Tesaro and its new med Zejula are on the block, but bidders aren't rushing in: WSJ

Zejula
Zejula is Tesaro's newly approved ovarian cancer med, challenging AstraZeneca's PARP market leader Lynparza and Clovis Oncology's Rubraca.

Just ahead of the year’s biggest download of cancer data, the maker of a closely watched drug has put itself up for sale, according to The Wall Street Journal.

That’s Tesaro, whose PARP inhibitor Zejula won FDA approval in March. That med launched soon after at a price of $118,000 per year, which Tesaro touted as lower than its head-to-head rivals in ovarian cancer, AstraZeneca’s Lynparza and Clovis Oncology’s Rubraca.

Analysts have pegged Zejula, or niraparib, as one of 2017’s biggest launches, with 2022 sales of $1.9 billion. That’s an enticing prospect for bigger companies looking to beef up their oncology businesses, but that very fact could make it an expensive prospect, too. Thanks to a big stock runup since Tesaro rolled out top-line Zejula data last July, the company’s market value as of Thursday morning was $8 billion.

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The WSJ’s sources say Tesaro has requested offers from a variety of potential bidders over the past few weeks—but they also say potential acquirers aren’t exactly falling over themselves to pursue a deal.

Price is potentially one reason, obviously. Another? Would-be buyers might be waiting for the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting this weekend, where AstraZeneca will present data on Lynparza and Tesaro will post data on a Zejula combination with Merck's blockbuster PD-1 therapy Keytruda.

Every other PARP hopeful in the running will roll out its own data, too, across a range of cancers that Zejula might eventually want to tap.

Still another reason for the supposedly lukewarm interest: Pfizer's $14 billion deal for Medivation—and its PARP med talazoparib—has come in for criticism lately.

Zejula’s big sales projections rely on its ability to rack up new indications, including prostate cancer and breast cancer. And they rely on Zejula’s ability to stake out a piece of the PARP market. It’s a hot field, with more pipeline meds likely to add to the three competitors already jockeying for scripts; Pfizer’s forthcoming talazoparib, for instance.

AstraZeneca, meanwhile, is up for a new indication that would put it on more even footing with Zejula, which currently boasts a broader label. The U.K.-based drugmaker nabbed priority review at the FDA for use as a maintenance therapy, rather than third-line choice as it is now, and it could be positioning Zejula for an approval in patients without the BRCA mutation as well.

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The fact that Pfizer has talazoparib on its way means it's not the likeliest buyer for Tesaro, despite its willingness to consider deals of any and all sizes. Other possibilities? Gilead Sciences, which needs a big deal to rescue itself from hepatitis C decline, has said it’s interested in oncology, and Sanofi’s in the market for M&A up to $20 billion.

Then there’s Novartis, soon to have a cash stash after unloading Alcon, which doesn’t have a PARP drug in its pipeline. Or, just maybe Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has been bandied about as a takeover target itself, and doesn't have a PARP drug, either.

Whether any of these deep-pocketed drugmakers would want to shell out for Tesaro remains to be seen, however. After ASCO, the picture could be clearer.