed a deal to buy Ra Pharma for around $2.1bn, adding a late-stage product candidate for rare diseases including generalised myasthenia gravis (gMG).

UCB is paying $48 per share for the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech – more than twice its closing price yesterday – and says the acquisition will improve its revenues and profits from 2024, as well as bolstering its drug discovery capabilities.

The deal centres around zilucoplan, a complement C5 inhibitor that recently started a phase 3 trial in gMG and is due to generate results in the autoimmune disease – which causes weakness and fatigue in muscle – in 2021.

Zilucoplan is also being developed for other diseases including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and immune-mediated necrotising myopathy (IMNM), two other disorders associated with faults in the complement immune system.

Zilucoplan is a potential rival to Alexion’s blockbuster C5 inhibitor Soliris (eculizumab), which was approved for gMG in 2017, with sales of $3.5bn last year from its use in gMG as well as older indications like paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH).

Ra Pharma maintains its drug has the advantage of being administered by subcutaneous self-injection once a day, while Soliris needs a 45-minute intravenous infusion every 14 days.

UCB’s chief executive Jean-Christophe Tellier said Ra Pharma is “an excellent strategic fit”, not least because zilucoplan will slot into its pipeline alongside rozanolixizumab, an anti-FcRn antibody that is also in phase 3 for gMG.

“Upon closing, the acquisition will add to our strong internal growth opportunities – six potential product launches in the next five years, strengthening our neurology and immunology franchises with late and early-stage pipeline projects.”

Zilucaplon accounts for the bulk of Ra Pharma’s pipeline, although it has discovery/preclinical-stage projects including a longer-acting formulation of the drug, a small-molecule C5 inhibitor that could be given orally, and Factor D inhibitors for rare renal diseases. A peptide antibiotic is also in phase 1 testing at partner Merck & Co/MSD.

Zilucoplan may have a competitive profile compared to Soliris, but its biggest rival is likely to be Alexion’s follow-up C5 inhibitor Ultomiris (ravulizumab), which is already approved for PNH and in development for gMG and other indications.

Ultomiris can be delivered intravenously every eight weeks rather than every two, cutting the number of doses needed from 26 to six per year.

Alexion started dosing Ultomiris in a phase 3 gMG trial earlier this year, and also has a once-weekly subcutaneous formulation in late-stage development with a read-out due next year.

Meanwhile, the other potential confounder for all the aspirant gMG therapies is that Alexion is facing a patent challenge to Soliris from Amgen. If successful, this could allow a lower-cost biosimilar of the drug to reach the US market in 2021, although Alexion is currently claiming patent protection until 2027 in that market.

Article by
Phil Taylor

10th October 2019

From: Research



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