Waiting to inhale

Sweden’s Meda acquires Mass.-based Acton Pharmaceuticals, inhaler Aerospan, in deal worth up to $200 million

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden—Global pharmaceutical Meda AB has signed an agreement worth up to $200 million to acquire Marborough, Mass.-based Acton Pharmaceuticals Inc., which focuses on respiratory-related diseases. But the coup for Meda is in inheriting Acton's inhaled corticosteroid Aerospan (flunisolide), which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year as an asthma treatment—but never marketed for sale.  
MEDA CEO Anders Lonner plans to change that, with an all-out marketing campaign slated for early 2014.  
"The acquisition of Acton is a unique opportunity to gain access to a newly registered product in the U.S. market," Lonner stated in an Aug. 30 news release. "Aerospan is within Meda's primary focus area—respiratory—and is based on a new technology.  Paired with (Meda nasal spray) Dymista, this gives us a clear profile in our highest priority area, as well as important marketing synergies. Aerospan will be launched in the U.S. market in the beginning of next year, and other major markets will follow."
Under the terms of the deal, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter, Meda will acquire all of Acton's shares for $135 million. The transaction also includes a potential payment of $10 million for a contingent, near-term development milestone. Acton will also receive certain sales-based milestones, which may bring the total potential acquisition value up to $200 million.  
Acquiring Aerospan is especially intriguing to Meda since it's the only FDA-approved inhaler that uses a built-in inhalation chamber, which assists in the delivery of medicine to the lungs. Aerospan is an effective inhaler for the treatment of asthma because it contains the active substance Flunisolide, which in clinical studies has shown a high deposition of active drug in the airways as a result of its built-in inhalation chamber referred to as a "spacer."
The use of spacers is increasing very rapidly. In some markets, more than one-third of patients who use inhaled corticosteroids also use a spacer, and this trend should lead to Aerospan reaching sales of $300 million within five years, according to Meda.
Aerospan has not only proven effective in clinical trials, but also safe. In a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study, published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Aerospan showed no significant negative effect on linear growth in children with asthma.
"Meda's experience marketing respiratory products, combined with their significant track record of success, makes them extremely well-suited to launch Aerospan to respiratory and pediatric physicians in the U.S.," John Simon, Acton's CEO, stated in a news release.
When asked how the Swedish pharma's acquisition of Acton would change operations and possibly management at Acton's Massachusetts headquarters, Daniel Kreisler, Acton's chief operating officer, told DDNews, "We prefer not to comment at this point beyond what was included in the press release."  
Meda executives did not respond to emails requesting comment.
The Acton acquisition comes on the heels of Meda, itself, being the subject of takeover speculation, with rumors in May that India's Sun Pharma was considering a $5-billion offer for the Swedish company.  
Acton has two respiratory drugs nearing the market. Acton started up in 2009 with a $15 million Series A round led by VC firm Sequoia Capital that helped license Aerospan from Forest Laboratories in 2010.  
In 2011, Acton paid Sanofi $15 million for the rights to Nasacort HFA (triamcinolone acetonide), a nasal spray for symptoms of seasonal allergenic rhinitis and perennial allergic rhinitis. The FDA hasn't yet approved the drug. Acton has said it needs to fix certain "technical issues" regarding its manufacturing before it can get the green light from regulators.

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