Almirall eyes growth in U.S., dermatology with $400M Aqua Pharma buyout

When Spain began hacking away at drug spending in 2011, fellow Spanish drugmakers were green with envy over Almirall's global sales reach. Now, the company is extending that reach further by picking up U.S.-based Aqua Pharmaceuticals for up to $400 million. And the deal bolsters Almirall's presence in the red-hot dermatology field to boot.

Almirall will pay $305 million from the get-go, plus a $22.6 million tax-related payment, the company announced Tuesday. Private equity group RoundTable Healthcare Partners, which holds a controlling interest in Aqua, will be eligible for another $75 million if Aqua's products hit commercial and regulatory targets. Pending regulatory approval, the companies will finalize the debt-financed buyout on New Year's Eve.

As Reuters notes, the deal will give Almirall a foothold in the U.S. market. The Spanish pharma already has a presence in North America, with sales contributions from both Mexico and Canada. International sales currently account for more than 50% of Almirall's overall revenue, and last year, CFO Daniel Martinez said he expected global sales to grow 75% by 2014. With $127 million in projected 2013 sales, West Chester, PA-based Aqua should help with that goal.

Aqua's product offerings will also boost Almirall's presence in the dermatology field, a specialty area Almirall aims to grow. Aqua specializes in treatments for skin conditions such as acne and boasts a lineup of creams, gels, foams and capsules. "Dermatology is a key platform of growth for Almirall and continues to be a key future growth driver," Almirall said in a statement.

The Barcelona-based drugmaker is not the only company looking to dermatology for growth. Several companies have recently made inroads into the rapidly growing field. Novartis ($NVS) made the biggest headlines last May with its $1.5 billion buyout of specialty drugmaker Fougera Pharmaceuticals, which transformed it into the largest player in dermatology generics.

Many other companies have followed suit with their own pickups. Late last year, Indian generics maker Sun Pharma purchased Massachusetts dermatology specialist DUSA for $230 million. Valeant ($VRX) has also been active in the space, acquiring Medicis for $2.6 billion in 2012 and buying out Obagi Medical for $344 million this past March.

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