UK drug company, AstraZeneca buy MedImmune in 'ferociously competitive' deal to boost vaccine portfolio

AstraZeneca has joined the race to scoop up acquisition opportunities in the biologics sector with a $15.6 billion (?7.8 million) deal to buy US vaccines and biotechnology company MedImmune.

In a statement, Chief Executive Officer David Brennan described the deal as a transformational step that would deliver AstraZeneca’s biologics strategy ’sooner than anticipated’. Brennan had told Chemistry World in December 2006 that he planned to take the company on a new course towards biologic drugs (see ’A change in focus’, below).

The deal to buy MedImmune ’creates a leading fully integrated biologics and vaccines business with critical mass and enhances AstraZeneca’s R&D science base through which we will deliver a stronger product pipeline,’ Brennan said. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, he added that the bidding process had been ’ferociously competitive’.

The UK company has struggled to maintain its pipeline, announcing the withdrawal of four late stage drugs in the past two years. This one deal gives the company four new late-stage drugs, most notably two infectious disease treatments: Synagis, which is used to prevent some common respiratory viral infections, and the influenza vaccine FluMist. This is the first time that AstraZeneca has had a vaccine in its own drug pipeline. 

This is the latest in a growing list of acquisitions of biotechnology firms by pharmaceutical giants, pitting AstraZeneca against rivals that have recently made decisive moves into the sector, including GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis and Novartis.

Industry analyst Simon King from Datamonitor told Chemistry World  that AstraZeneca had paid a hefty price for this latest acquisition. ’There is big pressure on pharma to move into the biologics sphere,’ he said. ’This high price certainly suggests that AstraZeneca faced tough competition to buy a company with an existing pipeline.’

Victoria Gill