AstraZeneca is splashing out $15.6 billion in a bid to acquire US biotechnology company MedImmune in a deal that analysts are already saying that the move is unlikely to fill the major gaps in the company’s R&D pipeline.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, AstraZeneca will pay $58 per share for MedImmune, which represents a more-than-20% premium on the latter’s closing price on April 20, and the $15.6 billion figure includes net cash of some $340 million. The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker says that the acquisition extends its R&D science base “to allow it to address novel drug targets through three key technological approaches – small molecules, biologics and, for the first time, vaccines.”

For its considerable outlay, AstraZeneca is getting access to the respiratory treatment Synagis (palivizumab), which had flat sales of $1.1 billion in 2006 and the nasal spray flu vaccine FluMist. Sales of the latter have been limited since its launch in 2003 as it is approved for people older than 50 or children younger than five. AstraZeneca noted that the deal also adds “two late-stage assets” to its pipeline, a refrigerated formulation of FluMist with an anticipated US launch for the 2007-2008 influenza season and Numax (motavizumab), the follow-on drug from Synagis, However, MedImmune recently announced that it is delaying the filing of Numax, which might postpone the launch of the treatment to after September 2009.

The news of the deal has gone down very well with MedImmune shareholders, notably Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor who has just revealed how he threatened to nominate a slate of opposing directors to the biotechnology company's board unless they sought a buyer. Reaction by backers of AstraZeneca have been less enthusiastic, however.

Merrill Lynch issued a research note saying that the purchase does little to address the weakness in the firm’s Phase III pipeline and exhausts the company's cash pile for share buybacks and product acquisitions." Other analysts have noted that $15.6 billion is a huge sum to be paying for a maturing blockbuster franchise in Synagis, an unprofitable flu vaccine and the pipeline, which may be promising, but is still in early stage development.

The MedImmune deal marked a busy morning for AstraZeneca which also unveiled first-quarter pre-tax profits of $2.3 billion, ahead of analyst expectations and an increase of 11%, while sales in the quarter rose 13% to almost $7 billion. It also confirmed that it will not continue with the future development of AtheroGenics’ experimental heart drug AGI-1067 following disappointing clinical trial results. The details of the financials results will be analysed in detail on PharmaTimes WorldNews tomorrow.