09 September 2013

More thoughts on the Astex-Otsuka marriage

Teddy already highlighted the planned $866 million acquisition of Astex by Otsuka, and I thought I’d add a bit of context. Astex Therapeutics was founded in 1999, just three years after publication of the Abbott SAR by NMR paper that arguably launched widespread interest in fragment-based lead discovery. From the outset, Astex focused heavily on crystallography, which was somewhat unusual at the time; Vicki Nienaber’s seminal SAR by Crystallography paper only came out in 2000.

Astex researchers have made many practical contributions to FBLD, from the (sometimes controversial) rule of three to the LLEAT metric to the Astex Viewer familiar to anyone who has seen a presentation from the company. More than 100 publications have come from Astex, including one of the earliest comprehensive reviews of the field. And the company has also delivered: of 28 fragment-derived compounds to make it into the clinic, Astex has had a role in nearly a quarter, including AT13387, AT7519, AT9283, JNJ-42756493 (with J&J), LEE011 (with Novartis), AT13148, and AZD5363 (with AstraZeneca and ICR).

In terms of price, $866 million is indeed a tidy sum, more than the up-front Daiichi Sankyo paid for Plexxikon (though a bit under the total deal value of $935 million) and more than an order of magnitude higher than the $64 million Lilly paid for SGX back in the dark days of 2008. Even with close to a billion dollars on the table, some are calling the price too low, with one analyst suggesting Astex is worth $13 per share rather than the $8.50 offered by Otsuka.

Of course, the Astex pipeline is not entirely fragment-based; a merger with SuperGen in 2011 brought in a marketed product (decitabine) as well as other clinical compounds. Still, from what Otsuka has said publicly, it does appear that the FBLD technology was a major driver: it is the first item mentioned under the heading “Objectives of the Acquisition.”

As Derek Lowe pointed out over at In the Pipeline, Japanese firms have a good track record of not breaking or shuttering acquired companies; last I checked Plexxikon was still going strong. Hopefully this will hold true for Astex as well. Practical Fragments offers congratulations and wishes continued success to everyone involved.

No comments: