Astellas Pharma has snapped up the global rights to Biogen Idec’s biologic psoriasis drug, Amevive (alefacept), for a reported $60 million. The deal, which is expected to close as early as mid-April, is the latest acquisition by the Japanese drugmaker and marks an effort by the firm to bolster its product pipeline via licensing, alongside many of its pharmaceutical compatriots.

Amevive was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in January 2003 for treating moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis, an autoimmune skin condition that affects up over 1 million people in the USA alone. However, it has failed to take off as anticipated, bringing in just over $43 million for the firm the full year 2004, rising to little over $48 million in 2005, and triggering Biogen Idec to put it up for sale as part of a package of restructuring measures designed to pull itself back on its feet following the global suspension of the multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri (natalizumab).

Astellas – which last week sold its over-the-counter business Zepharma to Daiichi Sankyo – most recently signed a deal with Toyama Chemical for the latter’s antibiotic, code-named T-3811 (garenoxacin), a new type of quinolone with broad-spectrum qualities that may be given on a once-daily basis. This latest acquisition “of a well-established product such as Amevive strengthens our North American dermatology franchise and provides Astellas an opportunity to continue offering physicians this effective option,” commented William Fitzsimmons, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Astellas Pharma US. Amevive is currently sold in 12 countries around the world.

Meanwhile, Biogen Idec says new data show its big-selling MS therapy Avonex (interferon beta-1a) effectively delays the development of so-called clinically-definite MS for up to five years in early users of the drug. The study, dubbed CHAMPIONS, was designed to evaluate whether treating patients immediately after their initial MS attack would prolong the time between relapses and reduce the accumulation of MS-associated brain lesions. Overall, the results showed a 43% reduction in the risk of a second attack for patients who received Avonex versus those given placebo.