AstraZeneca blocks investor group's $7.6B buyout of rare disease specialist Sobi: report

After its $39 billion takeover of Alexion, AstraZeneca has reportedly scuppered an investor group's proposed buyout of another rare disease drugmaker. The company was worried one of its former respiratory meds could be sold to competitors, Bloomberg reports.

By holding back an 8% stake in Swedish Orphan Biovitrum (Sobi), AstraZeneca effectively repelled a $7.6 billion buyout of the rare disease specialist, Bloomberg reports, citing people close to the matter.

The offer, which Sobi divulged in September, would have seen Advent International and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, GIC, pay 235 Swedish krone ($25.72) per Sobi share in cash, a 34.5% markup from the company’s Aug. 25 closing price on Nasdaq Stockholm.

AstraZeneca resisted the deal because it hoped to buy certain Sobi assets, Bloomberg's sources said. There was also a risk that Sobi, once private, could sell off a former AstraZeneca respiratory drug to the company’s rivals, according to the report.

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Ninety percent of shareholders needed to give their blessing for the buyout to go through. Shareholders only tendered 87% of shares, meaning AstraZeneca’s contribution would have likely clinched the deal for Sobi.

The buyout looked probable back in September. At the time, Sobi’s board unanimously urged its shareholders to approve the deal, in part because the company’s biggest stakeholder, the Wallenberg family-controlled Investor AB, had given its blessing. Investor AB owns a roughly 35% stake in the Swedish company.

AstraZeneca's relationship with Sobi dates back to 2018, when the British drugmaker sold the company U.S. rights to its pediatric respiratory drug Synagis. AZ received an upfront payment of $1.5 billion, which included $1 billion in cash and $500 million in Sobi shares, or 8% of outstanding shares.

When the Sobi buyout talks surfaced, AstraZeneca became worried that a private-equity-owned Sobi would eventually be sold, which could have put the rights to Synagis in its rivals' hands, Bloomberg reported. Plus, AstraZeneca may want to purchase several drugs from Sobi, the news outlet wrote. 

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The Sobi deal has already drawn comparisons to AstraZeneca's Alexion takeover. Meanwhile, AZ is actually competing with Sobi in its newly acquired complement inhibitor franchise. Sobi last fall snagged ex-U.S. commercialization rights to Apellis’ C3 inhibitor pegcetacoplan, which recently won a positive opinion from the European Medicines Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use in certain patients with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria. 

The Alexion deal granted AstraZeneca the rights to Alexion's complement inhibitors Soliris and Ultomiris plus a clutch of other assets.