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AstraZeneca is expanding its cardiovascular and metabolic disease portfolio with the acquisition of US-based biopharmaceutical firm ZS Pharma for about $2.7bn.

ZS Pharma develops and commercialises highly selective, non-absorbed drugs to treat renal, cardiovascular, liver and metabolic disorders.

The US firm uses its ion­-trap technology to develop new treatments for hyperkalaemia, a serious condition of high potassium levels in the bloodstream, typically associated with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and chronic heart failure (CHF).

Under the deal, AstraZeneca will pay $90 a share for ZS Pharma, which employs about 200 people across three sites in California, Texas and Colorado.

"We look forward to welcoming the ZS Pharma team to AstraZeneca."

The deal, approved by the Board of Directors of ZS Pharma, will give AstraZeneca access to its potassium-binding compound ZS-9, a potential treatment for hyperkalaemia, which is under review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

If approved by the FDA, ZS-9 is expected to generate sales of more than $1bn a year.

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The ZS-9 insoluble, non-absorbed zirconium silicate traps potassium ions with its three-dimensional crystalline lattice structure.

The potassium selectivity of ZS-9 allows high in-vitro binding capacity for potassium ions even if there are competing ions.

ZS Pharma chief executive officer Robert Alexander said: "This agreement will allow us to maximise the potential of ZS-9, drawing on AstraZeneca’s long-standing expertise in developing and commercialising medicines for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

"We look forward to joining AstraZeneca and to working together to bring this important treatment for hyperkalaemia to the global market, helping to meet an important unmet medical need for patients."

AstraZeneca chief executive officer Pascal Soriot said: "Hyperkalaemia can be a life-threatening condition for patients with chronic kidney disease and chronic heart failure, however the risk is under-appreciated and prevalence is increasing.

"This acquisition complements our strategic focus on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease by adding a potential best-in-class treatment to our portfolio of innovative medicines. We look forward to welcoming the ZS Pharma team to AstraZeneca."

In a long-term safety and efficacy study, ZS-9 lowered serum potassium, maintained normokalemia, and was well tolerated for about 52 weeks.

ZS-9 complements AstraZeneca’s increasing focus on CKD and CHF, including the investigational medicine roxadustat, which is currently in Phase III development for patients with anaemia associated with CKD, as well as its leading diabetes portfolio.

Image: AstraZeneca headquarters in London, UK. Photo: courtesy of AstraZeneca.