U.K. drug giant buys vaccine firm

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medImmune LONDON–AstraZeneca PLC said yesterday it is buying U.S.-based biotech drug maker MedImmune Inc. in a $15.6 billion (U.S.) deal that will allow the British company to enter the vaccines market.

AstraZeneca, looking to strengthen its pipeline of future drugs as it faces patent challenges and escalating generic competition, will pay $58 per share for MedImmune, a 21 per cent premium to the stock's close Friday.

The deal, which AstraZeneca hopes to close in June, will increase the company's proportion of biotechnology drugs in its pipeline to 27 per cent from 7 per cent, and enlarge its total pipeline by 45 projects to 163 projects.

This includes two late-stage products being developed by Maryland-based MedImmune, which has more than 2,500 employees.

One product is the follow-up to MedImmune's flagship childhood respiratory drug Synagis. The second is a refrigerated formulation of its FluMist inhaled influenza vaccine, which may be launched for the winter.

Pharmaceutical companies are turning to vaccines because the market has few producers and a reduced risk of generic competition. Interest was spurred by the emergence of the deadly strain of bird flu in Asia with no vaccine to protect against it.

AstraZeneca released first-quarter results yesterday, two days earlier than expected. Revenue rose 13 per cent to $6.97 billion.

(c) Associated Press