UCB strikes $2.5B deal to buy Ra for rival to Alexion's Soliris

People shaking hands across a desk that has computer and papers on it
Data from Ra Pharmaceuticals' phase 3 myasthenia gravis trial are due early in 2021. (rawpixel/Pixabay)

UCB Pharma has struck a $2.5 billion (€2.2 billion) deal to acquire Ra Pharmaceuticals. The takeover will give UCB control of a phase 3 rival to Alexion’s Soliris that some analysts have tipped to rack up blockbuster sales.

Ra is focused on a once-daily, self-administered, subcutaneous C5 inhibitor called zilucoplan. The peptide moved into phase 3 in myasthenia gravis earlier this month on the strength of midphase data suggesting it may pose a threat to Alexion’s claim on the indication and its broader stranglehold on the market for complement-mediated disease therapies.

UCB, which has its own phase 3 myasthenia gravis asset, sees zilucoplan as a good fit for the growth plan it set out at the start of the year. To acquire the drug, UCB has put together a deal worth $48 a share, a more than 100% premium over Ra’s closing price yesterday. 

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That premium, which results in a deal worth $2.5 billion, or $2.1 billion net of Ra’s cash, reflects the belief that zilucoplan can generate blockbuster sales. Jefferies analysts think U.S. sales of zilucoplan in myasthenia gravis will top out at around $630 million, powering the therapy to worldwide peak sales in excess of $1 billion and leading them to back UCB’s decision to strike the deal. 

“[Myasthenia gravis] is a space UCB knows well, and with zilucoplan's potential the proposed deal makes strategic sense,” the analysts wrote.

UCB’s knowledge of the myasthenia gravis space stems from its development of rozanolixizumab, an anti-FcRn antibody that is in phase 3 development in the indication. The overlap between UCB and Ra’s pipelines could create antitrust issues given the difficulties Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche have faced in their acquisitions of Celgene and Spark Therapeutics, respectively.

However, UCB expects the deal to close without incident by the end of the first quarter of 2020. The Jefferies analysts said UCB’s confidence is based on differences between the mechanisms of action of zilucoplan and rozanolixizumab, which the pharma company thinks makes the drugs complementary rather than competitive.

If the deal closes, UCB will take zilucoplan to key readouts. Data from the phase 3 myasthenia gravis trial are due early in 2021. By then, UCB should have data from a phase 2 trial of zilucoplan in immune-mediated necrotizing myopathy that is due to start soon. Ra is also developing an extended release formulation of zilucoplan and an oral C5 inhibitor that are due to enter the clinic next year. 

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