AstraZeneca pays $2.7bn for ZS Pharma and ion-trap drugs

AstraZeneca (AZ) has continued its string of medium-sized acquisitions by buying San Mateo, California-based company ZS Pharma for $2.7 billion.

ZS Pharma uses ion¬-trap technology to develop new treatments for hyperkalaemia (high potassium levels), a serious condition of elevated potassium in the bloodstream, typically associated with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and chronic heart failure (CHF).

Its lead product is ZS-9, a potential best-in-class treatment for hyperkalaemia, which has already been filed with the FDA. The US regulator is expected to pass judgement by 26 May 2016. A submission in Europe is planned by the end of this year, and AZ says current estimates for global peak year sales of ZS-9 exceed $1 billion.

ZS Pharma has around 200 employees across three sites in California, Texas and Colorado, and will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of AZ once the deal is completed.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AZ, said the acquisition complements the firm’s strategic focus on cardiovascular and metabolic disease by adding a potential best-in-class treatment to its portfolio.

Cardiovascular drugs are one of the most important ‘growth platform’ therapy areas for the company, and its existing treatment Brilinta is currently its star performer, increasing sales by 44 per cent in the recently-announced Q3 sales.

Brilinta recently gained US approval for patients with a history of heart attack beyond one year, an expanded indication which should ensure its continued growth. The drug has also been filed in Japan for acute coronary syndrome and patients with a history of heart attack.

However, AZ is bracing itself for a major shock to its system: blockbuster cholesterol drug Crestor goes off patent in mid-2016. The drug is set to earn $5 billion in sales this year, and its loss will hit the firm hard next year, hence rapid additions such as ZS-9 will help plug some of this gap.

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