Novartis Nears Deal to Buy Cholesterol-Drug Maker The Medicines Co.

Novartis Nears Deal to Buy Cholesterol-Drug Maker The Medicines Co.

Novartis AG


NVS -0.06%

is nearing a deal to buy cholesterol-drug maker The

Medicines Co.

for nearly $7 billion, in an expensive bid to expand its reach in the lucrative market for heart treatments.

The pharmaceutical giant has agreed to pay $85 a share in a deal that could be announced this weekend, people familiar with the matter said.

Using a fully diluted share count, the deal is worth about $9.7 billion, one of the people said.

The acquisition would help Novartis, which has a market value of more than $200 billion, bulk up in a corner of the health-care market it is already targeting with drugs including its heart-failure treatment Entresto.

Novartis, based in Basel, Switzerland, had high hopes for Entresto, but early sales haven’t met Wall Street expectations. Prescriptions have picked up, however, and sales jumped to $430 million in the third quarter.

The cholesterol drug under development by Medicines, based in Parsippany, N.J., is aimed at patients who aren’t well-treated by older statin pills.

Pairing the Novartis and Medicines therapies would give sales representatives more products to peddle to heart doctors, potentially boosting sales of each.

The Medicines drug is based on relatively new technology that uses the body’s molecular messengers, known as RNA, to turn off genes playing a role in a disease.The technology is known as RNA interference.

Novartis Chief Executive

Vas Narasimhan

has been trying to steer the drugmaker into newer technologies through deals, such as its $8.7 billion acquisition of AveXis.

Novartis has faced scrutiny for pricing AveXis’s Zolgensma gene therapy at $2.1 million, and for waiting to notify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about the manipulation of some of the drug’s test data until after the therapy’s approval.

So far, sales of these so-called PCSK9 drugs from

Amgen Inc.,

Sanofi SA

and Regeneron Inc. haven’t met expectations, partly because health insurers have recoiled at their high prices.

Supporters say the Medicines entrant, known as inclisiran, will be different because it is based on a different kind of technology that interferes with the production of a key protein. And patients wouldn’t have to take the drug as often as the others.

Medicines executives have said they would price their cholesterol drug lower, though a deal would leave the decision in Novartis’s hands.

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Medicines has said it would file for the therapy’s approval by year’s end in the U.S. and in the first quarter of 2020 in Europe. Medicines licensed inclisiran from

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Worldwide sales of cholesterol drugs are growing nearly 11% a year and are projected to reach $17.7 billion in 2024, according to EvaluatePharma. High cholesterol is a leading cause of heart disease.

Medicines shares have risen as the company has reported positive data from testing of its drug. The stock has nearly quadrupled this year—helped by a report from Bloomberg this week that the company was exploring a sale.

The shares closed at $68.55 Friday, meaning that the deal would value Medicines at 20% or more above that.

Write to Dana Cimilluca at [email protected], Cara Lombardo at [email protected] and Jonathan D. Rockoff at [email protected]

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