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AstraZeneca Acquires Omega-3 Fatty Acid Drug Developer

EKG (Photos8.com)

(Photos8.com)

The global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is buying the specialty pharmaceutical maker Omthera Pharmaceuticals in Princeton, New Jersey for $323 million, or $12.70 per share, an 88 percent premium over Omthera’s closing price of $6.75 per share on Friday. Omthera shareholders may also receive up to $4.70 per share in further milestone-achievement payments.

Omega’s only product candidate is Epanova, a compound for reducing triglycerides, a type of lipid or fat in the blood that contributes (with cholesterol) to heart disease. Epanova is made of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. Omthera says the ingredients are derived from purified fish oil, and thus are of natural origin.

The company says Epanova was initially developed to treat Crohn’s disease, which while shown to be safe, did not prove effective against the disorder. The drug is designed to be prescribed as a complement to a low-fat diet in patients with hypertriglyceridemia, defined as 200 milligrams or more of triglycerides per deciliter of blood.

Omthera reported last year results of two late-stage clinical trials of Epanova. One trial tested the drug in doses of 2 and 4 grams against a placebo with 647 patients having high levels (200 to 500 milligrams) of triglycerides over 6 weeks. The second trial tested Epanova in doses of 2, 3, or 4 grams against a placebo with 399 patients having severe hypertriglyceridemia (500 milligrams or more) over 12 weeks.

The findings show Epanova is effective in lowering triglycerides and non-HDL cholesterol, defined as total cholestrol less the amount of HDL or “good” cholesterol. The results also show the 2 gram dosage of Epanova can be taken with or without meals, which suggests a better chance of patient adherence to the drug. In addition, says Omthera, the drug taken once a day in 2 to 4 gram dosages was safe and well tolerated.

AstraZeneca is the maker of the drug Crestor to treat high cholesterol. Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s CEO, says in a statement that the company sees potential for Epanova both as a complement to Crestor for patients at high risk of heart disease or by itself as a therapy for high levels of triglycerides.

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Hat tip: Fortune/Term Sheet

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