Report: Otsuka steps in to buy Astex cancer drug pipeline for $900M

By John Carroll and Emily Mullin

Just a few days after Astex reported positive midstage data on a leukemia therapy, reports are circulating that Japan's Otsuka has stepped in to buy the U.S. biotech for $900 million. And Astex shares immediately shot up 29% on the news.

Japan's Nikkei reports that Otsuka is looking to expand its oncology pipeline with the Astex buyout.

FierceBiotech reported a week ago that Dublin, CA-based Astex Pharmaceuticals ($ASTX) revealed that its small molecule SGI-110 showed "clear activity" in a Phase II trial of patients with acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome. The drug was given as either a 60-mg or 90-mg dose daily for 5 days in a 28-day course. The primary endpoint was overall remission rate.

Out of 67 patients, there was a 25% complete remission rate--8 remissions occurring in relapsed/refractory AML and another 9 remissions in treatment-naive elderly patients with AML. And Astex shares jumped 20% on the data.

Astex earns revenue from its royalty stream on the leukemia-related drug Dacogen. Yet the company has had a bumpy ride in the drug development world. Last fall the company said that it was dumping development of amuvatinib after it flunked a midstage trial of the drug in patients with small-cell lung cancer. The company said it was looking for another company to license the drug, which is still listed as a pipeline asset.

Astex shares also got hammered in early 2012 after regulators turned a skeptical eye on Eisai's request for an expanded use of Dacogen. An expert panel soon after rejected the application to use the drug to treat AML in elderly patients who had failed chemo.

Astex has also been working on the CDK inhibitor AT7519 and the HSP90 inhibitor AT13387.

Brean Capital's Gene Mack quickly shot back to Bloomberg that the reported buyout figure sounded light to him. "If it's for real, I think the offer is too low," Mack told the business news service. "Any oncology company would look at it as a target."

Otsuka has been at work on new drugs for Alzheimer's and other disease arenas, scrambling to diversify as the patent expiration on the blockbuster schizophrenia drug Abilify looms in 2015. There's no official word yet from either company.

- here's the story from Bloomberg