AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) CEO Pascal Soriot is pulling out all the stops, and repeatedly pulling out the checkbook, to rebuild the future prospects of this lagging Big Pharma company. Having spent nearly $1 billion on Omthera and Pearl Therapeutics earlier this year, AstraZeneca has announced yet another deal – this time a potentially $500 million deal for an early-stage company in the hot oncology immunotherapy space.

SEE: Will Immunotherapy Disrupt The Oncology Market?
The Deal
AstraZeneca announced Monday morning that it had reached an agreement to acquire privately-held Amplimmune for up to $500 million in cash. AstraZeneca will be paying $225 million upfront, with another $275 million tied to predetermined (but undisclosed) milestones. While AstraZeneca is in a net debt position (as of the last quarter), the company had over $8 billion in cash on the balance sheet, and this deal will not represent any meaningful change in the company's liquidity. 
What AstraZeneca Is Buying
AstraZeneca already had some underappreciated assets in the oncology immunotherapy space, with a collection of checkpoint agents including an anti-OX40 monoclonal antibody. That said, this deal certainly adds to the company's early-stage portfolio of assets.
Amplimmune is readying an IND filing for AMP-514, a pre-clinical PD-1 antibody that could target the same multi-billion dollar markets as more advanced PD-1 therapies from Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY), Merck (NYSE:MRK), and Roche (Nasdaq:RHHBY). In addition, the company has numerous pre-clinical molecules targeting the B7 family of proteins – a group that interacts significantly with PD-1 in immune responses to cancer.
It's also noteworthy that this is hardly the first outside affirmation of Amplimmune's approach. Amplimmune and Glaxo (NYSE:GSK) signed a partnership agreement almost three years ago for PD-1 fusion proteins, including AMP-224. While this agreement included an upfront payment of $23 million, the total potential value of the deal was announced at $508 million (assuming all milestones were hit) and still granted double-digit royalties to Amplimmune. 
Amplimmune also has an agreement with Daiichi Sankyo for an autoimmune application (AMP-110) of the company's technology, in a $50 million deal announced earlier this year. 

SEE: What Makes An M&A Deal Work?
Grabbing Acreage In An Increasingly Attractive Landscape
Given where Amplimmune's technology is in the clinic, it's going to be several years before AstraZeneca has any real indication as to whether this deal was a good use of cash. As it stands today, though, it's a worthwhile deal for a company that needs to improve its pipeline and prospects at nearly every stage of development and in every disease state.
Although skeptics may well wonder just how many multi-billion dollar drugs targeting PD-1 (or PD-L1) there can be, I believe it would be a mistake to look at this deal just in terms of its standalone potential. AstraZeneca will almost certainly look to combine Amplimmune's technology and products with existing immunotherapy approaches in its own pipeline with an eye towards even more effective combination therapies.
The Bottom Line
I am a little curious as to why Amplimmune didn't consider going the IPO route, as the biotech market has been red-hot recently. Perhaps the company was worried that the window of opportunity would close too quickly and/or that the AstraZeneca deal offered a certain payout. In any case, I think AstraZeneca has acquired some very interesting early-stage compounds and a platform technology approach that could ultimately produce some billion-dollar oncology drugs. While this doesn't help AstraZeneca's near-term growth deficit even slightly, it does improve the odds that AstraZeneca will be a much more interesting company around 2020.
Disclosure – At the time of writing, the author owned shares of Roche.

Related Articles
  1. Investing News

    Will Immunotherapy Disrupt The Oncology Market?

    Immunotherapy could radically change the treatment of cancer, and the revenue opportunities for pharmaceutical companies.
  2. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Pfizer Stock

    Learn the biggest potential risks that may affect the price of Pfizer's stock, complete with a fundamental analysis and review of other external factors.
  3. Stock Analysis

    Allstate: How Being Boring Earns it Billions (ALL)

    A summary of what Allstate Insurance sells and whom it sells it to including recent mergers and acquisitions that have helped boost its bottom line.
  4. Options & Futures

    Cyclical Versus Non-Cyclical Stocks

    Investing during an economic downturn simply means changing your focus. Discover the benefits of defensive stocks.
  5. Investing Basics

    How to Deduct Your Stock Losses

    Held onto a stock for too long? Selling at a loss is never ideal, but it is possible to minimize the damage. Here's how.
  6. Economics

    Is Wall Street Living in Denial?

    Will remaining calm and staying long present significant risks to your investment health?
  7. Stock Analysis

    When Will Dick's Sporting Goods Bounce Back? (DKS)

    Is DKS a bargain here?
  8. Investing News

    How AT&T Evolved into a Mobile Phone Giant

    A third of Americans use an AT&T mobile phone. How did it evolve from a state-sponsored monopoly, though antitrust and a technological revolution?
  9. Stock Analysis

    Home Depot: Can its Shares Continue Climbing?

    Home Depot has outperformed the market by a wide margin in the last 12 months. Is this sustainable?
  10. Stock Analysis

    Yelp: Can it Regain its Losses in 2016? (YELP)

    Yelp investors have had reason to be happy recently. Will the good spirits last?
  1. How do dividends affect retained earnings?

    When a company issues a cash dividend to its shareholders, the retained earnings listed on the balance sheet are reduced ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What is the difference between called-up share capital and paid-up share capital?

    The difference between called-up share capital and paid-up share capital is investors have already paid in full for paid-up ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Why would a corporation issue convertible bonds?

    A convertible bond represents a hybrid security that has bond and equity features; this type of bond allows the conversion ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How does additional paid in capital affect retained earnings?

    Both additional paid-in capital and retained earnings are entries under the shareholders' equity section of a company's balance ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What types of capital are not considered share capital?

    The money a business uses to fund operations or growth is called capital, and there are a number of capital sources available. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How long does it take to execute an M&A deal?

    Even the simplest merger and acquisition (M&A) deals are challenging. It takes a lot for two previously independent enterprises ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center