$10.4 billion acquisition will expand firm’s oncology portfolio

Amgen is to acquire San Francisco-based oncology specialist Onyx Pharmaceuticals. The $10.4 billion (£6.7 billion) deal gives Amgen access to the recently approved multiple myeloma drug carfilzomib (Kyprolis), plus several other partnered anticancer agents that are already on the market. It also gains Onyx’s in-house development pipeline, where the highlight is oprozomib, an orally active proteasome inhibitor currently in Phase Ib/II trials for blood cancers.

Amgen chairman and chief executive Robert Bradway believes his company is ‘ideally suited’ to realise the full potential of Onyx’s portfolio. ‘Our acquisition of Onyx follows a thorough due diligence process,’ he said. ‘We expect this acquisition will accelerate growth and enhance value for Amgen shareholders.’

This represents by far the biggest deal in more than a decade for Amgen, after its $17 billion acquisition of Immunex in 2001. Analysts are predicting that revenues from carfilzomib could top $3 billion in the next 10 years; it was approved in July 2012 in the US, and EU approval may come in 2014. Onyx also has income from two products partnered with Bayer – sorafenib (Nexavar) and regorafenib (Stivarga) – plus palbociclib, now in Phase III trials at Pfizer. All three are kinase inhibitors.

The acquisition goes a long way to fill the revenue ‘hole’ at Amgen arising from the fall-off in sales of its two biggest products, the erythropoietin replacements Epogen and Aranesp, used to treat anaemia. Two further drugs – the neutropoenia treatments filgrastim (Neupogen) and the longer-lasting analogue pegfilgrastim (Neulasta) – are set to lose US patent protection by 2015. While filgrastim already faces generic competition in Europe, biosimilar launches in the US would clearly erode sales further.

Carfilzomib is still in the early launch stage and, according to Brigitte de Lima, senior healthcare analyst at Results Healthcare, ideally its revenues will reach significant levels by the time these key patents expire. ‘It makes sense from a strategic point of view, and also gives Amgen a stronger presence in oncology,’ she says.

There has been a lot of talk in recent years that Amgen might make an acquisition in Europe, with speculation centring around UCB, with which Amgen has a collaboration for the developmental osteoporosis drug romosozumab. ‘A European acquisition is still on the cards – it’s not as though Kyprolis fixes the whole patent cliff problem,’ de Lima says. ‘Amgen has a lot of cash stuck in Europe that would be taxed if it were repatriated to the US. The easiest way to make use of this cash, if there is nothing else to invest it in, is to buy a company, and keep it in Europe.’