Astellas keeps the big buyouts rolling, inking $5.9B Iveric takeover ahead of FDA eye disease ruling

The multibillion-dollar biotech buyouts keep on coming. Astellas Pharma is the latest drugmaker to get in on the act, agreeing to pay $5.9 billion to buy Iveric Bio and establish itself as a player in an emerging eye disease niche. 

Iveric is less than three months away from learning whether the FDA will approve avacincaptad pegol, a complement C5 protein inhibitor that reduced the rate of geographic atrophy (GA) progression in a phase 3 clinical trial. Patients with GA, a cause of irreversible loss of vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), lacked treatments until recently, but the market is heating up fast.

Apellis Pharmaceuticals won the first FDA approval for a GA drug, Syfovre, in February, and companies including AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis and Roche are in pursuit. Iveric, a biotech formerly known as Ophthotech, is poised to be the first commercial rival to Apellis, though. That fact has caught Astellas’ attention.

Astellas has agreed to pay $40 per share in cash to buy Iveric. The fee represents a 22% premium over Iveric’s closing price at the end of last week. That may seem light in the wake of the triple-digit premiums that GSK and Sanofi have paid recently for Bellus Health and Provention Bio, respectively, but it follows a steady rise in Iveric’s share price. The premium over Iveric’s March 31 share price is 64%.

The willingness of Astellas to pay $5.9 billion for Iveric reflects the Japanese drugmaker’s desire to hit its 2025 sales target and need to add new growth drivers to offset the anticipated loss of revenue when the prostate cancer drug Xtandi loses patent protection in 2027.

Astellas also framed the deal as a way to further its focus on blindness and regeneration. Cell and gene therapies are part of the strategy, but that side of the pipeline has stuttered, with enrollment in a phase 1 trial of GA candidate ASP7317 stopping for two years and a glaucoma prospect acquired in the Quethera buyout yet to reach the clinic. 

Buying Iveric will give Astellas a GA drug that could be approved by the time the deal closes in the third quarter and accelerate an expansion into ophthalmology by providing control of the commercial team and other infrastructure that the biotech has built up to support the launch. Earlier this year, Iveric said it was building a 120-person sales team that would include 50 to 70 field-based reps. 

The deal completes an impressive recovery for Iveric, which was on the ropes in 2017. Back then, a run of three clinical trial failures for Fovista sunk the biotech’s stock and wiped out the optimism generated when Novartis paid $200 million for ex-U.S. rights to the AMD asset. Yet, Iveric recovered, changing its name from Ophthotech and embarking on a GA strategy that culminates today in the Astellas buyout.