AstraZeneca buys majority stake in blood cancer specialist Acerta for £2.68bn

AstraZeneca is buying a majority stake in cancer and autoimmune specialist Acerta Pharma as it seeks to rebuild its portfolio of exclusive medicines and tap into new avenues of growth, reports The Telegraph.

The 55pc stake in the Dutch biopharmaceuticals firm will give AstraZeneca access to Acerta’s potentially blockbuster blood cancer drug acalabrutinib, which shows promise against a deadly form of leukaemia as well as auto-immune diseases, such as lupus, and solid tumours.

Astra will pay $2.5bn (£1.67bn) for the majority share in privately owned Acerta, with a further $1.5bn payment either on the first regulatory approval for acalabrutinib in the US or by 2018, whichever comes first.

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceuticals giant will also have the option to buy the remaining 45pc stake from Acerta shareholders for $3bn, but only if acalabrutinib gets approval in the US.

Acalabrutinib belongs to a class of drugs called Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitors. BTK is essential for the development and maturation of B cells, which are specialised white blood cells that help protect the body against infection. These cells can also mature into cells that produce special proteins called antibodies, which help defend the body against disease and infection.

But when these B-cells grow and multiply too quickly, they cause a type of leukaemia, which is a form of blood cancer.

Acalabrutinib is currently undergoing phase-three clinical trials to treat B-cell cancers and is in earlier stage trials to treat tumours.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, said: “We are boosting a key area in our comprehensive oncology portfolio with a late-stage, potential best-in-class medicine that could transform treatment for patients across a range of blood cancers.

“Acalabrutinib provides us with a small molecule presence in blood cancers to complement our existing immunotherapy approach, in collaboration with Celgene in haematological malignancies.”

The drug is a rival of Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie’s imbruvica. In an earlier trial, it worked with milder side effects than imbruvica.