Takeover doubles biotech's pipeline

MedImmune has 100 drug candidates

December 08, 2007|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,Sun reporter

MedImmune has been able to double the number of potential products in development to 100 since the Maryland biotech was acquired last spring by drug giant AstraZeneca, David M. Mott, MedImmune's president and chief executive officer, said yesterday.

Since AstraZeneca agreed to pay $15.6 billion for MedImmune in April, the Gaithersburg biotech has been put in charge of the British firm's biologics units -- Cambridge Antibody Technology in England and a research facility in Hayward, Calif.

That increased the number of drugs in the pipeline, Mott said, and added about 300 people, working in their old locations, to MedImmune's work force, now nearly 3,000.

"We're at the front end of a new phase of growth for the business," Mott told a meeting and conference call for analysts and investors.

Employment in Gaithersburg has remained level since the AstraZeneca deal, at 1,700, but there are plans to add more researchers both there and in Cambridge, according to the company. No employment targets or timetables have been set.

Mott said AstraZeneca had set up a structure "intended to preserve the operational independence of the biologics business," while allowing MedImmune to take advantage of the parent's basic research and marketing muscle.

MedImmune will be seeking licensing approval in the first quarter of next year for motavizumab, a more potent version of MedImmune's key product, Synagis, which treats respiratory disease in infants, Mott said. Synagis will have $1.3 billion in worldwide sales this year.

Beyond motavizumab, however, most of the potential products in the pipeline are at the early development stage. By 2010, Mott said, MedImmune hopes to have three products in final-stage testing and to seek investigational new-drug approval for trials on at least a half-dozen products a year.

Other products with potential, the company told analysts, are a vaccine to prevent pandemic flu. MedImmune makes FluMist, an inhaled vaccine, and said it plans to use AstraZeneca's sales force to market it internationally.

Beefing up the product pipeline is the reason that traditional pharmaceutical companies have been turning to biotechs in general, and why AstraZeneca bought MedImmune in particular, said Linda Bannister, a senior health analyst for the financial services firm Edward Jones.

Developing new products is crucial for AstraZeneca, Bannister said, because it faces a patent challenge to its best-selling drug, the heartburn and acid reflux drug Nexium ($5.3 billion in sales, 19 percent of AstraZeneca's revenue) and the 2011 patent expiration of its second-largest seller, Seroquel, a treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder ($4 billion, 14 percent of revenue).

"I came away feeling better about the MedImmune acquisition from a strategic point of view, although AstraZeneca paid a high price," Bannister said.

However, she added: "You're probably looking past 2011 for the biologics part of the business to kick in. MedImmune's not enough to move the needle for a while."

bill.salganik@baltsun.com

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