Prolific dealmakers Akebia and Vifor pen anemia drug pact

Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich, Switzerland, near to where Vifor is based

Vifor Pharma has struck a deal to sell Akebia Therapeutics’ phase 3 oral anemia drug vadadustat through its network of U.S. dialysis centers. The deal brings together two prolific dealmakers that have both spent the past two years wheeling and dealing to improve their prospects.

Oral hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) stabilizer vadadustat has brought the companies together. Vifor is making a $50 million (€45 million) investment in Akebia at $14 a share—8.5% above its closing price before news of the agreement broke—to secure the right to exclusively distribute vadadustat in the U.S. through its network of Fresenius Medical Care dialysis facilities. Akebia and Vifor will share the profits. And Vifor will pay Akebia $20 million if vadadustat is approved and included in a bundled reimbursement model.

The agreement gives Vifor another potential source of revenue at a time when it is trying to equip itself to prosper as an independent company. Until last month, Vifor was tied to Galenica Santé but the IPO of its former sister unit has left it to fend for itself. Vifor engaged in two years of checkbook pipeline building to prepare for the split and has committed to three years of intense investment to cement its position. The Akebia deal furthers this plan.

“Vadadustat could represent a significant advancement in the treatment of renal anemia with the potential to establish a new treatment paradigm and overcome the limitations of current therapies for patients with chronic kidney disease,” Vifor COO Stefan Schulze said in a statement. “This transaction strengthens the nephrology product portfolio of Vifor Pharma.” Schulze also foresees using vadadustat in hyporesponders for whom erythropoiesis stimulating agents are ineffective.

The agreement with Akebia follows deals Vifor stuck to add Roche’s Mircera, Relypsa’s Veltassa, ChemoCentryx’s CCX168 and CCX140 and Opko Health’s Rayaldee to its pipeline and portfolio. Each deal, like the Akebia agreement, gave Vifor an asset that fit with its therapeutic focus and had a shot at generating revenues in the near term.

Akebia thinks sales of vadadustat may ramp up quicker with Vifor on board. The Swiss company’s network of sites treat nearly 40% of U.S. dialysis patients, giving Akebia a readymade launchpad for its entry into the key market. Akebia is racing against FibroGen to bring a HIF drug to market.

If everything goes to plan, Akebia will split the revenues and milestone it receives from Vifor with Otsuka, the company that has the U.S. rights to vadadustat. Otsuka picked up the U.S. rights last year, before returning to secure the rights to vadadustat in other markets in April. Akebia has used the deals with Otsuka and another with Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma to secure the near-term financial future of vadadustat while positioning itself to profit if the drug is a success.