U.K.-based pharmaceutical major AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) announced it has acquired 55% of clinical-stage biotech Acerta, headquartered in the Netherlands. The price is $4 billion, to be paid in an initial $2.5 billion installment, and a further $1.5 billion once the latter's blood cancer treatment acalabrutinib wins U.S. regulatory approval, or at the end of 2018, whichever comes first.
AstraZeneca also holds an option to buy out the remainder of the company for roughly $3 billion if certain milestones are reached. Acerta is an attractive asset, being a developer of drugs to treat several different varieties of cancer and autoimmune afflictions. Both of those disease categories afflict millions of people throughout the world.
Does it matter?
As any investor in biotech would attest, the segment tends to be a high-risk, boom-or-bust proposition. Considering that, Acerta appears to be as solid a bet as can be found on the market -- acalabrutinib, which has shown positive results so far in clinical trials, clearly has blockbuster potential. More generally, the categories for which Acerta is currently developing drugs also have excellent prospects due to their sizes.
Zooming out a bit, AstraZeneca is driving hard to push up revenue to almost double what it was in 2014, aiming for an annual top-line of $45 billion by 2023. This followed a determined, yet abandoned, takeover pursuit that year by pharma incumbent Pfizer (NYSE:PFE). Apparently convinced that it had the sort of stand-alone growth potential capable of a near-doubling of revenue, AstraZeneca rebuffed Pfizer's overtures, which eventually grew to an offer of nearly $120 billion.
Pfizer is gone from the scene, but the effect of the takeover saga lingers. AstraZeneca is determined to succeed on its own, and to do it with the help of hefty acquisitions. Acerta is only the latest of a string of buys. The most recent one was announced only one day earlier -- the core respiratory business of Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceutical. We can almost certainly expect more deals going forward.