Belgium's UCB Buys Immune Disease Specialist Ra Pharma in $2.1 Billion Deal

M & A

Brussels, Belgium-based UCB announced plans to acquire Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Ra Pharmaceuticals for $2.1 billion.

Under the terms of the deal, Ra Pharma shareholders will receive $48 in cash per each Ra Pharma share. The boards of both companies have unanimously approved the merger, though Ra Pharma shareholders still need to approve it.

Ra Pharma was founded in 2008 and uses synthetic peptides to develop drugs for diseases caused by excessive or uncontrolled activation of a major component of the innate immune system called the complement system. Ra has several clinical programs that leverage its ExtremeDiversity technology. The primary product is zilucoplan, which is in a Phase III trial for generalized Myasthenia Gravis (gMG), a rare autoimmune disease of the nerves and muscles, a planned Phase II trial of immune-mediated necrotizing myopathy (IMNM), a recently identified subgroup of idiopathic inflammatory myopathies, a planned Phase II/III trial for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and a completed Phase Ib trial for renal disorders. It has several other ongoing preclinical programs for other rare diseases as well as an ongoing Phase I trial with Merck & Co. for a non-complement target in cardiovascular diseases.

In December 2018, Ra presented positive top-line data from its Phase II trial of zilucoplan in gMG, which hit clinically meaningful and statistically significant decreases in primary and key secondary endpoints. Topline results of the Phase III trial are expected in early 2021.

“Ra Pharma is an excellent strategic fit addressing multiple areas of UCB’s patient value growth strategy,” said Jean-Christophe Tellier, UCB’s chief executive officer. “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. In addition, the combination will provide us with the opportunity to become a leader in treating people living with myasthenia gravis, an autoantibody mediated neurological orphan disease with high unmet medical need, as well as adding a highly productive technology platform to our innovation engine.”

UCB indicates the deal is part of its strategic growth plan, dubbed the “Accelerate and Expand” phase since 2019. UCB currently has an anti-FcRn product, rozanolixizumab, a C5 inhibitor like zilucoplan. It also gives the company access to the ExtremeDiversity technology platform to produce synthetic macrocyclic peptides. ExtremeDiversity is based on messenger RNA (mRNA) display. This will likely add to UCB’s own drug discovery capabilities. The acquisition will also strengthen UCB’s presence in the United States.

“UCB shares our commitment to the rare disease patient community and our goal of developing novel, accessible, and cost-effective therapies in the areas of immunology and neurology,” said Doug Treco, president and chief executive officer of Ra Pharmaceuticals. “I firmly believe it is the right partner for us to advance new treatment options from our unique early and late stage pipeline to patients. Ra Pharma’s technology platform is an ideal addition to UCB’s leading innovation capabilities, and our scientists are looking forward to working with the entire team at UCB.”

The deal will likely put UCB and Ra on a path to competing with Alexion, which also focuses on mediating complement-based diseases. Alexion develops drugs for rare diseases and has a product on the market for gMG, Soliris (eculizumab), and three other drugs for rare and ultra-rare diseases.

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