Cambridge the sweet spot as Otsuka pays $866m for Astex

The power of the cancer research and drug discovery clusters in Cambridge UK has prompted Japanese pharma giant Otsuka to buy Science Park medical technology pioneer Astex in an $866 million deal.

Otsuka Pharmaceutical’s President and representative director, Dr Taro Iwamoto, said the deal hit the sweet spot given Astex’ dual Cambridge-Californian expertise in integrated drug discovery and oncology fields.

Dr Iwamoto said: “I hope this acquisition will strengthen not only our cancer portfolio but also our drug discovery research in the central nervous system field through the acquisition of Astex’ fragment based drug design technology in Cambridge – its European headquarters – and its California clinical oncology department.”

Astex was founded in Cambridge in 1999 as Astex Technology Ltd with a vision to develop the use of high-throughput X-ray crystallography in a novel fragment-based approach to drug discovery.

The company merged with SuperGen, Inc., (USA) in 2011 and became Astex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated. Since the merger, the Cambridge company has continued its research on the Science Park.

In addition to the combined entity’s pipeline of eight cancer programmes at various stages of clinical development, Astex’ partners are advancing several of the company’s cancer compounds in phase 1 clinical trials.

While the ink is barely dry on the agreement, it is understood that there could be multimillion dollar investment and more resources on the way for Astex’ Science Park operations.

The world of Big Pharma was alerted to Cambridge’s soaring capability in the life sciences by AstraZeneca’s decision to bring its Corporate HQ and research effort to the Biomedical Campus. Massive acquisitions by Amgen and MedImmune in the cancer field in the last seven days have added to the feelgood factor.

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