AstraZeneca seals the deal for Almirall's respiratory meds

With generic and branded rivals inching up on AstraZeneca's ($AZN) blockbuster respiratory drug Symbicort, the pharma giant has a game plan locked, loaded and ready to go. The company sealed the deal for Almirall's respiratory portfolio, inheriting a couple of marketed drugs to expand its current offerings and a list of medications currently under development.

AstraZeneca will pay $875 million up front and up to $2.2 billion with milestones for Almirall's respiratory products, including combo drug Eklira that Almirall is developing with U.S.-based Forest Laboratories ($FRX) and Duaklir, a LABA/LAMA combo med under development in the U.S.

The LABA/LAMA market is expected to hit $14 billion by 2018, and access to Almirall's combo inhaler could help the drugmaker gain some much-needed ground on competitors. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) earlier this year rolled outs its Anoro Ellipta inhaler, and Novartis ($NVS) and Boehringer Ingelheim are hard at work on their own combo products.

Almirall's marketed drugs aren't exactly standout performers: The company's entire respiratory portfolio brought in €211 million ($282 million) in 2013 sales, including €84 million for Eklira, which Forest markets in the U.S. as Tudorza Pressair, and €43.7 million for Plusvent, a copycat version of Symbicort's biggest rival, GSK lung drug Seretide. But new meds and promising drugs in the pipeline could be exactly what AstraZeneca needs to boost sales and pad its bottom line.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot

"We will benefit from immediate and growing product revenues … [and] by combining our innovative portfolios and leveraging AstraZeneca's global scientific and commercial capabilities, we will strengthen our ability to address the entire spectrum of care in asthma and COPD," AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said in a statement when the deal was announced in June.

AstraZeneca is working hard to carve out a space in the respiratory arena. In September, the drugmaker suffered a setback when one of its top respiratory drugs benralizumab failed a Phase IIa study for COPD. But in October, the company's MedImmune division bounced back when it revealed mixed Phase IIb data showing the effectiveness of the med in knocking down white blood cells to prevent asthma attacks.

Meanwhile, analysts and investors are casting a watchful eye toward a potential Pfizer/AstraZeneca acquisition. Last month, Pfizer ($PFE) announced an $11 billion share buyback program that cast a dark pall over takeover rumors. But as ISI analyst Mark Schoenebaum said, no one should rule out a deal too soon. "We cannot and should not necessarily make that read-across," he told clients in a note.

- read the release

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