Shares in Alexion Pharmaceuticals have shot up on fresh rumours that Roche is interested in acquiring the US biotech.
The rumours began after Bloomberg reported that the Swiss major was seeking finance to buy Alexion, which currently has one marketed product. That is Soliris (eculizumab), approved for paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria, an ultra-rare and life-threatening blood disorder, and as the only treatment for patients for atypical haemolytic uraemia syndrome.
Aside from these two diseases, last month Soliris was granted orphan drug designation by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of neuromyelitis optica, a life-threatening, ultra-rare neurological disorder. While not many patients use Soliris, the revenues it brings in are considerable, and sales this year are expected to comfortably top $1 billion.
News that Roche may be interested, having reportedly made an offer almost a year ago, saw Alexion shares soar 12.6% to $114.26, valuing the company at over $22 billion. If a premium is added to that, many observers are saying that the price could be too high to contemplate.
Sanford Bernstein analyst Geoffrey Porges issued a research note saying that unlike other acquisition targets, Alexion's assets and people are "specific" and "believe the synergies available to an acquirer of Alexion would be limited".
Meantime, Roche has obtained conditional European approval for Erivedge (vismodegib) for the treatment of adults with symptomatic metastatic basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or locally advanced BCC inappropriate for surgery or radiotherapy.
The Basel-based group noted that the approval makes Erivedge, a capsule taken once-a-day, the first licensed medicine for patients in the European Union "with this disfiguring and potentially life-threatening form of skin cancer". Chief medical officer Hal Barron said the green light "is great news for patients with advanced basal cell carcinoma, who previously had no medicines to treat their disease", adding that Erivedge substantially reduced tumour size in patients in clinical trials.
Under the conditional approval, Roche will provide additional data from an ongoing global safety study. Erivedge was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in January 2012 following a priority review.