Buzz on rare disease drugs puts ViroPharma in the M&A spotlight

ViroPharma's pipeline of drugs for rare diseases has reportedly stirred the interest of several pharma companies. And once word of the buyout buzz spread, the Exton, PA-based biotech's shares ($VPHM) zoomed up 9% yesterday afternoon.

Rare diseases are all the rage these days, putting them in the crosshairs of some of the world's largest drug companies. Clinical trials for these drugs are narrowly defined, requiring small patient populations. And once approved, the treatments--which can extend market exclusivity through special regulatory designations--fetch six-figure prices from small patient groups, making them easy to market.

Reuters reported that the profile has earned ViroPharma careful scrutiny, according to a few of its sources. Reuters and Bloomberg both love a buyout rumor, though, and they are far off the 100% mark on accuracy. BioMarin has been a rumored takeover target for some time now, just as Shire's ($SHPG) rare disease effort has kept it at the center stage of the M&A rumor mill. On the other hand, rumors that Sanofi ($SNY) was gathering its forces for a Genzyme bid turned out to be accurate, helping excite the industry's interest for rare disease drugs. 

So why ViroPharma? The biotech has been earning revenue from Cinryze, a drug for hereditary angioedema. It also has 5 programs in clinical development, including VP 2062, acquired back in 2006. The treatment "aims to prevent disease recurrence and involves the oral administration of non-toxin producing spores of C. difficile following initial treatment of acute CDI."

The R&D budget has grown over the past three years. In 2012 ViroPharma spent $67 million on research, up from $39 million in 2010.

The company has also been expanding rapidly. Just last fall ViroPharma snagged state support for a plan to double its staff in Pennsylvania. ViroPharma has also done some buying of its own. Back in the fall of 2011 it forged a deal to buy Sweden's DuoCort Pharma for $33.6 million in cash and a package of $131 million in milestones, gaining an orphan treatment for adrenal insufficiency.

- here's the story from Reuters