EU Approves AstraZeneca Takeover of Alexion

08.07.2021 - EU competition authorities have approved AstraZeneca’s $39 billion takeover of US biopharma Alexion. Europe’s green light for the deal sealed in December 2020 follows the approval of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in April 2021.

Antitrust authorities in Brazil, Canada, Russia and Japan, among others, have signaled their approval, though China has not. The main hindrance to completing the purchase is still the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Without its nod, the deal will not go through. After launching an anti-competition investigation into the plans in late May, the British regulator has given itself until Jul. 21 to decide how to proceed.

If the CMA finds reasons to believe the combination of Alexion and AstraZeneca could hurt competition in the UK, it can launch a more in-depth assessment lasting a minimum of 24 weeks or up to 32 weeks in special circumstances. From a portfolio perspective, observers have noted significant geographic or product overlaps.  

Ahead of Gilead’s $21 billion acquisition of Immunomedics, AstraZeneca’s takeover of Alexion was ranked as the largest biopharma transaction of 2020, though the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker was an unexpected buyer. At Alexion’s annual general meeting in May, its shareholders signed off on the deal.

Taking over the company specialized in rare diseases will enhance AstraZeneca’s high-end portfolio and reduce its dependence on oncology and more recently vaccines. Once the buy is wrapped up – potentially with strings attached – the Cambridge, UK-based drugmaker plans to create a new group focused on rare diseases that would be headquartered at Alexion’s base at Boston, Massachusetts, a stone’s throw from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“We are now another step closer to closing the acquisition and combining the two companies to create a leader in immunology and precision medicines,” AstraZeneca’s chief financial officer Marc Dunoyer said.  The CFO has been tapped to head the rare disease unit of the combined company, while his counterpart at Alexion, Aradhana Sarin, will take over Dunoyer’s current responsibilities at AZ, provided the acquisition goes ahead as planned.

Management of the US biopharma has estimated that independently of the AZ takeover, it could generate up to $10 billion in sales by 2025, nearly doubling its 2020 revenue of $6 billion. The company plans to bring 10 new drugs to market by 2023.

Up to now, analysts have criticized what they see as Alexion’s overreliance on two drugs used to treat rare disorders such as paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH). But the pipeline also includes treatments for Wilson disease, geographic atrophy and renal diseases, as executives told pharma journalists earlier this year.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist