Did AZ scupper Sobi’s $8bn private equity buyout?

An $8 billion attempt by two private equity companies to acquire Swedish rare disease specialist Sobi and take it back into private ownership has collapsed, with reports suggesting AstraZeneca was instrumental in blocking the deal.

Tenders to the offer fell below the 90% threshold needed to drive the merger through, and a key part of that was AZ’s refusal to back the offer from Advent International and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, according to a Bloomberg report.

AZ’s has an 8% stake the Swedish company which stems mainly from a 2019 deal between the two companies which saw Sobi acquire US rights to Synagis (palivizumab), AZ’s drug therapy for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections, for $1.5 billion in cash and shares.

The report suggests that AZ was unhappy about the risk that Sobi’s rights to Synagis may be sold off to another competing drugmaker, as it may be interested in reacquiring full ownership of the drug or other Sobi assets.

The RSV market is on the brink of being transformed by the arrival of vaccines for older adults and pregnant mothers, as well as new antibody-based drugs, including AZ’s own phase 3 candidate nirsevimab, developed in partnership with Sanofi.

While that was a relatively small stake in Sobi, AZ’s decision not to participate stalled the deal, with around 87% of shareholders agreeing to tender their shares. If completed, it would have been the largest M&A transaction involving a European biopharma company this year.

Sobi’s board had recommended the deal to shareholders, and in a statement said it “believed in the strategic merit of the transaction” whilst noting that “subsequent discussions regarding the potential execution of the transaction have been directly dealt with between the bidding consortium and Sobi shareholders.”

The company’s chairman Håkan Björklund said the company remained committed to its strategic objectives, including investment in its pipeline with an emphasis on haematology, immunology and specialty care.

“Sobi has several important launches of new medicines as well as R&D projects to advance, while continuing to expand the geographical presence,” he added.

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