AstraZeneca set for $1.3bn deal for biotech firm

Julian Harris
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PHARMA giant AstraZeneca is poised to snap up US firm Ardea Biosciences in a bid to boost its diminishing pipeline of new drugs.

The $1.26bn (£782m) deal will grant AstraZeneca a nearly-cleared treatment for gout, described by boss David Brennan yesterday as an “excellent opportunity to leverage our global specialty and primary care sales and marketing capabilities”.

“The Ardea team has done a great job developing lesinurad along with a promising next-generation gout programme,” Brennan added. “These compounds have real potential to benefit patients.”

The embattled chief executive is under pressure from shareholders unhappy at the firm’s prospects. New non-executive chairman Leif Johansson takes over in September, a boardroom development that could turn up the heat on Brennan.

AstraZeneca will pay $32 per share for the company, it announced yesterday, a 54 per cent premium on Ardea’s closing price last week.

Its own shares dipped 1.9 per cent in London yesterday, while stocks were down throughout the European drugs sector.

“The deal seems consistent with management strategy although the target indication of the lead product candidate is gout, which has not, traditionally, been an easy target for drug development,” commented analyst Savvas Neophytou from Panmure Gordon yesterday. AstraZeneca’s first quarter results are expected this Thursday, 26 April, with Panmure Gordon predicting a fall in revenue of around five per cent yet retaining its “buy” recommendation on the stock.

The move to buy Ardea is the latest bid by a multinational pharmaceutical firm to acquire relatively small biotechnology innovators.

GlaxoSmithKline said last week it had offered to buy Human Genome Sciences for $2.6bn, in a bid rejected by the US firm, while Roche has tried unsuccessfully to buy Illumina for $6.8bn.

“We will continue to do these external deals,” said AstraZeneca’s research head Martin Mackay yesterday. “I think we will be talking about more as the year goes on.”