Report: InterMune eyed for a multibillion-dollar buyout

Fresh off positive results for its late-stage lung drug, InterMune ($ITMN) has attracted some M&A interest from a flock of pharmaceutical companies, according to Reuters, sending the biotech's shares up roughly 12% on Friday.

Citing unnamed sources close to the matter, Reuters reports that while InterMune hasn't kicked off a formal sale process, some heavyweights in the industry are considering bids for the company, which commands a market cap of about $2.8 billion. It's unknown whether anyone has tendered an offer, and InterMune, unsurprisingly, isn't commenting on the rumor.

If the California biotech is in fact a buyout target, it's due to the promise of pirfenidone, designed to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung-scarring disease that complicates oxygen absorption and often leads to death.

Back in 2010, the FDA rejected InterMune's drug and suggested it undergo another Phase III trial. The company did just that, and, in top-line results unveiled last week, pirfenidone met its primary and secondary endpoints, reducing disease progression while boosting patients' performance on a 6-minute walk test and extending overall survival.

Those data helped nearly triple InterMune's share value, stoking hopes that the company can land an FDA approval on its second go-round. Pirfenidone is already approved in Europe, where InterMune markets it as Esbriet.

This is hardly the first time InterMune has been the subject of M&A rumors, as the biotech's up-and-down fortunes over the past few years spurred reports that the likes of Novartis ($NVS), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Gilead Sciences ($GILD) have taken hard looks at making an offer. Nothing has ever come of such rumors, of course, but for the first time in a long time, InterMune and pirfenidone seem to have a bright future, and that could be enough to lure a buyer.

- read the Reuters story