Hospira and Celltrion are developing a number of biosimilar products and the first, Inflectra - an equivalent of Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade - received EU approval in September last year.
This week, rumours that a number of companies including Roche, AstraZeneca and Teva were in talks to acquire Celltrion circulated first in the South Korean press and led to a 10% rise in the firm’s share price, Reuters reported.
Biopharma-Reporter.com, after contacting Celltrion who did not comment on the situation, spoke to Hospira spokesperson Dan Rosenberg to see how the prospect of a new owner might affect the ongoing collaboration.
“Our relationship with Celltrion stems back to the business collaboration agreement we entered with Celltrion in 2009 involving eight biosimilar products it was developing,” he told us. “Under the provisions of our agreement, there is no right to terminate the agreement based on a change of control.”
"Only Good News"
The company was subjected to similar takeover rumours in July 2013, with media reports of a sale to AstraZeneca being debunked by Celltrion in an official statement.
When questioned at the time about the effect of a takeover, Hospira CEO Michael Ball said it could “only be good news” as any acquirer would similarly be focused on working on taking a share of the branded biologics market with biosimilars.
Hospira has self-proclaimed it is leading the way in biosimilar development, with multiple approvals in Europe and Australia and a pipeline of $40bn over the next ten years, and so we asked Rosenberg if the company itself would not be interested in joining the alleged bidding war for its partner.
Perhaps unsurprisingly he refused to comment on potential mergers and acquisitions as a matter of policy.
Potential bidder #1 Teva
Biopharma-Reporter.com also contacted the three players rumoured to be in talks with Celltrion - Roche, AstraZeneca and Teva - who all refused to comment on the speculation.
However, Teva spokesperson Rob Cohen gave us some insight into the firm’s biosimilar strategy following the abandonment of its 2009 joint venture with Lonza last July due to both cost and delay in bringing a project to market.
“Teva intends to develop a portfolio of ‘high value’ biosimilars,” he said, as part of a strategy being led by “both organic and business development-based growth.”
Biosimilars will form part of a “balanced” biologics portfolio, he added, without competing with its own biobetters - a drug that builds on an existing biopharmaceutical but is not identical - and its own proprietary biologics, such as Granix and Lonquex which have both recently been launched in the US and Europe, respectively.
Potential bidder #2 AstraZeneca
As for AstraZeneca, spokesperson Jacob Lund told this publication that whilst the firm is continuing to assess the market looking at opportunities to develop biosimilars, at present it sees the “strongest opportunities in innovation, developing [its] pipeline of potential, novel biologic candidates,” - a policy it has proven with a T-cell licensing deal with Immunocore and an antibody production pact with Lonza.
Potential bidder #3 Roche
And finally for Roche and its biologics division Genentech, the company has not shown an interest in developing biosimilars so far, and has indeed been lobbying for potential legislation that could restrict the use of such drugs once approved in the US.
When asked if the firm’s strategy was changing, spokesperson Štěpán Kráčala said Roche was “pursuing scientific excellence and investing significantly in R&D” without commenting directly on biosimilars.