AstraZeneca buys respiratory specialist Pearl Therapeutics

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AstraZeneca's acquisition sweep continues. The drug maker announced Monday it is buying up privately held Pearl Therapeutics which focuses on respiratory disease. The $560 million deal buys the company an experimental COPD drug and an inhaler formulation that could be used for additional products. The late-stage drug, PT003, is a long-acting beta 2 agonist, as is the recently approved GSK Breo/Ellipta COPD drug. LABAs, also known as LAMAs, have made the FDA skittish, and analysts said at the time of GSK's approval that it was unlikely the drug was going to get the OK to expand its indication from COPD to include asthma, should GSK seek it.

AstraZeneca's Monday move fattens the overall pipeline and also eases some of the pressure on its respiratory division, in that COPD drug Symbicort is set to go off patent in 2015. As of December 2012, AstraZeneca had another Symbicort variation in the works, with an estimated 2014 FDA filing date. Symbicort is also a long-acting beta agonist.

Monday's acquisition adds another note to the drug company's recent push-pull storyline, which includes the May purchase of specialty drug company Omthera, and the March announcements that it bought Moderna Therapeutics and that it was laying off 3,900 employees over the next three years.

First-quarter results illustrate some of the pain the company has experienced, including the 16% slide in US sales, which were weighed down by a 60% drop in sales of its Seroquel mood drug franchise compared to the same period last year.

The $560 million Pearl deal also includes a possible $460 million in milestone payments and an additional $140 million if sales hit a certain mark.

Despite rising to becoming the third leading cause of death in the US, a recent report by the American Lung Association notes that COPD hasn't gotten the attention of the CDC's Coordinated Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion program, which does address diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. The ALA's report also notes that the profile of the COPD patient has shifted, in that while typically associated with men, their findings show that the number of COPD-related deaths among women has quadrupled since 1980. ALA says around 14 million patients have been diagnosed with COPD, whose main trigger is smoking, but estimates around 24 million may have it.

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