Seeking Nurtec, a pill approved to treat and prevent migraine in adults, Pfizer has agreed to acquire its maker, Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, in a cash deal valued at $11.6 billion.
Pfizer has plenty of cash on hand, thanks to sales of its COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid and its COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty. It is now looking to Nurtec (rimegepant), a small-molecule drug considered a potential blockbuster for an underserved therapeutic category, as part of the bulwark it is building against future patent expiries.
“The deal fulfills Pfizer’s promise to investors to expand its late-stage and commercial portfolio with near-term growth drivers and puts Pfizer at the center of a growing therapeutic area dominated by other big pharma rivals, chiefly AbbVie Inc., Eli Lilly and Company and Amgen,” Jessica Merrill, an analyst at Informa Pharma Intelligence, wrote in a report on the deal.
The multibillion-dollar value of the deal compares with the $50 million plus royalties that Biohaven paid Bristol Myers Squibb in 2018 for a family of small-molecule calcitonin gene–related peptide (CGRP) receptor antagonists that included rimegepant.
Bristol Myers was among the firms that began working on migraine therapies that act at the CGRP receptor, helping to establish CGRP antagonists as a new class of drugs in development. Migraine therapies currently on the market are injected monoclonal antibodies.
Biohaven’s other CGRP programs includes zavegepant, an intranasal spray for treatment of migraine that the firm submitted for US Food and Drug Administration approval in March. The molecule is also under development as an oral soft gel for migraine prevention. The company has five preclinical CGRP molecules.
The FDA approved Nurtec in February 2020, and it had sales of $463 million in 2021. Pfizer signed a partnership with Biohaven last November to commercialize Nurtec and zavegepant outside the US. At the time, the firm invested $350 million to acquire a 2.6% stake in Biohaven.
On a call with investors to discuss the deal, David Denton, Pfizer’s chief financial officer, said the company sees the potential for $6 billion in annual revenue from its new migraine franchise.
“From a migraine prospective, it’s a smart move on Pfizer’s part,” though not surprising given the commercialization partnership with Biohaven, says Dominique Fontanilla, a senior director with Informa who covers migraine. “I think with the backing of Pfizer’s sales force, a lot can be accomplished with Nurtec and zavegepant.”
Fontanilla says Nurtec’s label can be expanded for prevention of chronic as well as episodic migraine. Regional sales can also be expanded, she says.
The deal to acquire Biohaven continues a buying spree for Pfizer. In December, Pfizer announced that it would purchase the autoimmune disease specialist Arena Pharmaceuticals for $6.7 billion. Then last month it said it would buy ReViral, which has a drug candidate targeting respiratory syncytial virus in Phase 2 clinical studies, for $525 million.
Biohaven will continue as a new company under CEO Vlad Coric and other members of current management. It will also continue to own the non-CGRP drugs in its development pipeline, including troriluzole, which is in Phase 3 trials for obsessive-compulsive disorder, and verdiperstat, in Phase 3 trials as a treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.