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Rumor Alert: Struggling AstraZeneca PLC (AZN) Made a Pass at This $16 Billion Japanese Drugmaker Last Year

8/31/2017 5:35:04 AM

Rumor Alert: Struggling AstraZeneca PLC Made a Pass at This $16 Billion Japanese Drugmaker Last Year
August 31, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

According to a Nikkei Business story, London, UK-based AstraZeneca PLC made an offer to acquire Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo last year, but was rebuffed by the company.

Daiichi Sankyo, which trades on the Tokyo stock exchange, took a big leap at the news, jumping from 2,523 JPY to 2,688 JPY before settling down to its current 2,599 JPY.

Both companies have declined to comment to Reuters, but there is speculation that AstraZeneca was interested in the Japanese company’s antibody drug conjugates for oncology. The companies have worked together for some time, including a 2015 deal to jointly commercialize Movantik in the U.S. Movantik is a drug to treat opioid-induced constipation. In that deal, Daiichi Sankyo paid AstraZeneca $200 million upfront for co-promotion rights with up to $625 million in milestone payments. The two companies also had a deal in 2010 to distribute and promote Nexium, the heartburn drug, in Japan.

John Carroll, writing for Endpoints News, says, “It wouldn’t have been cheap. Daiichi Sankyo has a market value in the pricey neighborhood of $16 billion. And AstraZeneca has been a seller over the past year, not a buyer, marketing off rights to a slew of pipeline products as the company struggles to turn around and start growing revenue.”

AstraZeneca in recent years has shown an interest in focusing on oncology with mixed success. For example, the company’s Imfinzi (durvalumab), in late May showed positive Phase III results in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). On May 1, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the drug accelerated approval for previously treated patients with advanced bladder cancer. It is also being evaluated as a first-line treatment of patients with NSCLC as monotherapy in the MYSTIC and PEARL Phase III clinical trials. It is also being studied in combination with tremelimumab, a checkpoint inhibitor that targets CTLA-4 in the MYSTIC, NEPTUNE and POSEIDON Phase III trials.
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And on July 31, the FDA granted the drug Breakthrough Therapy Designation for patients with locally-advanced, unresectable non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose disease has not progressed after platinum-based therapy.

On the other hand, in late July, Imfinzi failed in a Phase III trial as a monotherapy or in combination with tremelimumab versus platinum-based standard-of-care (SoC) chemotherapy in previously-untreated patients with metastatic (Stage IV) first-line NSCLC.

Carroll notes that the news might focus attention on Daiichi Sankyo, “which recently won a breakthrough tag from the FDA for its HER2-targeting antibody-drug conjugate DS-8201. Its cancer pipeline has 20 molecules in it, focused on ADCs and acute myeloid leukemia. The Japanese company struck a deal with Kite to launch its pioneering CAR-T drug in Japan, which now makes it partners with Gilead.”

It feels a bit like old news, if the two companies really were in deal talks a year ago. It does suggest that AstraZeneca’s chief executive officer Pascal Soriot may be serious about a good-sized deal in the oncology space.

But Reuters also reported today that AstraZeneca expects to release data from two key clinical trials, PACIFIC and FLAURA, at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) congress in Madrid on September 9. Reuters notes, “There are currently no approved treatments for this stage of disease and strong data could open up a $1 billion-plus opportunity—thought it will still be smaller than for late-stage disease, where a combination of Imfinzi and tremelimumab failed to work as hoped. While details are being kept under wraps, doctors are optimistic. ESMO president-elect Solange Peters of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois in Lausanne told the Medscape website: ‘I’ve seen the data, and it’s absolutely exciting.’”

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