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Drugmaker InterMune attracts takeover interest -sources

NEW YORK, March 7 (Reuters) - InterMune Inc, a drugmaker that specializes in treating fatal scarring of the lungs, is attracting takeover interest from several pharmaceutical companies, according to people familiar with the matter.

While no formal sale process is under way and a deal is not imminent, a handful of larger rivals are exploring a bid for the $2.7 billion orphan-drug maker, the people said this week.

Makers of orphan drugs, treatments for rare diseases, are attractive acquisitions for large pharmaceutical companies that are looking to offset a drop in sales as their patents on blockbuster products expire.

InterMune had considered selling itself about three years ago and held discussions with potential buyers. They decided not to pursue a deal at that time due to uncertainty over data for the company's pirfenidone drug, the sources said.

However, buyer interest has been rekindled in recent weeks after the company announced positive late-stage trial results for pirfenidone, the people said, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media. The drug treats idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF, which is characterized by a slow decline in lung function and has no known cause.

The positive trial data, announced on Feb. 25, sent shares of InterMune soaring more than 170 percent in the last few weeks to a market capitalization of about $2.7 billion.

It was not known whether any of the interested drugmakers had made a formal offer to buy the company yet. An InterMune spokesman declined to comment

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration rejected pirfenidone in May 2010, citing lack of data to prove its effectiveness in treating IPF, and asked InterMune to conduct a new trial.

That late-stage trial showed that after a year of treatment, 16.5 percent of patients in the pirfenidone group experienced disease progression, about half the percentage of those using a placebo.

The study also showed that 22.7 percent of patients getting the drug experienced no decline in lung function, more than double the 9.7 percent seen among those taking the placebo.

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