Yale Daily News

Alexion Pharmaceuticals will acquire New Haven-based pharmaceutical company Achillion Pharmaceuticals for an anticipated $930 million, the companies announced last week.

The two companies develop rare-disease therapeutics that target a specific immune pathway called the complement system. Due to their similar drug development pipeline, the acquisition is expected to produce synergies in developing effective rare disease therapeutics, according to Alexion executives.

“This agreement marks another important step in further expanding and diversifying our portfolio,” said Alexion CEO Ludwig Hantson in a conference call about the acquisition. “The addition of [Achillion’s] clinical-stage Factor D inhibitors that have the potential to advance the standard of care for rare, complement-mediated diseases provides an important opportunity to diversify our complement portfolio.”

Both Alexion and Achillion have significant ties to Yale and the Elm City. The two biopharmaceutical companies were founded by Yale scientists in the New Haven area — the former in 1992 by School of Medicine professor of internal medicine Leonard Bell MED ’84 and the latter in 1998 by Tommy Cheng, a School of Medicine pharmacology professor. Though Alexion relocated its headquarters to Boston in 2018, some Alexion research operations still remain in the Elm City, and currently the company employs 500 New Haven residents. Alexion’s acquisition of the New Haven-based Achillion suggests that Alexion’s strong ties to the Elm City will continue, further evidenced by Alexion’s September announcement of a $10 million investment to develop its Global Product Development Lab at 100 College St.

As described by Elm City Innovation Collaborative, “Alexion never really left the state.”

Alexion has reported promising results of drugs that target diseases caused by abnormal complement activation, the immune system’s mechanism for enhancing the ability to clear infectious agents and damaged cells from the body. The Achillion acquisition will expand Alexion’s portfolio of drugs targeting the complement system, as two of Achillion’s two clinical-stage medicines target complement-mediated rare diseases through a mechanism different from that of Alexion’s existing drugs.

According to Hantson, the clinical-stage Factor D inhibitor in Achillion’s drug portfolio shows tremendous potential as its mechanism of action leaves intact the body’s ability to fight infection and targets an alternative pathway of the complement activation cascade is inhibited.

Aradhana Sarin, Alexion’s chief strategy and business officer, described Alexion’s agreement to acquire Achillion as well aligned with their business development strategy.

“The transaction considerations suit well within the capacity, both financially and operationally, to diversify our pipeline further,” she said.

According to Sarin, Achillion’s drug called danicopan shows promise for treating C3G, a devastating kidney disease mediated by the complement pathway with no currently approved treatments. John Orloff, head of research and development at Alexion, added that targeting the alternative pathway of the complement system has significant opportunities for treating a broad range of rare diseases that have little or no existing treatments.

“We have established great momentum — discovering and advancing several small molecules into clinical development that have the potential to treat immune-related diseases associated with the alternative pathway of the complement system,” said Achillion President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Truitt in an Oct. 16 press release. “Alexion is an established leader in developing medicines for complement-mediated diseases, and we look forward to working together to accelerate our objective of bringing novel therapies to patients as quickly as possible and ensuring that the broad promise of this approach is fully realized.”

The transaction is expected to close by 2020.

Viola Lee | kyounga.lee@yale.edu