UK drugmaker AstraZeneca agrees to acquire majority stake in Acerta Pharma

UK drugmaker AstraZeneca said yesterday that it is acquiring a majority stake in Acerta Pharma, a privately-held cancer-drug developer operating in the Netherlands and California, for $4 billion.

With the deal, AstraZeneca gets the option to buy the remainder of the company for $3 billion more and would further add to its line of cancer treatments.

The year had seen mergers and acquisitions in the healthcare sector at a record high gobally. Drugmakers had used mergers and strategic investments to acquire promising treatments in late-stage development, in hopes of reaping a bonanza with the next blockbuster.

''The investment is consistent with our focus on long-term growth and reflects the role targeted business development plays in our business model,'' Pascal Soriot, the AstraZeneca chief executive, said in a news release about the Acerta Pharma deal.

''We are boosting a key area in our comprehensive oncology portfolio with a late-stage, potential best-in-class medicine that could transform treatment for patients across a range of blood cancers,'' he added.

The deal would see AstraZeneca acquire a 55-per cent stake in Acerta for an initial payment of $2.5 billion. The company would then pay $1.5 billion when acalabrutinib, Acerta's treatment for blood cancer, received regulatory approval in the US or by the end of 2018.

AstraZeneca would also retain the option to acquire the remaining 45 per cent of Acerta.

Deutsche Bank analyst Richard Parkes said, ''While significant clinical and commercial risks remain, the transaction could ultimately prove a stroke of genius, adding a multibillion-dollar potential drug launch in 2017 that could accelerate AstraZeneca's re-emergence as a major force in oncology,'' reported.

According to commentators, the acquisition would help bolster AstraZeneca's pipeline as sales of older blockbuster products, including cholesterol treatment Crestor and heartburn pill Nexium, lost patent protection.