Novartis to buy Takeda eye drug assets in US$3.4bil deal

HONG KONG: Novartis AG has agreed to pay US$3.4bil for eye-disease medicines that Takeda Pharmaceutical Co is selling to shed debt after its US$62bil acquisition of Shire Plc.

The main product in the deal is Xiidra, prescription drops that compete with Allergan Plc’s blockbuster Restasis to relieve dry-eye disease, a common condition that can hinder daily activities ranging from reading to driving. Along with US$3.4bil in cash upfront, Novartis agreed to pay as much as US$1.9bil in milestones.

The deal gives chief executive officer Vas Narasimhan, who is working to reshape the Swiss drugmaker, a simple new medicine with blockbuster potential as he expands into less certain fields such as gene therapy.

Under Narasimhan, Novartis is narrowing its focus on cutting-edge drugs for cancer and rare diseases and betting on treatments to potentially cure severe illnesses.

In his first year at the helm, the new chief split with the eye-care division Alcon, ditched a stake in a consumer-health venture and carried out three crucial acquisitions.

Xiidra had about US$400mil in sales last year, Novartis said. It expects the deal to close in the second half of the year and plans to bring over about 400 employees.

The drug could generate peak sales of as much as US$1.4bil, according to Elizabeth Krutoholow, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. Bloomberg reported the potential sale earlier on Wednesday.

Novartis has just spun off its Alcon contact-lens and surgical-products division but previously transferred eye drugs from the unit to the main pharma business. Xiidra’s previous owner, Shire, tangled with Allergan in the US in an effort to gain greater market access for the drug.

Novartis shares fell less than 1% to 83 Swiss francs in Zurich trading yesterday. Takeda shares rose as much as 3.3% in early Tokyo trading, before giving up gains to close mostly unchanged.

The transaction is the first major deal for Takeda since chief executive officer Christophe Weber said in January that the Japanese company planned to move quickly on disposals to reduce debt after its US$62bil takeover of Shire.

Takeda took on around US$31bil of debt for the Shire takeover, boosting its net debt ratio to five times earnings, compared to an industry average of one. The company has said that its medium-term debt target is around two times earnings.

The company has laid out a scenario of a potential US$10bil in divestments. Besides the eye-care deal with Novartis, it agreed to sell Tachosil, a surgical patch, to Ethicon Inc for US$400mil. — Bloomberg

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