AstraZeneca Unloads Three Asthma and Rhinitis Drugs to Covis Pharma for $350 Million

3 maroon flags flying with AstraZeneca logo on each

Roland Magnusson /

As AstraZeneca focuses on its strategy of divesting assets and spending on its own pipeline, the company sold rights to three older drugs to Covis Pharma for $350 million.

AstraZeneca is unloading rights to Alvesco (ciclesonide) to treat persistent asthma, and Omnaris and Zetonna (ciclesonide) to treat nasal symptoms associated with rhinitis. The company indicates that the rights cover markets outside the United States and the U.S. royalties for the drugs. Covis already commercializes the three drugs in the U.S., but upon closing, will own them.

No AstraZeneca staff or facilities are transferred as part of the deal.

“One of our strategic objectives is to divest parts of our portfolio, allowing us to allocate resources to develop innovative new medicines to address unmet patient needs,” stated Mark Fallon, AstraZeneca’s executive vice president, Global Product and Portfolio Strategy. “Covis Pharma has strong capabilities in marketing medicines around the world, and our agreement with them means patients will continue to benefit from Alvesco, Omnaris and Zetonna.”

Under the terms of the deal, Covis is paying AstraZeneca $350 million in addition to conditional sales-related payments of up to $21 million over four years from 2019. 

AstraZeneca notes that because it will “not maintain a significant ongoing interest in the medicines following completion, the payments will be recognized as Other Operating Income in the Company’s financial statements.”

In 2017, the three drugs brought in $106 million.

Covis was founded by Cerberus Capital Management in 2011, an investment firm with over $30 billion in managed assets. Between 2011 and 2015, Covis bought 17 branded drugs. Then in 2015, it divested 12 products to Concordia Healthcare for $1.2 billion.

The drugs sold included branded drugs, injectables and authorized generics in a broad range of therapeutic areas including cardiovascular, central nervous system and acute care. Some of the products were Nilandron for metastatic prostate cancer; Dibenzyline for pheochromocytoma; Lanoxin for mild-to-moderate heart failure and atrial fibrillation; and Plaquenil for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Consistent with today’s deal, in July 2017, Covis Pharma acquired several asthma and allergy products from Sunovion Pharmaceuticals. Covis acquired Alvesco (ciclesonide) Inhalation Aerosol; Omnaris (ciclesonide) Nasal Spray; and Zetonna (ciclesonide) Nasal Aerosol. All three drugs were licensed by Sunovion from Takeda GmbH (formerly Nycomed) in 2008. 

No financial details were released concerning the Sunovion deal.

“With the divestiture of asthma and allergy products, Sunovion is reinforcing its strategic focus on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the respiratory area,” stated Nobuhiko Tamura, chairman and chief executive officer of Sunovion, at the time. “Sunovion has the broadest COPD portfolio in the U.S., offering both handheld and nebulized treatment options that can be tailored to individual needs.”

A year ago, on October 30, 2017, AstraZeneca signed a licensing deal with Mereo BioPharma to out-license the oral inhibitor of neutrophil elastase (AZD9668) to the smaller Mereo. It, like today’s deal, is reverse of the typical deal, where large companies acquire or license products from smaller companies. That deal, like today’s, is an example of AstraZeneca offloading an under-developed or abandoned product that it outside its primary focus.

At the time, Kumar Srinivasan, AstraZeneca’s vice president of scientific partnering and alliances, stated, “This transaction reaffirms AstraZeneca’s commitment to patients by repositioning an asset into an orphan indication with a high unmet need. We will continue to divest or out-license deprioritized assets where we believe it will help accelerate the development of new medicines.”

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