Roche is to acquire the USA's Anadys Pharmaceuticals, a hepatitis C specialist, in a cash deal worth around $230 million.

The Swiss major is paying $3.70 per share cash, which represents a whopping 256% premium over Anadys' closing price of $1.04 on Friday (October 14). The San Diego-based group's board have agreed to tender their shares and advised other stockholders to do the same.

The principal attraction of Anadys lies with ANA598 (setrobuvir), a direct-acting antiviral that is currently being evaluated in a Phase II study in combination with Roche’s hepatitis C standard of care Pegasys (peginterferon alfa) and Copegus (ribavirin). It is also developing ANA773, an oral, small-molecule inducer of endogenous interferons that acts via the toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) pathway in hepatitis C.

Jean-Jacques Garaud, head of Roche pharma research and early development, said the acquisition augments the firm's already strong HCV portfolio. He added that its focus now is to look at "a powerful combination of therapies that bring us closer to a cure, even without the use of interferon", saying that Anadys' compounds "provide additional modes of action that could lead to interferon-free treatment regimens without viral resistance".

Pegasys is a big earner for Roche, with 2011 nine-month sales of 1.05 billion francs (down 5%), and in May this year it teamed up with Merck & Co to sell the latter's new HCVdrug Victrelis (boceprevir) and explore combination treatments for the disease. However at present it is selling more Pegasys in combination with Vertex Pharmaceuticals' new rival HCV treatment Incivek (telaprevir) than Victrelis combos.