Alexion inks $855M takeover of Wilson Therapeutics

Alexion has struck an $855 million (€690 million) all-cash deal to acquire Wilson Therapeutics. The takeover will further Alexion’s attempt to rebuild its pipeline by giving it control of WTX101, a phase 3 treatment for the rare genetic disorder Wilson disease.

Rare disease specialist Alexion spent last year shedding pipeline programs, partnerships and staff in preparation for an expected downturn in sales of Soliris. That done, CEO Ludwig Hantson is making good on his promise to rebuild Alexion’s pipeline and position the company for long-term growth, starting with the acquisition of Wilson. 

“The acquisition of Wilson Therapeutics is a strong strategic fit for Alexion given the overlap with our current clinical and commercial focus on metabolic and neurologic disorders, and is an important first step in rebuilding our clinical pipeline,” Hantson said in a statement. 

Alexion initiated the pipeline rebuild by persuading Wilson’s board and shareholders that control two-thirds of the company to accept a SEK 232-a-share offer. The bid amounts to a 70% premium over Wilson’s closing price yesterday. In the past year, the stock has traded for as little as SEK 54.

The sharp rise in Wilson’s fortunes covers a period in which it has provided clarity on the future of its lead candidate. In October, Wilson emerged from talks with the FDA and EMA with plans to run a single, pivotal 48-week trial of WX101 featuring 100 participants. Two months later, the FDA put the drug on its fast-track program after assessing phase 2 data generated on the asset.

Wilson’s 28-patient phase 2 trial linked WX101 to statistically significant improvements in copper control. Patients with Wilson disease suffer from the loss of function in a copper-binding protein. That leads to the accumulation of copper in the body and ultimately to liver disease, neurological problems and psychiatric disturbances.    

Today, doctors use chelators to increase the amount of copper excreted in urine or zinc to dial down gastrointestinal uptake of the trace element. The emergence of chelators decades ago saved lives but the drugs are slow acting, better at treating some symptoms than others and trigger side effects that cause a significant minority of patients to discontinue treatment.

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Wilson thinks WTX101 will drive better outcomes by quickly and selectively binding to copper. The 24-week phase 2 added weight to those claims. Almost 80% of participants had normal levels of free copper or had experienced a 25% drop from baseline after 24 weeks of daily dosing with WTX101, also known as bis-choline tetrathiomolybdate.

The Stockholm, Sweden-based company began the process of validating the midphase data earlier this year when it enrolled the first patient in its pivotal trial. Data from the study are due in the second half of 2019.

If all goes according to plan, that timeline will set Alexion up to win approval for WX101 and start lessening its reliance on Soliris before competition chips away at sales. Alexion has tried to buy its way out of that looming problem before, notably through the $8.4 billion acquisition of Synageva in 2015. That deal failed to live up to expectations, though, with sales of the drug it gave Alexion clocking in at $65.6 million last year.