AstraZeneca buys most of Acerta for $4 billion to add cancer drug

Thu Dec 17, 2015 5:48am EST
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca is to buy 55 percent of privately held biotech firm Acerta Pharma for $4 billion to give it access to a new kind of blood cancer drug, boosting its long-term growth at the cost of a near-term hit to earnings.

It is a lofty price but AstraZeneca believes acalabrutinib could sell more than $5 billion a year, supporting its return to growth and completing the transformation of the drugmaker's oncology business.

"By doing a dilutive acquisition we don't make our lives easier in the short term but we are committed to our stated goals and we will manage through," Chief Executive Pascal Soriot told reporters on Thursday.

Future acalabrutinib revenue would be on top of the $45 billion sales target for 2023 set out last year, he added.

AstraZeneca may end up paying as much as $7 billion if it acquires the rest of Acerta, reflecting fierce competition among pharmaceutical companies for promising new drugs in the hot field of oncology.

It is a bold move by Soriot, who has been overhauling AstraZeneca since he arrived three years ago. Deutsche Bank analyst Richard Parkes said the deal looked smart but could divide investors.

"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," he said.


A sign is seen at an AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield, central England in this May 19, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Phil Noble