AstraZeneca to acquire Alexion, enhancing presence in immunology

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Astrazeneca Alexion

AstraZeneca will acquire Alexion in a deal worth $39bn: supporting its ambition to develop novel medicines in immunology.

Boston-based biotech Alexion has been earmarked as a hot takeover target​ in the biotech sector: thanks to the significant market potential of ultra-rare disorder drugs with less competitive pressure than other sectors. Its leading medicine is soliris, which is approved for use against a range of rare immune disorders.

The value of the deal overtakes Gilead's acqusition of Immunomedics for $21bn in September; and marks AstraZeneca's largest ever acquisition.

Total revenue of $5bn

AstraZeneca has recently been increasing its efforts in immunology research and the development of medicines for immune-mediated diseases. 

As part of the acquisition, AstraZeneca will establish a dedicated rare disease unit in Boston and accelerate worldwide expansion of Alexion’s portfolio. “Combining AstraZeneca’s capabilities in precision medicine and Alexion’s expertise in rare-disease development and commercialisation will enable the new company to develop a portfolio of medicines addressing the large unmet needs of patients suffering from rare diseases,” ​says AstraZeneca.

Alexion was founded in 1992 and now employs more than 3,000 people. Led by what AstraZeneca terms its ‘skilful commercial execution in building its blockbuster C5 franchise’ with soliris, Alexion now has five approved medicines (andexxa, kanuma, soliris, strensiq, and ultomiris) and a pipeline of 11 molecules in 20+ clinical development programs.

It serves patients in more than 50 countries and in 2019 generated a total revenue of $5bn and profit before tax of $2.2bn.

Double-digit average annual revenue growth

AstraZeneca predicts the combined company will deliver double-digit average annual revenue growth through 2025.  

It says the two companies have been on converging paths: AstraZeneca expanding its presence from primary to speciality care, while Alexion has been progressing from ultra-orphan to orphan and speciality conditions.

And the British-Swedish giant also highlights rare diseases as a high-growth therapy area with rapid innovation and significant unmet medical need. Over 7,000 rare diseases are known today, yet only around 5% have US Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments. ​The global rare disease market is forecasted to grow by a low double-digit percentage in the future.

Alexion is focused in complement biology; with the complement cascade pivotal to the innate immune system. This plays a crucial role in many inflammatory and autoimmune diseases across multiple therapy areas: such as haematology, nephrology, neurology, metabolic disorders, cardiology, ophthalmology and acute care.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca says its capabilities in genomics, precision medicine and oligonucleotides can be leveraged to develop medicines targeting less-frequent diseases.

AstraZeneca says the combined companies can bring together “two rapidly converging, patient-centric models of care delivery with combined strengths in immunology, biologics, genomics and oligonucleotides to drive future medicine innovation.

The boards of directors of both companies have unanimously approved the acquisition. The acquisition is expected to close in Q3 2021, subject to receipt of regulatory clearances and approval by shareholders of both companies. Upon completion, Alexion shareholders will own around 15% of the combined company.


Alexion has pioneered complement inhibition for a broad spectrum of immune-mediated rare diseases caused by uncontrolled activation of the complement system, a vital part of the immune system.

Alexion's franchise includes Soliris ​(eculizumab), an anti-complement component 5 (C5) monoclonal antibody. The medicine is approved in many countries for the treatment of patients with paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria (PNH), atypical haemolytic uremic syndrome, generalized myasthenia gravis and neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder.

More recently, Alexion launched Ultomiris ​(ravulizumab), a second-generation C5 monoclonal antibody with a more convenient dosing regimen.

Alexion's work in immunology extends to other targets in the complement cascade beyond C5 as well as additional modalities, with its deep pipeline including Factor D small-molecule inhibitors of the alternative pathway of the complement system, an antibody blocking neonatal Fc receptor (FcRn)-mediated recycling, and a bi-specific mini-body targeting C5, among others. The FcRn extends the half-life and hence the availability of pathogenic immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies.

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