Monday, December 13, 2010

Clozel: We're Fine on Our Own, Thanks

Actelion CEO Jean-Paul Clozel used the opening ceremony of a new office building on Friday to remind reporters that the company is not for sale, according to Bloomberg. Amgen is said to be considering an offer for the company that last year declared its ambition to become "a Genentech in Europe."

No, Clozel wasn't saying he wanted to be acquired by Roche, either -- the company that Clozel and Actelion's other co-founders came from. He was saying that Actelion should remain independent and continue to create value for its shareholders, and that message is the same today.

"We have created so much value that of course somebody would like to catch this value," Clozel was reported as saying last week. But "we will have a 20-year future," he said, and might have added that we're certainly not going to be bought while our shares our down (nearly 5% this year).

Another part of Clozel's message has changed, though. Back in 2009, Actelion was poised to move into the GP domain, on the back of Phase III pipeline candidate almorexant, partnered with GSK for sleep disorders. It wasn't just talk: Actelion had re-organized its commercial organization and hired a bunch of GP-experienced folk. It was all about diversifying away from PAH treatment Tracleer (which accounts for the bulk of Actelion's SFr 1.7 billion in revenues), and about "following innovation wherever it leads."

That particular innovation doesn't appear right now to be leading anywhere: the Phase III trials of almorexant threw up some safety concerns and further investigations are underway with a decision on whether to continue expected early next year.

Meanwhile it's back to rare diseases, then--the precise reason Amgen's interested (as are a few others, no doubt). Actelion's signficant success to date (it became profitable in just six years and is one of the few European biotechs to have created its own commercial infrastructure) is built around Tracleer in particular, and around PAH more generally, an indication that it more or less built itself, albeit initially more as a result of chance than design.

Today, then, Clozel's message isn't about "being as good as Pfizer" when it comes to primary care marketing. Both are so passe. So, apparently, are prospects for Tracleer beyond PAH (the drug failed Phase III trials in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in March).

Today's story is back to PAH again, but it's about macitentan: you guessed it, a Tracleer-follow-on. Due to report Phase III trials in 2011, macitentan could be even more potent than Tracleer, say some, since it's a highly tissue-specific endothelin antagonist.

"At the end of next year we will be a completely different company because we will have macitentan," Clozel told journalists at the site opening. Not so different as if it had almorexant, though. But, as Clozel implied, different enough to be worth a lot more than what today's share-price says -- assuming things work out, of course.

Back in 2009, Clozel said that Actelion had specifically not tried to turn itself into 'the endothelin company'; the message being that it would not limit itself to a specialist indication or approach.

Forced now, by pipeline upsets, to lean back on that original focus, it's this specialization that nevertheless makes Actelion an attractive take-over target. And if macitentan goes the same way as almorexant and as clazosentan, which failed in a late-stage study in vasospasm earlier this year, Amgen's offer, if it exists, may yet prove the most valuable option for those shareholders after all.

image by flickr user secretlondon123 used under a creative commons license

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