By Jessica Toonkel
NEW YORK, June 17 ViroPharma Inc, a
drug maker specializing in rare diseases, is attracting
preliminary acquisition interest from several pharmaceutical
companies, according to three people familiar with the matter.
No deal is imminent for the "orphan" drugmaker, which has a
market capitalization of $1.8 billion, said two of the sources,
who requested anonymity because they are not permitted to speak
to the media.
While ViroPharma is not pursuing a sale, potential buyers
are looking at the 9-year-old company because of its pipeline of
drugs for rare diseases, the sources said.
A ViroPharma spokeswoman declined to comment.
ViroPharma makes drugs designed to treat unusual diseases
that affect small patient populations. For example, one of its
drugs, Cinryze, aims to prevent bodily swelling or painful
attacks in teenagers and adults with Hereditary Angioedema, a
genetic immune disorder.
Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly interested in
developing or buying orphan drugs, as their more conventional
products have lost market share to generic competitors.
The trend began, in 2011 French drugmaker Sanofi SA
bought Genzyme Corp, the first company to show that it
could make money from treatments for rare diseases, for $20.1
billion, one of the sources said.
ViroPharma is one of a handful of orphan drug makers that
pharmaceutical companies see as potential acquisition targets,
said the people familiar with the matter.
Another orphan drug maker, BioMarin Pharmaceuticals
, has also been viewed as an attractive target. Its
shares have surged almost 60 percent over the past 12 months to
a market value of more than $8 billion, making it too expensive
for most potential buyers, sources said.
BioMarin is "not actively looking to be acquired," and is
focused on long-term growth, a company spokeswoman said.
ViroPharma would not be a cheap acquisition either. The
company's stock is up more than 20 percent over the past 12
months, trading around $27.00 per share. It was not clear what
price ViroPharma would want.
Last week, ViroPharma said its maribavir drug, which is
designed to treat patients who develop a type of herpes virus
and also have a condition called impaired cell mediated
immunity, received orphan drug designation in Europe.
With the orphan drug designation, ViroPharma has gained 10
years of potential market exclusivity if the product is approved
for marketing in the European Union and the orphan designation
is maintained. The drug already has orphan designation status in
the United States.
ViroPharma's shares were up almost 9 percent in early
afternoon trading, at around $29.50 per share.