Alexion Pharma Gobbles Up Taligen in $111M Buyout

1/31/11

There’s big news for Taligen Therapeutics this morning. Cheshire, CT-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALXN) has bought the Cambridge, MA, biotech startup for $111 million and potential future payments, the buyer said today.

The deal allows Alexion to obtain Taligen’s lead candidate, TT30, which Taligen had been developing as a potential rival to Alexion’s drug eculizumab (Soliris) for a rare blood disease known as paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH). Alexion started selling eculizumab in 2007 and has no other products on the market.

Alexion and Taligen executives were not immediately available this morning to reveal specific plans for Taligen’s lead compound and other financial specifics about the deal.

This transaction does keep at least part of the Taligen team together. The biotech’s staff is expected to serve as the core of Alexion’s new translational medicines group in Cambridge, where former Taligen CEO Abbie Celniker will head research. Alexion says that Taligen’s pipeline includes a potential treatment for age-related macular degeneration and other eye disease. The deal will bolster the pipeline of Alexion, one of the hot growth stories in all of biotech. Primarily on the strength of its one hit drug that has sent its stock on a bull run, Alexion is now worth more than $7.5 billion, almost as much as Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Now Alexion controls the fate of Taligen’s science, which has focused on using protein drugs to target an overactive immune activity called the complement pathway. This immune malfunction causes inflammation and harms tissue. (The company’s technology initially came from the University of Colorado, and was founded there by academics Woodruff Emlen and Michael Holers.) Taligen’s lead drug, TT30, might be able to target specific tissues where inflammation occurs—a big improvement from the current practice of using corticosteroids to fight such inflammation in a more generalized way, which causes side effects, Celniker told me in August.

Taligen had planned to begin early clinical trials of its lead compound in late 2010 for rare blood diseases such as PNH, according to Celniker. (We’ll get more details on the status of this plan when we speak to Alexion and former Taligen executives.) Alexion says it’s the first and only company to get FDA approval for a drug specifically for PNH, which causes immune reactions that attack and destroy red blood cells. The company says there are only 8,000 to 10,000 people in North America and Western Europe with the rare blood disorder.

It’s tough to tell how much money Taligen’s investors will make from Alexion’s purchase of the company, given that Alexion hasn’t revealed all the financial particulars of the buyout. Taligen, founded in 2004, had raised at least $36 million from a Series B round that included investors such as Alta Partners, Clarus Ventures, High Country Venture, and Sanderling Ventures, according to the company.

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