AstraZeneca gins up $520M-plus selling anesthetics rights to Aspen

AstraZeneca is once again trading off old meds for new cash. The U.K.-based drugmaker off-loaded an anesthetics portfolio to Aspen Pharmacare for up to $770 million, the latest in a string of licensing deals that have sent its aging meds to other drugmakers.

South Africa’s Aspen will shell out $520 million up front and up to $250 million in milestones over the next two years, all for the ex-U.S. rights to seven meds. AstraZeneca will manufacture the drugs on a cost-plus basis for 10 years, and will collect double-digit royalties on sales.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot has been selling off rights to the company’s older drugs to raise cash and shed extraneous products. The deals reflect an industrywide trend, as major drugmakers zero in on therapeutic fields where they believe they can profit most.

AstraZeneca has been more aggressive than most, however, and that has raised some eyebrows among analysts and investors. Earlier this year, for instance, the company pawned off certain international rights to two cardiovascular drugs for $500 million; those same drugs brought in almost half that much in revenue in those markets last year.

Before that, the company raised $500 million by selling a partnership to Eli Lilly ($LLY) for an Alzheimer's drug. It snagged $200 million from Daiichi Sankyo, allowing the Japanese drugmaker to develop its treatment for opioid-induced constipation Movantik. Another $215 million was raised by licensing out its gastrointestinal drug Entocort to Tillotts Pharma, and so on.

The sales have extended to newer drugs as well, though the motivation wasn’t quite the same. In April, the company handed off its new gout drug Zurampic (lesinurad) to Ironwood Pharmaceuticals in a deal worth up to $265 million, and last year, it punted a would-be psoriasis treatment, brodalumab, to Valeant Pharmaceuticals for up to $445 million. Both drugs came with baggage: Zurampic’s launch could well be hampered by safety and efficacy questions, and brodalumab faced enough safety problems that development partner Amgen bailed on the drug entirely.

AstraZeneca sees these deals as a way to gin up cash for now and royalty streams down the road from meds that might otherwise get short shrift at the company. When it sold Zurampic rights to Ironwood, EVP Luke Miels said the deal left AstraZeneca free to pursue higher-priority projects. “Our new agreement with Ironwood will ensure the successful launch of Zurampic in the U.S., while allowing us to concentrate our resources on the innovative medicines in our main therapy areas,” Miels said.

The same goes for the new anesthetic brands sale, Soriot said in a Thursday statement. “AstraZeneca has a rich heritage in anesthetic medicines and this agreement will extend the reach of our established portfolio to a greater number of patients through AGI’s extensive commercial network,” he said. “This agreement supports our strategic focus on the new medicines in three main therapy areas.”

- see the AZ release

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