AstraZeneca backs away from acid reflux with Losec rights sale—even with Zantac stumbling

AstraZeneca will sell off some commercial rights to its acid reflux med Losec. (AstraZeneca)

If you thought AstraZeneca's asset-sale streak was over, think again. The British drugmaker is selling some rights to its acid reflux med Losec—a surprising move, given the continuing uncertainty around global powerhouse Zantac.

AstraZeneca has turned over global commercial rights—excluding four countries—for Losec (omeprazole) for $243 million to German pharma Cheplapharm Arzneimittel GmbH. The deal includes sales-contingent milestone payments up to $33 million in 2021 and 2022, AstraZeneca said.

The drugmaker said it would continue to make and supply Losec and hang onto marketing rights in the U.S., China, Japan and Mexico. The sale includes all of AstraZeneca’s drugs made with omeprazole, including Acimax, Antra, Mepral, Mopral, Omepral and Zoltum.

RELATED: CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid pull Zantac and generics as recall spreads around the globe 

The partial sale of the rights to Losec, which last year generated $98 million in the countries turned over to Cheplapharm, comes as generic Zantac is facing international recalls over a probable carcinogen in its API.

On Sunday, CVS said it would suspend sales of all Zantac brand and CVS Health brand ranitidine products until further notice. That move came despite the fact the FDA has yet to seek the recall of the products or recommend that patients quit taking the heartburn med after it warned a suspected carcinogen has been found in them. 

“This action is being taken out of an abundance of caution due to a recent Product Alert from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that ranitidine products may contain a low level of nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which is a probable human carcinogen,” the national pharmacy retailer said in a statement

Drugmakers including GlaxoSmithKline and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories have already halted global distribution of the drugs, and national regulators including the European Medicines Agency have launched investigations into them.

RELATED: AstraZeneca offloads RSV drug to Sobi for $1.5B, its largest divestiture in 5 years