InterMune is divesting Actimmune to focus efforts on making its idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis Esbriet a blockbuster.

A deal has been reached with Vidara Therapeutics International to sell the rights to Actimmune (interferon gamma-1b) for $55 million plus a two-year royalty stream. The drug is approved for the treatment of two life-threatening congenital diseases - chronic granulomatous disease and severe, malignant osteopetrosis - and had first-quarter revenues of $4.1 million, down 19.6%.

InterMune chief executive Dan Welch noted that "several years ago, we stopped investigating new uses for Actimmune and it became a tactical financial asset". Indeed, five years ago, the drug failed as a treatment for IDF, and the divesture will provide additional capital "to continue to focus on and invest in the registration and commercialisation of Esbriet (pirfenidone) in Europe and elsewhere", he said.

Esbriet was approved for IDF, a fatal lung-scarring disease, in March 2011 in Europe and was launched in Germany in September. InterMune expects to conclude pricing and reimbursement discussions in France, Spain and Italy during the fourth quarter and in the UK in the first quarter of 2013, while full-scale launches of Esbriet are planned this year for Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland and Sweden.

However, the drug was rejected by the US Food and Drug Administration in May 2010 despite the agency's Pulmonary-Allergy Drugs Advisory Committee voting 9-3 to recommend approval two months earlier. Esbriet is already marketed in Japan as Pirespa by Shionogi.

Mr Welch said the funds from the Vidara transaction, combined with $377.2 million of existing cash and equivalents at the end of the first quarter, means that InterMune is on a sound financial footing.