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UCB Cuts $2.1 Billion Deal to Acquire Ra Pharma

The move will allow the Belgium-headquartered biopharmaceutical giant to boost its work on treatments for rare diseases.

Oct 14, 2019
Catherine Offord

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Brussels-based drugmaker UCB has agreed to acquire Massachusetts-based Ra Pharma for $2.1 billion, according to a joint statement published last week (October 10). The deal, which has been approved by the boards of both companies and is slated to close by the end of the first quarter of 2020, will allow UCB to strengthen its portfolio in treatments for rare diseases in neurology and immunology.

One of Ra’s most advanced therapies is zilucoplan, a peptide inhibitor of a protein known as C5, which has been implicated in the neuromuscular autoimmune disease myasthenia. The condition typically affects young adult women and older men, and is thought to occur in around 14 to 20 people per 100,000 in the United States.

The drug, which is designed to be self-administered once a day, moved into Phase 3 trials for myasthenia earlier this month, with results expected in early 2021. UCB already has a myasthenia therapy, rozanolixizumab, in the works. However, the different mechanisms of action—rozanolixizumab is a monocloncal antibody against the human neonatal FcRn protein—mean that the company sees zilucoplan as a complement rather than a competitor to its existing portfolio, FierceBiotech reports.

The acquisition is likely to put pressure on another, rival C5 inhibitor, eculizumab (Soliris)—a monoclonal antibody therapy for severe myasthenia marketed since 2017 by American company Alexion Pharmaceuticals. Ra is also investigating additional, small-molecule inhibitors of C5.

All told, the acquisition would lead to six potential product launches for the companies within the next five years, UCB’s CEO, Jean-Christophe Tellier, says in the statement. Additionally, he says, “the combination will provide us with the opportunity to become a leader in treating people living with myasthenia gravis, an auto-antibody mediated neurological orphan disease with high unmet medical need.”

Shareholders of Ra Pharma will receive $48 per share, according to the statement. Reuters reports that UCB expects the acquisition to provide a boost to the company’s revenue and net profit from 2024 onwards.

Catherine Offord is an associate editor at The Scientist. Email her at cofford@the-scientist.com. 

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