AstraZeneca’s ZS-9 setback last month did Relypsa a favor: It handed Veltassa sole control of the hyperkalemia market, at least for now. That couldn’t have hurt Relypsa’s chances to sell itself at a good price--and now, the specialty pharma Galenica has snapped up the California-based drugmaker in a $1.53 billion cash deal.
Swiss-based Galenica will pay $32 per share for Relypsa, gaining a U.S. commercial organization as well as full rights to Veltassa, which treats high potassium levels in patients with chronic kidney disease. Relypsa’s operations will fold into Galenica’s Vifor Pharma unit, which is set for a spinoff sometime before 2019.
It’s an opportunity for Vifor to build up its sales in advance of that planned listing, announced in 2014. The unit brought in 967 million Swiss francs in 2015, more than one-fourth of Galenica’s overall 3.79 billion. Vifor already owns rights to the drug outside the U.S., and sells another potassium binder, Velphoro, in addition to the iron deficiency drug Ferinject, which grew sales to 250 million francs last year on expansion in the U.S.
Some analysts see Veltassa as a potential blockbuster, and the drug’s chances at breaking the $1 billion barrier are certainly better than they were earlier this year, when AstraZeneca’s ZS-9 was expected to hit the market hot on Relypsa’s heels. At the time, some analysts figured Veltassa would peak far lower, at $200 million in sales.
Now that the FDA has rejected ZS-9, Veltassa has more time to grab share before facing head-to-head competition. Not necessarily scads of time--the agency’s rebuff stemmed from manufacturing problems that needed fixing, rather than data shortfalls. But extending its first-to-market advantage even by a few months gives Veltassa a chance to dig in.
Plus, Sanofi is co-marketing Veltassa, in a deal that put the French drugmaker’s experienced renal reps behind the drug, in addition to Relypsa’s own 120-rep strong salesforce.
The Relypsa buyout speaks to Vifor’s overriding goal of building up its cardio-renal business in advance of the planned spinoff. The company previously teamed up with Fresenius on Vifor Fresenius Medical Care Renal Pharma to the same end, and last year inked a deal for U.S. rights to Roche’s iron deficiency drug Mircera, commonly used by kidney patients.
Acquiring Relypsa will “enhance the commercial visibility and presence of Vifor Pharma in the key renal market in the United States, where Relypsa has already established a significant and powerful specialist sales force,” Galenica said in announcing the deal. Combining Vifor Pharma, the Fresenius venture and Relypsa puts Vifor in a position “to become a major player in the United States in its core therapy areas.”
- see the deal announcement
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