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Roche To Buy Intermune

Acquisition: Swiss drugmaker expands in respiratory disease field with $8.3 billion purchase of one-drug firm

by Ann M. Thayer
August 28, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 35

Roche has agreed to pay $8.3 billion in cash to acquire InterMune. The Brisbane, Calif.-based firm has one product: pirfenidone, a treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a progressive and fatal lung disease. It has sold the drug under the name Esbriet in Canada since 2011 and received European authorization in 2012. The drug is awaiting U.S. approval.

The purchase fits Roche’s recent strategy of making bolt-on acquisitions to access promising drugs. Buying InterMune will “broaden and strengthen our respiratory portfolio,” Roche Chief Operating Officer Daniel O’Day told employees after the deal was announced. Although known for its cancer therapies, Roche sells the cystic fibrosis drug Pulmozyme and the asthma treatment ­Xolair. Its IL-13 antibody lebrikizumab is in Phase III trials for asthma and Phase II trials for IPF.

If approved in the U.S. this year, Esbriet could add $360 million to Roche’s 2015 sales and $1.6 billion in annual sales by 2020, according to stock analysts. To prepare for a launch, Roche plans a “smooth transition” of InterMune and its 450 employees into its fold, O’Day said. The companies aren’t strangers; a collaboration between 2006 and 2010 ended with Roche paying $175 million for InterMune’s hepatitis C drug danoprevir, which is now in Phase II trials.

After that sale, InterMune focused solely on developing an IPF drug. A setback came in 2010, when FDA refused to approve pirfenidone and required another large Phase III efficacy trial. InterMune refiled for approval this spring, and FDA granted it breakthrough therapy designation in July. The drug is an orally active antifibrotic agent that inhibits the synthesis of TGF-β, a mediator of many cell functions, and of TNF-α, a cyto­kine involved in inflammation.

Never profitable in its 16-year history, InterMune accumulated a net loss of about $1.3 billion. Howard Liang, an analyst with Leerink Partners, wrote in a note to clients that the Roche acquisition “represents a favorable ending of the InterMune story, which has endured an arduous road in pioneering the development of the first approved treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.”



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