AstraZeneca pays up to $500 million for Maryland cancer drug company

AstraZeneca offices in England. The firm also has facilities in Delaware.

Amgen's $10.4 billion purchase of Onyx Pharmaceuticals for the sake of cancer drugs prompted much of Monday's discussion in the pharmaceutical world, but AstraZeneca was also buying medicine in that category.

AstraZeneca agreed to pay $225 million up front and perhaps $275 million more for Amplimmune, a privately-held, biologics company that focuses on developing drugs in cancer immunology. The second amount depends on whether the drugs meet certain development and sales milestones.

Cancer cells can be crafty and try to avoid detection while attacking the body. Cancer immunology medications are supposed to help counter those tactics.

AstraZeneca is based in the United Kingdom, but has facilities in Wilmington and Newark, Del.

Amplimmune is based in Gaithersburg, Md., just outside Washington, D.C. That happens to be near MedImmune, which was acquired by AstraZeneca and in recent months taken on greater status within the company. AstraZeneca, which is trying to recover from revenue declines, moved some personnel from Wilmington to its Maryland facility.

“ MedImmune’s focus on harnessing the power of the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer will be complemented by Amplimmune’s innovative work in this area. It will allow us to strengthen our arsenal of potential cancer therapies,” Dr. Bahija Jallal, an executive vice president of MedImmune, said in a statement. “We are excited to be working with the Amplimmune team to help find new treatments to address areas of unmet medical need.”

AstraZeneca said it will buy all of Amplimmune's stock. Pending regulatory approvals in the United States and Europe, AstraZeneca said it expects the deal to close before the end of September.

“Both companies are passionate about developing new cancer therapies for patients and are excited about the potential of immunotherapies. We are pleased to be joining MedImmune, who will work to further advance the pioneering work we’ve been conducting in this area,” Michael Richman, Amplimmune's president and chief executive officer, said in the statement. “The synergy achieved by combining our pipelines provides an important path towards developing novel immunotherapy products.”