- AbbVie and Allergan have sold rights to an experimental digestive disease drug to AstraZeneca, a move aimed at getting ahead of possible antitrust concerns related to their pending $63 billion deal.
- AbbVie previously promised to divest the drug, called brazikumab, in order to complete the deal. The company's post-acquisition ownership of brazikumab could have raised antitrust concerns because it acts on the same biological target as AbbVie's new psoriasis medication, Skyrizi.
- The parties did not disclose financial terms of the transaction. AstraZeneca on Monday also announced it had sold commercial rights to five of its older, off-patent hypertension drugs for $350 million.
Skyrizi (risankizumab) and brazikumab both target an inflammatory marker called IL-23, with Skyrizi having already proved itself effective in treating psoriasis. AbbVie promised to divest brazikumab early on in the review of the Allergan transaction in order to preserve the marketed drug for the combined company.
AbbVie had good reason to do so. The new psoriasis drug went from approval in April to $139 million in sales by Sept. 30, and is one of a clutch of new agents that the Illinois-based pharma hopes will replace revenue from Humira (adalimumab) when it loses nearly all of its patent protection in 2023.
SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges said Skyrizi sales are expected to reach $1 billion in the first year on the market.
By contrast, brazikumab is in Phase 2b/3 development for Crohn's disease and Phase 2 for ulcerative colitis, so is still some years from the market.
Whether the Federal Trade Commission would accept divestment of brazikumab as a condition of approving the transaction is still an open question.
The FTC's competition bureau has taken the view that when merging pharma companies have one agent on the market and a second potential competitor in development, the one on the market should be divested. Celgene's sale of Otezla to Amgen to clear the Bristol-Myers Squibb takeout was a consequence of this view, since it competed with Orencia and an experimental drug known as BMS-986165.
Porges, however, indicated the sale bodes well for the companies' obtaining regulatory clearance for their tie-up.
"Today's announcement should further increase investors' confidence that Skyrizi will not be part of the divestiture plan in the US," he wrote in a Jan. 27 note to clients.
In addition to brazikumab, AbbVie and Allergan also sold to Nestlé two other Allergan digestive drugs, Zenpep (pancrelipase) and Viokace (pancrelipase).
With the two transactions announced Monday, AbbVie said it will be able to complete the acquisition before the end of March. The European Union gave conditional approval on Jan. 10.