- Alexion Therapeutics Inc. plans on spending $855 million to acquire a Swedish biotech and its late-stage rare disease candidate.
- By absorbing Swedish biotech Wilson Therapeutics AB, Alexion will flesh out its pipeline with WTX101, a treatment for Wilson disease. Roughly one in 30,000 people in the U.S. and the EU's five biggest countries have Wilson's, a potentially deadly condition where a genetic mutation causes copper to build up in liver cells.
- Regulatory agencies still have to sign off on the deal, but Alexion expects it will close in the second quarter. The boards of directors for both companies are already in support of the acquisition, as are investors holding roughly three-fourths of Wilson Therapeutics' outstanding shares, according to a April 11 statement.
Buying Wilson Therapeutics adds much-needed diversity to Alexion's pipeline.
The Connecticut-based company has just three programs in late-stage development, two of which are for its Soliris (eculizumab) follow-on, ALXN1210. In fact, almost all of its R&D efforts are focused on ALXN1210 — which is understandable, given that Soliris accounts for 89% of Alexion's net product sales and loses its U.S. composition of matter patent in a few years.
"We think of this as a first step," Paul Clancey, Alexion's chief financial officer, said of the acquisition during an April 11 conference call.
"The priority, in terms of capital allocation, is to rebuild the pipeline with an emphasis on the clinical-stage. This is later-stage, so I think it will be asset-specific where it fits in in terms of the next kind of transactions to rebuild the clinical pipeline."
Before it gets to those next transactions, Alexion has a large bill to pay. It's offering 232 Swedish Krona (roughly 12 cents) in cash per share of Wilson Therapeutics outstanding stock — equating to about a 70% premium of the target's last closing stock price. Alexion expects to finance the new deal with cash. As of Dec. 31, the big biotech had $584 million in cash and cash equivalents and $890 million in marketable securities.
Clearly, Alexion sees opportunity in Wilson disease, and WTX101 could help it seize on that.
"This is really in our sweet spot," Ludwig Hantson, Alexion's CEO, said of the acquisition during the conference call. "It's rare disease; there's an unmet medical need. We will focus on the transformative nature of this product and, with the current treatments, the root cause of the disease is not addressed."
Phase 2 data published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology journal found treatment with WTX101 significantly reduced patients' free copper levels 72% after about three months.
Last year, Wilson Therapeutics met with U.S. and European regulators concerning the design of a Phase 3 pivotal study. The groups agreed to a trial that will recruit around 100 patients who demonstrate hepatic and/or neurological symptoms, and who either never received treatment or received standard of care treatment. Enrollment began in the first quarter.
The study's primary endpoint will be copper control from baseline to 48 weeks. In Phase 2, 79% of patients taking WXT101 achieved copper control or experienced at least 25% free copper reduction in their blood after 24 weeks.
Alexion shares opened at $112.47 apiece on Wednesday, down almost 1% from Tuesday's market close.