Buzz: Hungry AstraZeneca circles a blockbuster biosimilars buyout

Hungry for new deals that will help regenerate a flagging company, AstraZeneca ($AZN) has also reportedly been scouting a buyout of Korea's Celltrion, a company with an ambitious agenda in the biosimilars market. Quoting sources close to the deal, Korea's Financial News says that Celltrion hooked AstraZeneca's interest after it began to cast around for a merger deal a few months ago.

Just weeks ago Celltrion won European support for its bid to start marketing a rival biosimilar of Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Remicade, which brought in more than $6 billion last year. For AstraZeneca, a buyout would offer a chance to beef up its product lineup after being mauled by generic competition. And it comes as the Big Pharma company is reportedly elbowing its way to the bargaining table to make a possible bid on Onyx ($ONXX). Today AstraZeneca also struck an $815 million deal to partner with FibroGen on an experimental anemia treatment, the latest in a string of early- and mid-stage pacts.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told Reuters back in March that he was thinking about making a move on the biosimilars business. If he strikes, AstraZeneca will be following Novartis and Amgen into a fast-changing field. A Teva partnership with Lonza was recently terminated after the price of biosimilar development proved to be too rich for Lonza. And Merck has had its own woes in the field, forcing a new approach with Samsung.

Celltrion put out a statement last April saying that the company's chairman planned to sell his stake in the company to a multinational, according to Bloomberg. Today, AstraZeneca declined to comment. Celltrion put out a statement saying that its largest shareholder is working on a sale, but nothing had been finalized.with AstraZeneca or any other possible buyer. 

In late June Celltrion and Hospira ($HSP) both received a positive recommendation from the EMA for knockoffs of Remicade, setting up a likely approval for the first biologics in a new wave of antibodies angling to compete with blockbuster biologics. Celltrion won a Korean approval for Remsima last year. Europe has been taking the lead on biosimilars as the FDA continues to work on its regulatory pathway.

- here's the story from Bloomberg
- here's the statement from Celltrion