Almirall sends 719 employees to AstraZeneca as part of respiratory deal

When AstraZeneca ($AZN) signed on the dotted line for Almirall, gaining access to the company's promising respiratory drug portfolio, the U.K.-based drugmaker said a "significant" number of Almirall's workforce would make the move, too. Now we know what AZ meant by significant.

Barcelona, Spain-based Almirall said 719 of its employees will be transferred to AstraZeneca. A total of 760 jobs will be affected by the shift of its respiratory business, the company said in a statement.

The switch comes at a transitional moment, as AstraZeneca prepares to develop Almirall's combo medications in a bid to ward off generic and branded competitors to its respiratory powerhouse Symbicort. AstraZeneca agreed to pay up to $2.2 billion, including $875 million up front, for Almirall's respiratory products, including Eklira, a combo drug that Almirall is developing with Actavis ($ACT), and Duaklir, a LABA/LAMA combo med. The LABA/LAMA market is expected to hit $14 million by 2018, and Almirall's combo inhaler could help AstraZeneca grab a bigger piece of the pie.

AstraZeneca is not the only drugmaker battling for share in a growing respiratory market. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Novartis ($NVS) and Boehringer Ingelheim are rolling out new combo products. GSK's Anoro Ellipta inhaler hit the market earlier this year, and Novartis and Boehringer are touting positive study results for combination COPD treatments. Not to be outdone, Petah Tikva, Israel-based Teva ($TEVA) won European marketing authorization in April for its Symbicort knockoff, DuoResp, carving out more space for itself in the respiratory playing field.

In the meantime, AstraZeneca is working hard to develop its own respiratory products. In September, the company suffered a setback when its MedImmune division revealed less-than-satisfactory study data for its COPD candidate benralizumab. But the company enjoyed a bright point in October when Phase IIb data underscored the effectiveness of the drug in knocking down white blood cells to prevent asthma attacks.

More respiratory firepower could also help AstraZeneca beef up its defenses for a potential takeover. While rumors have cooled for now on a Pfizer ($PFE)/AstraZeneca acquisition, analysts have still not ruled out a deal. And with a diversified workforce and a few new promising drugs on the horizon, AstraZeneca's next move is anyone's best bet.

- read the Reuters story
- here's Almirall's release (PDF)

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