Daiichi Sankyo has strengthened its oncology operations by agreeing to buy the USA’s Ambit Biosciences Corp for up to $410 million.

The Tokyo-headquartered group is paying $15 in cash per share, or $315 million initially, while each Ambit stockholder will receive one contingent value right (CVR) worth $4.50 for each share they own if certain sales milestones are achieved.

Those will be connected to Ambit’s lead candidate quizartinib which is currently in Phase III trials for acute myeloid leukaemia. It is specifically designed to 'turn off' the mutated FLT3 enzyme, a ‘power switch’ that leukaemia cells use to spread more aggressively.

Somewhat surprisingly, Astellas decided to end its collaboration with Ambit in March last year despite impressive Phase II data for quizartinib, citing strategic reasons. Daiichi Sankyo has no such qualms and development chief Mahmoud Ghazzi said the drug “will fit seamlessly into our already robust oncology pipeline focused on targeted therapies with the potential for personalising the treatment of cancer”.

Daiichi Sankyo, which is currently in the process of selling Ranbaxy Laboratories to Sun Pharma, sees oncology as a key area, having acquired Germany’s U3 Pharma and California-headquartered Plexxikon in recent years.