M&A

Alexion takes its first step rebuilding the pipeline, adding a rare disease drug in $855M cash buyout

Biotech buyouts are all the rage these days. Today, it’s Alexion’s $ALXN turn to score with a deal that adds a Phase III drug for a rare disease to its pipeline — marking the new executive crew’s “first step” in reorganizing the pipeline.

Alexion struck a deal to buy Stockholm-based Wilson Therapeutics for $855 million in cash, offering its backers a rich payday after gathering a set of mid-stage data demonstrating their drug can flush excess copper from the blood of patients with Wilson disease.

Jonas Hansson, Wilson CEO

Wilson’s last public venture raise came 4 years ago, when Abingworth and MVM Life Science Partners stepped up with a $40 million B round with founding investor HealthCap. And the numbers indicate that they made out handsomely with the buyout deal today.

Their drug, WTX101, binds to copper and albumin, allowing it to be cleared. And Alexion had time to consider proof-of-concept numbers on its safety and efficacy — with a display planned at EASL this week — as they swooped in to nab the Phase III program.

The acquisition deal puts Alexion on track to play a role in a high-profile debate over the cost of drugs in the US. Wilson disease is treated with a drug called Syprine, which was acquired by Valeant — and which then spiked the price in a classic price-gouging move that American government officials are helpless to prevent. Teva recently came along with a generic, but caused outrage when they set the price at $18,375 for a bottle of 100 pills, which the New York Times reported is 21 times what the original branded drug cost in 2010.

According to a statement from Wilson Therapeutics’ board, Alexion wasn’t the only bidder, with Lazard gathering bids in a competitive process launched early this year.

But it was the most eager.

The deal comes on the heels of a reorganization at Alexion after Ludwig Hantson stepped in to lead the company last year, bringing in a new crew and making plans to relocate to Boston. Hantson made it crystal clear that aside from the big franchise drug Soliris and a next-gen followup, he didn’t find much to get excited about. That followup drug, though, wasn’t good enough to prove superior to Soliris, which could leave the company vulnerable as rivals gather with late-stage tests of their own.

The buyout also spotlights the M&A spree now underway in biotech, coming fast after Novartis’ $8.7 billion acquisition of AveXis on Monday. A busy start to Q2 follows a big M&A frenzy in Q1, with Sanofi buying Bioverativ and Ablynx and Celgene bagging Juno. And more deals are likely to follow as top players snap up fresh assets after a drought of deals last year.

“Wilson disease is a rare disorder that can lead to severe liver disease, including cirrhosis and acute liver failure, as well as debilitating neurological morbidities such as impaired movement, gait, speech, swallowing, and psychiatric disorders. WTX101 is an innovative product that addresses the underlying cause of the disease and has the potential to define a new standard of care in treating Wilson disease, an area that has not had a new treatment in over two decades,” said Hantson in a statement. “The acquisition of Wilson Therapeutics is a strong strategic fit for Alexion given the overlap with our current clinical and commercial focus on metabolic and neurologic disorders, and is an important first step in rebuilding our clinical pipeline.”


Image: Ludwig Hantson, Alexion CEO.


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