I did a double take at my inbox alerts this morning as things have been rather quiet of late in the Pharma and Biotech world. You can read the financial aspects of the deal in Celgene's press release.
While the timing might be a little bit of a surprise, the strategic acquisition is not and makes a lot of commercial sense for Celgene. There are a number of reasons for my thinking here:
- It continues to build out of hematology with the beginnings of a solid tumour franchise since Abraxane is approved for breast cancer and has trials ongoing in pancreatic, lung, melanoma and bladder cancers.
- The patent life for Abraxane is something like 2023, much longer than lenalidomide (Revlimid) and with few near term opportunities in the oncology pipeline, this adds extra protection.
- Abraxane, while more expensive than generic paclitaxel, has probably been underfunded in clinical development and marketing efforts to date, so Celgene's thorough and aggressive approach may well kick start things, especially as they have cash to do so.
- Buying Abraxis gives them access to nanotechnology, which I think will become more important in the future as an improved drug delivery system.
Late last year, while at the AACR Molecular Targets meeting in Boston, I wrote about nanoparticle technology and how it appears to offer a chance of improved outcomes in pancreatic cancer using Abraxane. The concept described by the researchers at Mass General was solid and promising, as was the early phase I data. Sometimes, it's not just about drug A being better or more potent than drug B, but the science and thinking behind solving a problem is elegant and well thought out. This was one of those cases. A couple of Phase II trials have so far yielded early but promising results in a devastating disease. The latest results, reported by the Abraxis in May this year, look encouraging so far.
Of course, most oncology specialists will know that melanoma, pancreatic and lung cancers as probably three of the four toughest cancers to get positive results in from phase III trials (the fourth is glioblastoma), but if any of them actually pan out with a significant difference in overall survival and FDA approval, then Celgene will have another winner on it's hands. I say 'if' because the road to approval and cancer drug development is littered with promising phase II studies that flopped or were sadly cancelled for futility in phase III.
Time will tell if this was a good acquisition or not, but for now, it's early but promising. That's ultimately both the lure and the heartache that is oncology.
You have to make the big plays to win.