A smile will have been on the face of Verus Pharmaceuticals yesterday after UK giant AstraZeneca ploughed $310 million into its coffers to acquire its paediatric asthma development programmes.

Included in the transaction are the North American rights to a Captisol (enabled budesonide solution), a proprietary short-acting beta agonist solution (rescue medication), a customised version of a nebulizer delivery device eFlow for use with both medications, and other intellectual property and related assets from Verus.

Under the terms of the agreement, Verus is to receive an upfront payment of $30 million, development expense reimbursements, and a potential earn-out payment of $280 million. No further terms have been disclosed.

According to Robert Keith, President and Chief Operating Officer of Verus, the deal will allow Verus to refocus its resources on other emerging development programmes, particularly in the areas of paediatric atopic diseases and other conditions related to asthma.

Asthma is the most common chronic childhood illness affecting almost 10% of children in the USA; the prevalence rates have more than doubled since 1980. The estimated annual cost of treating asthma in children under the age of 18 is $3.2 billion.

AstraZeneca has been on the acquisition trail of late as it seeks to prop up its pipeline following a number of late-stage setbacks. It already has a significant presence in the respiratory therapy area, headed by key growth driver Symbicort (budesonide/formoterol), which was launched in the USA in June and has already surpassed the $1 billion a year mark outside of this market.