British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc. confirmed it was in talks with privately held cancer drug developer Acerta Pharma B.V., in a statement Monday. AstraZeneca, however, announced that negotiations were at a tentative stage and the two companies were yet to discuss terms.
The announcement was in response to a Wall Street Journal report Friday, which said that AstraZeneca was in advanced-stage talks to acquire Acerta for more than $5 billion, citing people familiar with the deal.
The drugmaker’s interest in Acerta stems from an experimental drug called Acalabrutinib, reportedly a rival of Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie Inc.’s Imbruvica. The drug is in its final stages of clinical testing and, in an earlier trial, reportedly showed fewer side effects than Imbruvica. Last week, Acerta published a paper that showed that 95 percent of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia responded positively to Acalabrutinib in clinical trials.
Both drugs target an array of blood cancers and have a potential multibillion-dollar market annually, according to industry analysts, the Journal reported.
AstraZeneca has been looking to expand its drug pipeline through acquisitions as sales of its top-selling drugs, including cholesterol fighter Crestor, falter. The company said last month it would buy U.S.-based ZS Pharma for $2.7 billion to secure the biotech firm's technology to develop novel treatment for hyperkalaemia, or high potassium levels.
But the company’s hopes are pinned on anti-cancer drugs and AstraZeneca hopes to bring six new cancer treatments to the market by 2020. Its new lung cancer pill Tagrisso, which it believes could sell $3 billion a year, was approved last month and the company also recently launched Lynparza for ovarian cancer.