Roche acquisition of InterMune highlights Big Pharma interest in rare diseases

$8.3-billion deal is Roche’s biggest since acquiring Genentech in 2009

Roche Group (Basel, Switzerland) is paying a hefty 38% premium on a company whose stock price was already shooting upward after a successful clinical trial announced last spring for pirfenidone (marketed already outside the US as Esbriet) for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a usually fatal lung disease. InterMune (Brisbane, CA) postings indicate that the rare disease affects 50,000-70,000 patients in the US, with 15,000-20,000 new cases diagnosed annually.

Roche already markets several products (brought along with Genentech) for lung disease: Xolair, for asthma, and Pulmozyme for cystic fibrosis. So there’s a logic that complementary sales/marketing efforts for those drugs can be used for pirfenidone.

In July, FDA granted pirfenidone breakthrough-drug status, which can accelerate its final approval. That date, if it happens, is already set at Nov. 23, 2014.

In announcing the acquisition, Severin Schwan, CEO of Roche, noted that the company “looks forward to welcoming InterMune employees into the Roche Group;” other reported statements indicate the company will strive to keep InterMune staff relatively whole, in an effort to make the commercialization as smooth as possible in the US and to continue the drug development work going on within InterMune.