AstraZeneca reels in promising PhIII gout drug in $1.26B Ardea buyout

Hounded by a group of critics demanding a better pipeline strategy, AstraZeneca this morning wrapped a deal to buy San Diego-based Ardea Biosciences ($RDEA) for $1.26 billion in cash. That price marks a 54% premium on Ardea's closing share price Friday. For its money AstraZeneca ($AZN) grabs a promising late-stage gout drug--the URAT1 inhibitor RDEA594, now dubbed lesinurad--along with a cancer program partnered with Bayer. A separate URAT1 inhibitor, RDEA3170, is now in Phase I.

AstraZeneca has been under intense pressure to reverse a string of R&D setbacks in the clinic, capped recently with the complete collapse of a depression drug program it had partnered on with Targacept ($TRGT). And they did it by snagging a drug in a field outside their scope of in-house expertise.

"While this is not a therapeutic area we do internal work on, we know there's a significant unmet medical need in terms of patients and the good news about this particular molecule is that it works. So we're being opportunistic here [by buying Ardea]," R&D chief Martin Mackay told Dow Jones

AstraZeneca CEO David Brennan has insisted that he has no interest in major acquisitions, but the company has also signaled that it is keenly interested in adding promising new treatments to its pipeline through deals like these. Coupled with the news that European experts endorsed its diabetes drug dapagliflozin--which was rejected by the FDA--on Friday, AstraZeneca may start to earn a little breathing room.

Two years ago, Ardea announced that lesinurad aced a Phase IIb study. Investigators enrolled 123 gout patients with hyperuricemia in the mid-stage trial of RDEA594 and dosed them with 200, 400 and 600 mg of the drug or a placebo. The top two doses both hit the primary endpoint: A significant increase in the proportion of patients with reduced serum urate levels after four weeks of treatment. Researchers also reported that the drug was well tolerated with no serious adverse events to report.

"This attractive Phase III program is an excellent opportunity to leverage AstraZeneca's global specialty and primary care sales and marketing capabilities," said Brennan. "The Ardea team has done a great job developing lesinurad along with a promising next-generation gout program. These compounds have real potential to benefit patients."

- here's the press release
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