AstraZeneca gambles on cardio therapy in AlphaCore buyout

In another early-stage bet, AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit acquired the biotech AlphaCore Pharma. The deal comes as AstraZeneca ($AZN) reboots a floundering R&D effort and adds a recombinant LCAT enzyme therapy from AlphaCore that could combat cardiovascular disease.

MedImmune, the biologics division of Astra, faces years of additional development before AlphaCore's ACP-501 becomes part of the London-based pharma group's late-stage pipeline, which has many holes yet to be filled. Last year, Ann Arbor, MI-based AlphaCore touted Phase I work on ACP-501, reporting that the enzyme therapy was well-tolerated and quickly boosted levels of HDL or "good" cholesterol in patients.

AZ CEO Pascal Soriot

New AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot has signaled his desire to wager on new science amid an overhaul of R&D announced last month that will cost 1,600 research jobs across the company and after the ouster of former R&D chief Martin Mackay in January. Bahija Jallal, executive vice president of MedImmune, survived the round of cutbacks and plans to pursue new biologics such as ACP-501, which she stated could treat both acute and chronic cardiovascular disease.

"Cardiovascular disease is projected to remain the single leading cause of death worldwide over the next decade and beyond," Jallal said. "Through novel approaches like LCAT, we hope to shift the treatment paradigms in this area to help prevent and treat these conditions."

The ACP-501 is an engineered version of the natural LCAT enzyme from the liver that plays a role in ridding the body of cholesterol and keeping up levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol. The candidate could aid millions of patients with cholesterol problems as well as those with a rare inherited disease called familial LCAT deficiency that robs the body of the enzyme.

Bahija Jallal, EVP of MedImmune

The AlphaCore buyout comes on the heels of AstraZeneca's sizable $240 million upfront payment to Moderna Therapeutics to get in early on the startup's preclinical programs that use messenger RNA to turn cells in the body into makers of healing proteins. The financial details of the AlphaCore buyout weren't disclosed.

Still, analysts expect Soriot to pull the trigger on larger deals to bolster the late-stage pipeline or even provide marketed products as AstraZeneca faces the impact of patent expirations on blockbuster cholesterol pill Crestor and the heartburn med Nexium. As Reuters noted, the company has only 6 drugs in late-stage development and aims to double that number by 2016.

- here's the release
- see Reuters' article

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