UPDATE 1-AstraZeneca in $815 mln 'high altitude' anaemia pill deal
LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca took another step to bolster its new drug pipeline on Wednesday by striking a deal with U.S. biotech firm FibroGen potentially worth more than $815 million for rights to an experimental anaemia drug.
The medicine, known as FG-4592, is given as a pill and is the first of a new kind of treatment designed to boost production of red blood cells by making the body think it is at high altitude.
Researchers believe such drugs could create a major new market in treating anaemia and other serious conditions, including circulatory problems and wound damage.
They may also attract unscrupulous athletes seeking a handy oral alternative to injections of the blood enhancer EPO, or erythropoietin, which has become a byword for doping in cycling.
Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca's new chief executive who is on a mission to rebuild its drug pipeline following past setbacks and wave of patent expiries, said the science behind the new drug was compelling.
It also fits with the goal of Britain's second biggest drugmaker - which will report second-quarter results on Thursday - to build up its late-stage portfolio of therapies for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
AstraZeneca will pay $350 million upfront and in subsequent non-contingent payments, plus future development-related milestone payments of up to $465 million, for rights to FG-4592 in the United States, China and certain other markets.
There may be additional payments if use of the drug is expanded beyond the initial target of treating anaemia in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal disease (ESRD). FibroGen will get tiered royalties on future sales in the low 20 percentage points range.
Japan's Astellas Pharma already has rights to the medicine in Japan, Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Middle East and South Africa after signing a deal with unlisted FibroGen in 2006.
FG-4592 has shown promising results in mid-stage Phase II clinical trials and AstraZeneca said it anticipated regulatory filings in China in 2015 and in the United States in 2017 once final Phase III tests are completed.
GlaxoSmithKline is also testing a similar drug in Phase II and GSK's Chief Executive Andrew Witty earlier this year described its medicine as one of the most promising in his company's pipeline.
GSK's drug is behind the FibroGen product in development, however, as is another rival pill from private U.S. company Akebia Therapeutics that is also in Phase II.
The new drugs mimic the body's response to hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, by increasing the natural production of EPO in the kidneys through inhibiting a protein called hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF).