Alexion bids $855m for rare disease biotech Wilson Therapeutics

Alexion wants to buy Swedish rare diseases biotech Wilson Therapeutics for around $855 million, which is developing a late-stage drug to treat the inherited condition Wilson Disease.

In a statement Wilson Therapeutics’ board said it unanimously recommends shareholders accept an offer from Alexion, which was made through its Swedish subsidiary.

Alexion’s offer is a huge 89% higher than Wilson Therapeutics’ average share price over the last 90 days or so, and a premium of 373% compared with the biotech’s IPO price in May 2016.

Wilson said the offer was a result of a bidding process after the biotech received a non-binding indication of interest from another unnamed company early in 2018.

Wilson’s lead drug is WTX101, a first-in-class copper protein binding agent, which aims to reverse the effects of the disease, which is a rare inherited disorder of copper metabolism.

The deal would add WTX101 to Alexion’s pipeline of rare disease drugs, and if approved would add to its portfolio of drugs led by Soliris, for the rare diseases atypical haemolytic uremic syndrome, and generalised myasthenia gravis.

But Alexion is looking beyond Soliris, which generates billions in revenues but could face competition from newer drugs and cut-price biosimilars in around three years’ time.

Wilson said Alexion would be able to continue the phase 3 pivotal FOCuS study of WTX101.

The disease causes copper to accumulate in the liver, brain, and other vital organs, instead of being excreted through the bile.

Wilson Disease can be fatal if it is not treated, with symptoms including fatigue, lack of appetite, abdominal pain, jaundice, and a golden-brown eye discolouration.

The disease is treated by chelating agents such as penicillamine, but common side-effects are unpleasant, including skin rash and blisters, vomiting and diarrhoea, and wounds that do not heal.

Those affected must avoid copper once treatment is finished.

WTX101, also known as tetrathiomolybdate, is designed to bind to copper and provides an alternative copper-protein transport mechanism, rapidly forming copper-protein complexes.

The aim is to quickly detoxify free copper and promote biliary excretion of copper to reduce overload.

Transfer of sales to Alexion is expected to begin around 25 April and expire on 23 May.

Alexion’s outlay is part of a rapid stream of large scale M&A in the first few months of the year, coming just days after Novartis announced the $8.7 billion acquisition of gene therapy company AveXis.

London-headquartered Lazard has acted as the financial advisers to Wilson in the deal, and have been involved in many of the biggest M&A transactions seen in early 2018.  These include Sanofi’s two big biotech purchases, Bioverativ and Ablynx, as well as the blockbuster mergers in US health insurance, including Cigna’s $52 billion acquisition of Express Scripts.




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