Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA; Sipa via AP Images)

As­traZeneca's planned takeover of Alex­ion clears last reg­u­la­to­ry re­view, deal to close next week

The fi­nal reg­u­la­to­ry hur­dle for As­traZeneca’s mega-merg­er with Alex­ion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals has been cleared, paving the way for the deal to close as soon as next week.

Britain’s fi­nan­cial watch­dog, The UK Com­pe­ti­tion & Mar­kets Au­thor­i­ty, has rub­ber stamped As­traZeneca’s $39 bil­lion takeover of the Boston-based rare dis­ease biotech, the com­pa­nies an­nounced Wednes­day morn­ing. As a re­sult, the trans­ac­tion is ex­pect­ed to close on Ju­ly 21, with Alex­ion shares $ALXN be­ing con­vert­ed to As­traZeneca stock $AZN and re­moved from Nas­daq the next day.

Shares will al­so be ad­mit­ted to the Lon­don Stock Ex­change and Nas­daq Stock­holm, the two mar­kets of As­traZeneca’s home coun­tries of the UK and Swe­den. Once the merg­er is wrapped up, Alex­ion will es­sen­tial­ly be­come As­traZeneca’s en­tire rare dis­ease unit with block­buster Soliris and fol­low-up drug Ul­tomiris com­ing on board.

Marc Dunoy­er

“We are very pleased to have se­cured this crit­i­cal fi­nal clear­ance,” As­traZeneca CFO Marc Dunoy­er said in a state­ment. “We look for­ward to the im­mi­nent clos­ing of the trans­ac­tion so that we may pur­sue our shared am­bi­tion to bring more in­no­v­a­tive med­i­cines to pa­tients world­wide and be­gin As­traZeneca’s next chap­ter of growth.”

While ques­tions sur­round­ed the merg­er back when it was an­nounced in De­cem­ber 2020, CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot has out­lined a vi­sion for As­traZeneca to pave a new path in rare dis­eases for the first half of the next decade. With a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on im­munol­o­gy, he’s said he ex­pects Alex­ion to help dri­ve growth in the field to the tune of dou­ble dig­it rev­enue through 2025.

The rosy pro­jec­tions still have to per­form, how­ev­er, and many are like­ly to scru­ti­nize the pipeline As­traZeneca is ac­quir­ing in the deal. An­dexxa, one of Alex­ion’s ap­proved med­i­cines to treat acute­ly un­con­trolled bleed­ing of Fac­tor Xa in­hibitors, re­turned dis­ap­point­ing sales num­bers and proved piv­otal in mount­ing ac­tivist pres­sure on CEO Lud­wig Hantson in 2020.

Lud­wig Hantson

Dunoy­er, who will lead the new Alex­ion sub­sidiary when the deal is com­plete, told End­points News in an in­ter­view last month that As­traZeneca doesn’t plan to auc­tion off An­dexxa, and in­stead hopes to turn it around in a sim­i­lar fash­ion to the drug­mak­er’s Bril­in­ta drug.

Of course, it does help that As­traZeneca will im­me­di­ate­ly ben­e­fit from Soliris, which raked in more than $4 bil­lion in sales in 2020, as well as Ul­tomiris, the planned suc­ces­sor for Soliris. Alex­ion has po­si­tioned Ul­tomiris to soak up most of the sales from the old­er drug once it hits its patent cliff lat­er this decade, de­spite some new com­pe­ti­tion.

Wednes­day’s green­light from the UK was large­ly ex­pect­ed fol­low­ing the FTC sign­ing off on the deal in April and the EU sig­nal­ing its ap­proval last week. The FTC re­view came de­spite Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s ad­min­is­tra­tion say­ing it would take a harsh­er stance on Big Phar­ma merg­ers in March, but none of the feared an­titrust mea­sures came to pass.

One rea­son may have been the lack of a pipeline over­lap be­tween the two com­pa­nies, ac­cord­ing to an analy­sis from Eval­u­ate Phar­ma at the time. None of the com­pa­nies’ mar­ket­ed drugs have any crossover in in­di­ca­tions, and the on­ly pipeline can­di­date that could be seen as sim­i­lar is Alex­ion’s cer­du­la­tinib — a po­ten­tial in­ter­sec­tion with As­traZeneca’s blood can­cer fran­chise.

And while the Alex­ion deal had been viewed by some as a po­ten­tial bell­wether for the in­dus­try, the FTC has been harsh­er on oth­er com­pa­nies so far this year. The com­mis­sion has sued to block Il­lu­mi­na’s $8 bil­lion buy­out of Grail, ex­press­ing con­cerns over Il­lu­mi­na’s po­ten­tial stran­gle­hold on the DNA se­quenc­ing mar­ket.

The Il­lu­mi­na merg­er is run­ning up against new head­winds as well, with the EU ex­pect­ed to launch a full-scale an­titrust probe at the end of its re­view next week, Reuters re­port­ed Tues­day.

Bio­mark­er 'roadmap­s' and the fu­ture of can­cer R&D; Cur­tain rais­es on #AS­CO22; Pfiz­er, No­var­tis tack­le drug ac­cess; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

While this was not a week for earth-shattering news, there were certainly a lot of interesting tidbits. If you found this recap helpful, please recommend it to your friends and colleagues. We’ll see you on the other side of the long weekend.

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Keep­ing pres­sure on Am­gen, Mi­rati draws mixed re­views on lat­est cut of KRAS da­ta

As the close runner-up to Amgen’s Lumakras in the KRAS race, any data cut from Mirati’s adagrasib continues to draw scrutiny from analysts. And the latest batch of numbers from ASCO is a decidedly mixed bag.

While a quick comparison suggests that adagrasib spurred slightly more responses and led to a longer overall survival than Lumakras among a group of non-small cell lung cancer patients, its duration of response appears shorter and the safety profile continues to spark concern.

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Nassim Usman, Catalyst Biosciences CEO

Af­ter $60M Ver­tex deal, group of Cat­a­lyst share­hold­ers claims biotech could’ve sold as­sets three years ago

Catalyst Biosciences was down to five employees in March, and the biotech needed to do something after two rounds of layoffs, a nixed collaboration and a culling of its hemophilia program.

In came Vertex, with $60 million to buy up the South San Francisco biotech’s preclinical complement drugs, which target the system that bridges the body’s innate and adaptive immune response and a class most known for Ultomiris and Soliris. The deal includes CB 2782-PEG, the dry AMD drug that Biogen no longer wanted in March.

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Ann is one of ViiV Healthcare's newest spokespeople as the retired school administrator speaks up about her HIV status.

GSK's Vi­iV de­buts next evo­lu­tion in HIV med Dova­to cam­paign with new spokes­peo­ple and new mes­sage

When Ann saw the first TV commercials for HIV medicine Dovato, she didn’t see herself represented. So the 74-year-old retired school administrator who’s been living with HIV since 1998, reached out to GSK’s ViiV Healthcare and asked why not?

Now Ann is one of three people starring in ViiV’s latest Dovato campaign called “Detect This.” The next-step evolution in the branded campaign plays on the word “detect” — often used in describing HIV status under control as undetectable — but in this case, uses the word as a directive for people to understand they can use fewer medicines.

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Tran­si­tion to new Eu­ro­pean clin­i­cal tri­als in­fo sys­tem starts slow­ly

At the end of January, the European Medicines Agency officially launched its new clinical trials info system (CTIS), although the migration to the new platform has only really just begun, and sponsors have until the end of January 2023 before all initial trial applications must be submitted through CTIS.

Overall, 56 clinical trial applications have been submitted in CTIS during the first 3 months since the launch of the system on Jan. 31, according to new data posted by the EMA. By comparison, about 4,000 new trials are authorized each year across Europe.

Switzer­land to de­stroy over 600,000 ex­pired dos­es of Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine

As concerns related to uptake and distribution continue to linger, Switzerland is among the first countries that plans to destroy hundreds of thousands of expired and unused Covid-19 vaccine doses.

The European country said it plans to destroy more than 600,000 doses of Moderna’s Spikevax Covid-19 vaccine as the doses have reached their expiration date.

However, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that he’s in the process of throwing 30 million doses in the garbage, exclaiming, “We have a big demand problem.”

Lina Khan, FTC chair (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP Images)

Pile-on over PBMs con­tin­ues with FTC com­ments and a new bi­par­ti­san Sen­ate bill

More than 500 stakeholders sent comments to the FTC on whether the commission should look further into pharma middlemen, known as PBMs, with many of the commenters calling for more federal oversight.

Similar to the critical open comment period in a deadlocked FTC session last February, pharmacies and pharmacy groups are continuing to call out the lack of transparency among the top 3 PBMs, which control about 80% of the market.

Pharma brands are losing their shine with US consumers who are now thinking about the economy and inflation instead of Covid. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Phar­ma brands fade in an­nu­al Har­ris con­sumer vis­i­bil­i­ty poll: Mod­er­na drops off and Pfiz­er dips

As Covid-19 concerns are fading in the US, so is biopharma visibility. The annual Axios Harris Poll survey to determine and rank the 100 most top-of-mind brands in the US finds Moderna, which was No. 3 last year, not on the list at all for 2022, and Pfizer sinking 37 spots.

However, it’s not that Moderna or Pfizer did anything wrong, it’s just that Americans have moved on to other worries beyond Covid.

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Images)

HHS fin­ish­es off Trump-era rule that would've erased ba­sic FDA regs with­out fre­quent re­views

HHS on Thursday finalized its decision to withdraw a rule, proposed just before former President Donald Trump left office, that would’ve caused thousands of HHS and FDA regulations to automatically expire if they weren’t reviewed within two years, and every 10 years thereafter.

The decision follows the filing of a lawsuit last March, in which several nonprofits alleged that the outgoing administration planted “a ticking timebomb” for HHS, essentially forcing it to devote an enormous amount of resources to the unprecedented and infeasible task of reviewing thousands of regulations regularly.