AstraZeneca has agreed to acquire Fusion Pharmaceuticals for up to $2.4bn as the pharma giant looks to broaden its portfolio of radioconjugates.

Canadian biotech Fusion specialises in developing radioconjugates, a type of medicine that delivers radioactive isotopes directly to cancer cells using antibodies, peptides or other molecules. By precisely targeting cancer cells, this treatment approach has advantages over traditional regimens such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy in that it does not damage healthy cells.

Radioconjugates have emerged as a “promising modality in cancer treatment over recent years”, AstraZeneca stated in a 19 March press release.

The deal for Fusion includes an upfront cash payment of $2bn and a specified regulatory milestone-based payment of $400m. Following the deal, Fusion will become a wholly owned subsidiary of AstraZeneca while continuing its operations in Canada and the US.

Fusion’s lead asset is FPI-2265 – a radioconjugate that targets prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA), a protein found in metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). The actinium-225-based therapy is currently in a Phase II trial. It works by emitting alpha particles, a cytotoxic payload, to tumours.

Along with Fusion’s pipeline of radioconjugates, AstraZeneca said the deal will bring new research and development (R&D) expertise and supply chain strengthening.

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AstraZeneca will face competition in this space from Novartis, which calls its assets in this area ‘radioligands’. Here, the radioisotope is connected to a cell-targeting ligand. One of Novartis’ leading drugs in this space is Pluvicto (lutetium Lu 177 vipivotide tetraxetan), a radioligand approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for prostate cancer. Novartis struggled to keep up with demand for Pluvicto, leading to a temporary drug shortage last year.

Pluvicto is estimated to see sales of $4.5bn by 2030, according to GlobalData’s Pharma Intelligence Centre.

GlobalData is the parent company of Pharmaceutical Technology.  

The other radioligand on the market is also from Novartis, called Lutathera (lutetium Lu 177 dotatate), which gained FDA approval for neuroendocrine tumours in 2018. Novartis is eyeing further indications for the therapy.

AstraZeneca made $17bn in sales from its oncology products last year, accounting for 37% of FY 2023 revenue. The drugmaker’s move to acquire Fusion is not the only oncology-strengthening move it has made recently. In December 2023, the company acquired Chinese CAR-T biotech Gracell for $1.2bn.

The moves are also part of an uptick in M&A activity for AstraZeneca. In the same month as the Gracell acquisition, AstraZeneca purchased RSV vaccine developer Icosavax in a $1.1bn deal. Earlier this month, the big pharma completed a $1bn acquisition for French rare diseases start-up Amolyt.

While announcing the Fusion acquisition, AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D executive vice-president Susan Galbraith said: “Together with Fusion, we have an opportunity to accelerate the development of FPI-2265 as a potential new treatment for prostate cancer, and to harness their innovative actinium-based platform to develop radioconjugates as foundational regimens.”