• Multi-billion alliance could be announced as soon as this week
  • Companies are expanding in oncology amid health M&A wave

Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, the closely held German drugmaker, is in talks with AbbVie Inc. about a significant partnership that could help the companies expand their cancer treatment businesses, people familiar with the discussions said.

The talks are advanced and an agreement may be announced as soon as this week, the people said, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are private. The oncology alliance could be worth multi-billions of dollars, one of the people said. No final decisions have been made and talks could still be delayed or fall apart, they said.

Representatives for Boehringer, which is headquartered in Ingelheim, Germany, and North Chicago, Illinois-based AbbVie declined to comment.

Both companies have participated in a wave of health M&A in the past year. There’s been $393 billion in deals targeting drug companies in the last 12 months, about 10 percent of total spending on acquisitions, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

AbbVie made a significant push into cancer therapy last year with its $21 billion purchase of Pharmacyclics Inc., outbidding rivals such as Johnson & Johnson and helping the company reduce its reliance on rheumatoid arthritis treatment Humira.

Boehringer said in December that it’s in exclusive talks to swap its consumer-health operations assets with Sanofi’s animal-health business in a transaction valued at 22.8 billion euros ($24.9 billion). Earlier this month, Hikma Pharmaceuticals Plc cut the cash amount it will pay to buy Boehringer’s Roxane business by $535 million, bringing the acquisition price down to $2.1 billion, after finding sales may drop this year and next.

Boehringer focuses on treatments for lung cancer, one of the most common forms of the disease. The company sells the the drug Giotrif for non small-cell lung cancer and Vargatef for patients at a later stage when other treatments, such as chemotherapy, have failed. The German company is also researching new treatments for lung and bowel cancer.

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