Merck, Sanofi in Deals for Cancer Drug Firms

The pharma giants each announced they would buy smaller drugmakers to expand cancer-treatment franchises.
Lauren MuskettDecember 9, 2019

Pharmaceutical giants Merck and Sanofi have each announced agreements to buy a smaller cancer drug developer as part of their efforts to expand cancer-treatment franchises.

Merck reached an all-cash deal to buy ArQule for $20 per share, or $2.7 billion, while French pharma giant Sanofi said it has an agreement to buy the U.S. biotech company Synthorx for $68 per share, or $2.5 billion, which is almost triple its market value.

ArQule makes an experimental cancer treatment, ARQ 531, a precision medicine that tailors treatment to a patient’s genetic profile. Synthorx makes THOR-707, a possible treatment for multiple types of tumors.

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The deal for Synthorx represents a 172% premium to its closing price on Friday, the companies said. The deal for ArQule is more than twice its closing price.

“This acquisition strengthens Merck’s pipeline with the addition of these strategic assets including, most notably, ARQ 531, a compelling candidate for the treatment of B-cell malignancies,” Merck research laboratories president Roger Perlmutter said in a statement. “ArQule’s focus on precision medicine has yielded multiple clinical-stage oral kinase inhibitors that have novel and important properties.”

Sanofi global head of research and development John Reed said Synthorx had produced a molecule that could become a foundation for the “next generation” of immuno-oncology combination therapies.

“By selectively expanding the numbers of effector T-cells and natural killer cells in the body, THOR-707 can be combined with our current oncology medicines and our emerging pipeline of immuno-modulatory agents for treating cancer,” Reed said. “Moreover, Synthorx’s pipeline of engineered lymphokines has great promise not only for oncology but also for addressing many autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.”

The purchase of Synthorx is Sanofi’s first multibillion acquisition since early 2018.

Analysts have said acquisitions would be the fastest way for Sanofi to build its portfolio of cancer treatments.

Both acquisitions are expected to close in the first quarter of 2020.