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AstraZeneca To Acquire ZS Pharma

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AstraZeneca CEO

Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive Officer of AstraZeneca

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November 11, 2015 | by Sarah Massey, M.Sc.

AstraZeneca has plans to buy ZS Pharma – and their unapproved kidney drug – for $2.7 billion. The company beat rival bidder Actelion who was also interested in in acquiring ZS Pharma and their potential blockbuster drug.

The deal is set to close by the end of the year with AstraZeneca set to pay $90 per share of ZS Pharma stock to absorb the US-based pharmaceutical developer and their 200 employees. ZS Pharma’s main attraction is ZS-9, for the treatment of late-stage hyperkalemia.

The disease is characterized by alarmingly high potassium levels which could have a negative impact on a patient’s heart and kidney function. The drug met its primary goals in late-stage clinical trials and is currently awaiting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval – a decision the agency has promised to make by May 26.

“Hyperkalemia can be a life-threatening condition for patients with chronic kidney disease and chronic heart failure, however the risk is underappreciated and prevalence is increasing,” said Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive Officer of AstraZeneca in a statement. “This acquisition complements our strategic focus on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease by adding a potential best-in-class treatment to our portfolio of innovative medicines. We look forward to welcoming the ZS Pharma team to AstraZeneca.”

According to AstraZeneca’s projections for the kidney drug, sales of ZS-9 could come in at over $1 billion per year. The announcement comes approximately two months following confirmation that Actelion was participating in “preliminary” talks with ZS Pharma, in which it’s rumored they offered $2.5 billion for the company and the rights to ZS-9.



As no news about the talks surfaced in the subsequent weeks, AstraZeneca’s announcement suggest that Actelion either backed down or was outbid. But ZS Pharma is not the only company to develop a hyperkalemia treatment in recent months.

Veltassa – a rival potassium-blocking drug developed by Relypsa – was granted FDA approval last month. The FDA win was bittersweet for Relypsa as the agency required that Veltassa have a black-box warning, telling patients that taking it in conjunction with other oral medications could lessen their effects.

The mandated label warning was an unwelcome surprise to investors and it had a negative effect on Relypsa’s share value. If AstraZeneca’s newly-acquired ZS-9 drug gains FDA approval without the box warning, it could gain market share as the dominant hyperkalemia treatment.

AstraZeneca made the decision to acquire ZS Pharma in an effort to bolster its cardiometabolic disease offerings. Within the category are a number of drugs including the late-stage roxadustat – an anemia treatment co-developed with partnering company, FibroGen – and early-stage therapies for acute coronary syndrome, diabetes and diabetic kidney disease.

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Keywords:  Blockbuster Drug, Pharmaceutical Development, Kidney Disease


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