AstraZeneca’s Soriot Open to Buying Immune-Therapy Company

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AstraZeneca Plc would consider acquiring a developer of a new type of cancer therapy aimed at supercharging the body’s immune response, Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot said.

“If at some point we conclude we need to make an acquisition, we certainly would consider it, there’s no question about it,” Soriot said in an interview, in response to a question about whether AstraZeneca would consider buying a CAR T asset such as Juno Therapeutics Inc. Juno went public last year and is valued at about $4.8 billion.

AstraZeneca, based in London, is collaborating with Juno, a Seattle startup, to combine its immune therapy drug with Juno’s CAR T treatment. CAR T is one of the hottest areas in health care, producing unprecedented responses in patients and boosting shares of biotechnology companies such as Kite Pharma Inc. and Bluebird Bio Inc.

Soriot said an acquisition isn’t imminent.

“At this stage, we have a lot on our hands,” the CEO said. “We have a full portfolio of immunoncology assets; our strategy has been, with CAR T, to partner.”

Juno rose 6.6 percent to $56.57 at the close in New York trading. The stock has more than doubled since its initial public offering in December. AstraZeneca’s stock dropped 0.2 percent by the close in London trading.

CAR T, for chimeric antigen receptor therapy, works by removing a patient’s disease-fighting T cells and re-engineering them to attack cancer cells. In some trials of children with a common form of leukemia, early signs of the cancer disappeared in 90 percent of the patients. The reintroduced T cells can also trigger serious side effects, including an immune reaction that can be fatal.

The side effects would have to be managed before AstraZeneca would make an acquisition, Soriot said.

“The CAR T technology has a lot of promises; we also need to find a way to manage the side effects,” he said. “They can be hard to predict and they can be quite substantial.”

(An earlier version was corrected to show Soriot was responding to a question about whether the company was interested in making an acquisition in CAR T therapies such as Juno.)