UPDATED: AstraZeneca supercharging its Asia strategy with WuXi and Takeda deals

AstraZeneca ($AZN) has bet big on Asia for much of its growth, and it's doubling down with two deals it laid out today. One is with Japan's Takeda, which it said would provide immediate returns by nabbing the global rights to a respiratory drug. The second, a more extensive deal with China's WuXi, it expects will pay off down the road and serve as a springboard to creating major local operations to develop and produce drugs in China.

The U.K.-based drugmaker said it will pay Takeda $575 million to nail down the global rights to the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) treatment roflumilast. It snatched U.S. rights to the drug earlier this year. It expects to close the deal in Q1 2016 and said it should provide an immediate impact to its bottom line. AstraZeneca's earnings have been suffering in the face of generic competition for blockbusters Nexium and Crestor. For Takeda, the deal provides a bit of cash as the new CEO Christophe Weber works to fulfill his promise that the Japanese drugmaker will begin to grow again in the coming year.

The Takeda deal includes not only roflumilast, marketed as Daliresp in the U.S. and Daxas elsewhere, but rights to a couple of other respiratory drugs. AstraZeneca said combined sales for Daxas outside the U.S. and the other two drugs were $198 million in the Q1 2015. The agreement also cancels AstraZeneca's royalty payments for U.S. sales of Daliresp, and includes rights to some respiratory meds Takeda has in the pipeline. It also involves taking on 200 Takeda employees.

AstraZeneca's Luke Miels

"The agreement with Takeda complements our respiratory business, one of our three main therapy areas, supports our return to growth and will be immediately accretive to earnings from 2016." Luke Miels, executive VP of global portfolio and product strategy at AstraZeneca, said in a statement. "Daxas in particular adds to our portfolio of treatments for patients with severe COPD."

Looking down the road, AstraZeneca's expansion in China is a sweeping initiative to develop, manufacture and sell biologic drugs in a growing country that already represents its second largest market. The U.K. drugmaker said it will build on an existing joint venture between its MedImmune unit and WuXi AppTec to develop and commercialize in China a biologic treatment for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

As part of the broadened deal, WuXi agreed to sell its new biologics manufacturing facilities to AstraZeneca in the next few years for $100 million. AstraZeneca said that until that happens, Wuxi AppTec will be its exclusive partner for R&D and manufacturing biologics in China.

The WuXi arrangement is a prelude to AstraZeneca's grander ambitions in China. While the work with WuXi is all about biologics, AstraZeneca intends also to beef up its small molecule drugmaking capabilities in China. With that in mind, it will invest $50 million to build a development and launch facility alongside its existing manufacturing site in Wuxi City.

On top of all of that, the drugmaker also intends to add an R&D component to its work in China. It will do that by establishing in China a third R&D global hub, with up to 50 scientists in Shanghai and Wuxi City that will expand and compliment R&D work in biologics and small molecule drugs that it already does at its research centers in the U.K. and Sweden.

Mark Mallon, AstraZeneca's executive VP international, said in a statement that all of these efforts allow the company to integrate China into its drug development decisions and makes AstraZeneca "the first multinational biopharmaceutical company to create a dedicated R&D platform and manufacturing capabilities in China for local development from research through to commercialization."

By having dedicated R&D and manufacturing in China, it will speed the approval process and the returns on the drugs it intends to sell there, Bahija Jallal, head of research at MedImmune explained to Reuters. "We don't want to have drugs that are approved in the U.S. and elsewhere and it then takes another 5 or 6 years to bring them to patients in China," she said.

- here's the Takeda announcement
- and here's the China announcement
- get more from Reuters

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